Exquisite Editor and Wise Writer, Meet RTC Editor Katherine Catmull
Kathy's had a hand in editing over 50 client books. As a novelist, she has three books out with Penguin Random House and HarperCollins. In 2018, Kathy was commissioned by a professional theater to adapt her first book into a theater-for-youth play. Of her nine produced short plays, one was published in New Monologues for Women by Women, Vol II, and another was nominated as best original play in Austin’s 2016 B. Iden Payne Awards. We sat down with Kathy and asked her a few questions.
When editing a manuscript, what are the three main things you look for?
1. Scraps of the writer’s voice. This is a writer’s gold, what all writers—and all readers—are prospecting for: the fresh, original expression of your fresh, original self. When I find it, and I always do, I pounce and ask for: “This! More of this!”
2. A narrative structure that allows the reader to drop deeply into the world of the book—to “live” the story—whether it’s fiction or narrative nonfiction. What kicks the reader out? Lack of clarity can do this or unnoticed plot or logic holes, lack of sensory details that pull the body in (once the body’s in, the reader’s in), losing sight of the narrative question that is pulling us forward, wandering down interesting but irrelevant side paths (my own favorite sin), and many others.
3. Extra, useless blobs of words—words and phrases that the writer may have needed to get themselves to the next sentence but which are no longer useful. I tighten ruthlessly and axe out clichés, listening to the rhythm of the sentences to make sure I’m not cutting to the bone.
This is how I edit my own writing as well, by the way, including the: “This! More of this!”
What is a piece of advice you would give new writers?
Write! Write, write, write as much as you can. It’s the only way to get better and the only way to finish things. And here’s a pro tip I must give myself over and over: thinking about writing, gearing up to write, tweaking your outline, doing a bit of quick research—none of that is writing. Put your fingers on that keyboard, or pick up that pen. Get your hands in the dirt and write.
What is your favorite aspect about working for RTC?
How genuine RTC’s commitment is to values like honesty, openness, and caring for each other as whole human beings. A lot of companies talk big about living their values, so I was a bit skeptical when I came in. RTC actually does it.
What is your Enneagram number?
5w4 (that’s “five with a four wing”): at best, an artsy nerd, or a nerdy artist. At worst, an obsessive, introverted weirdo in an attic feverishly writing page 4,327 of a completely unreadable manuscript. (Fingers crossed I’m not that one.) As is typical for a 5w4, I mostly live in my own head (where I sometimes get trapped), am relentlessly curious, come at things sideways, and think in metaphors.
What was the last book you read that was so good you didn’t want to put it down?
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, whom you may know as the author of the enormous and enormously popular Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Piranesi, which is much shorter than its predecessor, is an odd and moving miracle of a book. I don’t want to say too much because it is best to come to it as its main character—a brave, intelligent, and innocent heart—comes to the House in which he finds himself: “The beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.”