Cynthia Hamilton


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Cynthia Hamilton

The Story Behind the Story: Catharine Riggs “What She Gave Away”

It takes confidence as a writer to create irritatingly flawed protagonists whom the reader ultimately roots for. Author Catharine Riggs manages to achieve this feat in her debut novel, “What She Gave Away”. Not only does she walk that tricky path, she slyly coaxes the reader to empathize with the frighteningly conniving Crystal Love and the nearly braindead Kathi Wright, and she does so while weaving back and forth from the present and the past, until we see the connectedness of the two orbits.

I had no trouble visualizing the expertly drawn supporting cast, a colorful and varied assortment of characters who all do their part to facilitate the story to a surprising and satisfying conclusion. It was an added treat for me as a fellow Santa Barbaran to recognize the various locations and the composite of folks I feel sure I’ve encountered over the years. Needless to say, I can’t wait to read the next book in the series!

It’s my pleasure to share with you Catharine’s story behind “What She Gave Away”:

Thank you for the invitation to participate in your blog. I so appreciated your review of WHAT SHE GAVE AWAY, pleased that you enjoyed the shifting narratives and complex characters. Despite their flaws, Crystal and Kathi are near and dear to my heart.

It took me over a decade and two proverbial “books-in-the-drawer” to realize my passion for writing lay in dialogue and voices—first-person, character-driven novels. Quirky individuals who don’t conform to society’s norms. That’s when I finally secured representation with the agent of my dreams and one year later, we sold WHAT SHE GAVE AWAY to Thomas & Mercer in a two-book deal with an option on a third.

As a “seat-of-the-pants” writer, I typically start with voice before plot.  A few years ago, I was coming off of a terrible bout with the flu when I attended a four-day scene-writing workshop at UCLA. The first morning, our instructor asked us to create an emotional scene involving a fictional character. In my somewhat fuzzy state, an angry young woman flew onto the page. I read the scene aloud and in response, one of my male classmates insisted no one would ever be interested in a plus-sized, revenge-driven woman. His negative remarks motivated me to craft an entire novel around my newborn character. Crystal began life as the antagonist of WHAT SHE GAVE AWAY but as I grew to understand her, she morphed into one of my two protagonists.

At that point, I had a seed of an idea for a story about a conflicted young woman who returns to Santa Barbara to exact revenge. But for what reason? And who was the recipient of her wrath?

I was a business banker for many years so I decided to set the novel in a fictional community bank rife with unsavory characters and let Crystal get to work. On the surface, banking may appear to be a boring occupation, however any profession involving money lends itself to intrigue; eccentric customers, duplicitous coworkers, greed, fraud, theft, scams and affairs. Combine that with my writer’s penchant to exaggerate and the plot almost wrote itself. I then worked to weave in a realistic depiction of a fictional fraud without getting bogged down in the details.

As for my hapless housewife Kathi, I believe she was born from my earliest fears of the person I might become. I grew up in the wealthy community of Montecito surrounded by women, including my mother, who did not work and had little understanding of their financial affairs. Alcohol was frequently used to numb their ambitions and some of these women lost everything through divorce, rash decisions and/or fraud. With Kathi, I hoped to portray a woman who was manipulated by her husband into making a terrible decision, yet not allow her to be absolved by victimhood. I wanted to force her into the realization she must take responsibility for her choices, as terrible as they might be.  I believe this was my way of shaking sense into some of the women of my past; ordering them to grow up, set down the glass, and be accountable for their actions.

Because, in the end, isn’t this why we write fiction? We see a problem, we fictionalize it, we put it down on the page. We create worlds as we would like to see them and give them the endings that satisfy our needs.

Thank you again for including me in your blog. Please note that WHAT SHE NEVER SAID, the second novel in my Santa Barbara Suspense series, will be available in September of 2019. It too is set in Santa Barbara and there’s another juicy secret just waiting to be revealed.

“What She Gave Away” will be on special promo November 19th thru 23rd

Where to find Catharine:





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