Cathy O'Connell new photo

9 Questions with Local Novelist Cathy O’Connell

Cathy O’Connell is the author of four mystery novels, “Skins,” “Well Bred and Dead,” “Well Read and Dead,” and her latest, “The Last Night Out.” A native of Chicago, Cathy moved to Aspen after college to ski, and waitressed and bartended, among other jobs, while pursuing her dream of becoming a novelist. She’s a longtime Aspen Words member and currently serves on AW’s board.

Find out about Cathy’s new book, as well as her writing routine, some of her favorite writing advice and which world-famous author blurbed one of her novels.

What was your path to becoming a writer?
I’ve been writing stories since I was a child and always thought I’d be a writer when I grew up. I majored in journalism at the University of Colorado, but after graduation I moved to Aspen to be a ski bum and also spent time backpacking through Europe.  When I got back to the U.S., I worked as a waitress and bartender and tried to write. I must’ve started working on 50 different books but didn’t have the discipline to finish any of them.

When I hit Cathy skiing in Aspen_400 x 200my late 20s and hadn’t published anything, I decided to give up the dream and find a real job. I was a sales rep for a wine company for three years and hated it. After that, I forced myself to get disciplined about my writing, and that resulted in my first novel, “Skins,” a mystery about the fur industry, being published in 1993. I found my agent for that book through a blind query letter.

What’s your writing routine?
I typically work from home in El Jebel, in my office, and write everything in longhand first. I especially like to write dialogue in longhand because if I have to worry about punctuation while I’m typing on a computer it slows me down.

I always know the beginning and ending of my books before I start; the tough part is doing all the writing that connects the beginning and end.

What’s some of your favorite writing advice?
“Write every day. You can fix a bad page but you can’t fix an empty one.”

What are the best and most challenging parts of being a novelist?
I love when I’m writing and get totally immersed in my characters’ world. I also like that I’ve been able to achieve my dream of being published. The toughest part of being a novelist is sitting down to do the writing!

Frank McCourt (“Angela’s Ashes”) blurbed one of your books, calling you: “A hell of a storyteller, a master of plot and a tart observer of the social scene.” How did the blurb come about?
He came to speak at Aspen Summer Words one year and I was assigned to be his ambassador and drive him around town. We became friends and stayed in touch. I asked him to blurb my second novel, “Well Bred and Dead.”

What’s your new novel, “The Last Night Out” about?
Maggie Trueheart slept with a stranger the night of her bachelorette party. She then finds out one of her friends was murdered some time after Maggie parted ways with her the night before. The stranger Maggie slept with becomes a suspect in the case. Maggie is the only one who knows where he was.

What are some books you’ve read recently and loved?
“Lincoln in the Bardo,” “Sing, Unburied Sing,” “Lilac Girls,” “The Goldfinch,” “A God in Ruins,” “The Black Widow” 

You’ve been very involved with Aspen Words over the years. Are there any events that have stood out?
As far as author talks, I find them all inspirational because nearly all authors have had their ups and downs and it’s tenacity that saw them through. One of my favorite speakers is Luis Alberto Urrea, because he is a testimony to how a person can come from challenging roots to achieve a great literary career. That puts success in reach in the mind of all writers.

What’s next for you?
I’m under contract for a new novel, “First Tracks,” a mystery set in Aspen about a female ski patroller. The manuscript is due to my editor next month!

Join Cathy for a book talk and signing on Wednesday, August 15, at 5:30 p.m. at Explore Booksellers in Aspen.

Learn more about Cathy’s writing at

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