Hello, Kathleen. I’m thrilled to host you today and I’m looking forward to finding out a little about you. Thanks so much for this opportunity! What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life?
If I put aside what I do every day to hopefully raise, loving, generous, productive, human beings, I would say it’s a tie between earning my PhD and publishing my own books. There has never been an experience that lived up to its billing, that provided such a sense of accomplishment as when I finished that PhD program. I remember getting a call from one of the dissertation committee members before my defense. I pressed the button on the answering machine, wondering if this guy was going to say, “forget the defense, this is awful…” I wrote about a culture and community that was not mine, but was his and that left me open to having possibly interpreted data in all sorts of “wrong,” ways. But he said he thought it was an incredible dissertation that really said something different about the population of people I studied. I collapsed into the kitchen chair and burst into tears, just like you’d imagine a person bursting into tears. The feeling was like no other. Except for the pride I feel in self-publishing. People sometimes say it’s taking the easy way out. I know that whoever says that has never done it. To take a book from disparate ideas to a solid product people want to read without the help of an all-knowing expert to guide me through it feels pretty darn good.
What is your favorite color? Red
What is your favorite food? seafood
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? I had so much fun growing up, hanging out with friends, experiencing all the stuff every human does, but I kept replaying certain scenes and events in my head and reliving them that way, almost as though recalling them was better than originally living them. I kept thinking, “I have to write this down, I have to capture this moment, this feeling, this person!” At the same time, I found myself rambling on and on about all sorts of things that I felt passionate about, but it occurred to me, hearing someone’s voice for too long is grating. It was then I figured, “Hey, write it down then if someone wants to read what I think, they’ll read it…” No grating necessary. That combined with my family history of everyone being buried in books sort of sealed my fate. Oh, and my dad writes every day of his life. He doesn’t care about being published, the writing itself is paramount to him.
How long have you been writing? I’ve been writing fiction for 13 or 14 years, but it was when my son was born prematurely and I reduced my workload to be at home more that I decided I would treat writing as my job—even with my regular, formal part-time work.
What inspired you to write your first book? College life inspired my first book. I lived with one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. She was absolutely everything I was not—self-assured, sassy, brilliant, carefree, self-depricating, and a smoker. We were both drinkers…but we just clicked on some level and spent so much time doing stupid, dangerous/hilarious things that never failed to make me think, “oh, my God, I have to write about this…” I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone else like her—someone with such a fully developed sense of who she was and what she needed to do or not do to accomplish her goals.
Who or what influenced your writing once you began? I joined writers groups like FatPlum in Pittsburgh and PennWriters in Pennsylvania. There I met lovely people willing to not only support the content, the actual writing process, but they supported me as I went down the path of traditional publication. I found an agent, but she didn’t sell the first book she took on and then she turned down the others thinking they weren’t marketable—too small and quiet to be breakout novels. These groups and the individuals in them really helped me wade though the next steps in that situation.
Have you developed a specific writing style? I don’t think so. All three books are about different times in history and each required a completely different style…I’m writing a follow-up to The Last Letter right now and I’m finding that as soon as I’m in the writing, that voice comes back…that tells me it was the right one for that book.
How did you come up with the title? Love and Other Subjects was originally called Opposite of That. The original title sort of sums up everything Carolyn learns about herself and her world at the time—but my publicist really thought it didn’t offer enough context for potential buyers. We brainstormed a hundred titles and settled on Love and Other Subjects because it lets the readers know teaching is part of the book, but that it is fun and about love as well.
How did you develop your plot and characters? The plot was simple—there were two problems that needed to be solved and it was easily fitted into a neat school year. That helped me contain the plot, to not let it wander and stretch on. The characters are inspired by, but not the group of women I worked with. I actually combined a bunch of them to create the characters. And when it came to Carolyn and her roommates, even if there’s a seed of resemblance to someone, it’s exaggerated and stretched and shaped to work in a novel and in the end it’s purely coincidental if someone actually sees them selves in a character. I’m hoping every new teacher in the country sees herself in the characters in some way.
Who or what influenced your writing over the years? Well, as publishing changed and opened up to self/indie publishing, my mentors changed a bit. There are many that I met in those original groups whom I still see and talk to regularly, but as I took on the responsibility of not only turning out the best book I could, but added the jobs related to publishing, I found I needed to meet with people who were doing that.
Genre – Women’s Fiction
Rating – PG15
For every woman who wonders if she chose the right career... Carolyn Jenkins strives for two things--to be the greatest teacher ever and to find true love. She's as skilled at both as an infant trying to eat with a fork. Carolyn's suburban upbringing and genuine compassion for people who don't fit effortlessly into society are no match for weapon-wielding, struggling students, drug-using colleagues, and a wicked principal. Meanwhile, her budding relationship with a mystery man is thwarted by his gaggle of eccentric sisters. Carolyn depends on her friends to get her through the hard times, but with poverty-stricken children at her feet and a wealthy man at her side, she must define who she is. The reality of life after college can be daunting, the road to full-fledged adulthood long and unscripted. Can Carolyn take control and craft the existence she always wanted?
Thank you for reading about me here. I'm married with two children. I've been seriously writing for almost a decade although I dabbled much earlier than that! I've had short stories published in four Chicken Soup for the Soul books, am a regular contributor to a local magazine, Pittsburgh Parent, and have had essays in local newspapers as well.
I have a PhD in Reading Education and have worked in schools for over twenty years. I work with teachers and their students in grades k-8 and am lucky to learn something new from them every time I walk through their doors. This experience was a huge help in writing LOVE AND OTHER SUBJECTS--a quirky, post-college coming of age story.
My first novel, The Last Letter (2011 IPPY Gold Medal--Regional Fiction, Midwest, 2011 Indie Excellence Finalist Award for Historical Fiction and Regional Fiction, 2011 International Book Awards Finalist for Historical Fiction and Best New Fiction), was a fascinating trip through history, punctuated with fictional characters and events. The idea for the story grew from my great-great grandmother's letters (see My Dear Frank for the complete set of letters!) written during the year of her engagement to Frank Arthur. The beautiful letters are the inspiration for the novel, the seed from which The Last Letter's characters and their voices grew.
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