Kristy McCaffrey has been writing since she was very young, but it wasn’t until she was a stay-at-home mom that she considered becoming published. A fascination with science led her to earn two engineering degrees—she did her undergraduate work at Arizona State University and her graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh—but storytelling was always her favorite hobby.
Born and raised in Arizona, and recently returned after a 20-year absence in Pittsburgh, she writes Old West romances to capture the landscapes that were such a big part of her childhood. Her first novel, The Wren, was a CAPA winner for Best New Author Traditional, a Texas Gold finalist, and a HOLT Medallion finalist for Best First Book. The Sparrow was the 2012 Winter Rose Winner in the Published Historical Division.
She lives in the Arizona desert with her husband, where they frequently "rescue" rattlesnakes from their property. Her four teenaged children are in varying stages of flying the nest, so her two chocolate labs—Ranger and Lily—are the recipients of her maternal instincts these days.
What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?
When I was in college I spent spring break in Mazatlan (Mexico) and fought a bull. The college tour operator hosted an event at a nearby arena, and names were pulled from a hat. It was a smaller bull, with blunted horns, and I was given a pink t-shirt to wave. I wasn’t too worried until the bull charged. I ole’d him, then hauled myself out of there as fast as I could. I was terrified. I was the only successful girl that night; the one after me went to the hospital with a broken ankle. For one brief, incredible moment I had my 15-minutes of fame.
What adventure would you like to have that you haven’t done yet if money and skill were no problem?
I want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa.
Who are some of your favorite authors? What commonality do you see in them?
I really love Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a Jungian psychologist who wrote Women Who Run With The Wolves. I’ve followed much of her work via lecture tapes. She speaks to the rich tapestry that is the female psyche, and it’s this that romance writers tap into, whether they realize it or not. Her work with stories as a healing modality has not only helped me personally, but makes me want to be a better writer with each new tale I create.
Robert Moss—who has written extensively about shamanism and his own personal experiences. Joseph Campbell—the great mythologist.
The common factor probably is that I view life through a symbolic lens, and they all give voice to this process.
Color says something about a person’s personality. What’s your favorite color?
If you could have a do-over life, what one thing would you do differently? What would you do again?
I would be nicer to myself. I would treat my creative self as the precious entity it is, and love it as much as I ever loved any of my own children. I’m coming around to it now, but for many years that wasn’t the case.
What is your writing process from conception to finished manuscript?
Considering that I’m a Virgo—very anal and organized—my writing process is messy. I regularly get snippets of scenes in my head, often for stories I’m not currently working on, so I have hundreds of scraps of paper on my desk full of scribbles. To contain the chaos, I use file folders, so that when an idea hits I can store it until it’s needed. I invariably write about something I know nothing about, so I spend time reading fiction and non-fiction to get up to speed. I try to write a manuscript in one push—I liken it to vomiting on the page—but this rarely works out. At some point, I’ll start editing. I must say, I like editing. I love cleaning up all that vomit. (*grin*) When there’s no more crud (at least none that I can see), then I’m done.
Are you a planner, panster, or both?
I’m both. I’ve come to realize that I have no real process, only what works at the moment.
How do you research for your books?
I love to visit a location, but that isn’t always possible. Movies, internet, books—I use it all.
What is your all-time favorite movie? TV show?
My all-time favorite movie is Star Wars, which I first saw at the age of ten. It filled my writer’s mind with a visual smorgasbord, and the mythical storytelling awakened something deep in my bones. At the time, though, I just thought I had a crush on Luke Skywalker.
My all-time favorite TV show is a tough one because I had many. But I have a great love of sci-fi, and as a kid I never missed an episode of the original Battlestar Galactica starring Lorne Greene. It was Bonanza in space.
How important do feel writing workshops are to writers?
Really wonderful. I did many in years past. Now, not so much. I think it must be balanced with actual writing.
Did anyone mentor you or help you along the way?
I have honestly not had much mentoring, though I certainly have wonderful writer friends that offer support. But recently, I was blessed to join Prairie Rose Publications and work with co-owner Cheryl Pierson on editing several of my projects. I’ve never had such a supportive and collaborative relationship, and it’s pushing my writing to a better place. Having never known this, I’m somewhat blown away by it.
If you could learn one new skill, fear and money no deterrent, what would it be?
I wish I could sing.
Certainly an animal charity. There are so many great ones, but I really like the work Best Friends accomplishes in Utah.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Keep writing until you can move the blockages in your soul. When that happens, the good stuff will start flowing.
What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
From my mom—“It’s easy to walk away, it’s harder to stay and work through it.”
If you could live anywhere in the world you wanted to, where would it be? (Language is no barrier)
As much as I enjoy travelling, I like living right where I am—Scottsdale, Arizona. I was born and raised here, but moved to Pittsburgh for 20 years when I got married. When my husband offered to bring me home several years ago, it was the most selfless gift I ever received, and I appreciate it, and him, every single day. I’m quite happy and content in the Sonoran Desert.
Where do you write?
Both my husband and I work from home and have desks near one another. Because he’s in sales and talks on the phone a lot, I listen to my Ipod, especially when I’m working on a story, to block him out. I face a window and enjoy birds, cactus, and the occasional coyote and javelina passing by.
How much time do you devote to writing each week? Do you have a day every week that you take off?
I spend several hours each day, which includes blog writing and emails. I only take a day off when my brain gets fried, which happens about every ten days.
What is a genre that you have not attempted but would like to try?
Contemporary action-adventure. I’ve been working on a manuscript about a woman climbing K2, the second-highest mountain in the world. It would be the first in a series, with the second book set in Bolivia and the third likely set in Baja. I wanted to write all the books only from the heroine’s point-of-view (POV), because I think this gives an air of mystery to the hero when we don’t know what he’s thinking. But this choice has haunted and agitated me, and I finally realized I need the male POV. Since I’m 50,000 words in, this isn’t an easy fix. I learned a lot about viewpoint with this little (year-long) exercise, and that while the hero is rugged and remote, it also made me a tad lazy in developing his history. But no more.
Is there anything else you would like readers to know about you?
I’ve kept a log and recorded every movie I’ve ever seen since I was ten years old. This is my collection of stories, some I hold dear and some not so much, but through it I can see my entire life unfold. No matter how messy the narrative, we all need a timeline to anchor us.
Find more about Kristy and her books here.
Thank you to The Romance Room for allowing us to reprint this interview.