Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Cathy Gohlke Interview, Day One
Cathy Gohlke's love for people and their stories make her a natural storyteller. Her first novel, William Henry is a Fine Name, was awarded the 2007 Christy Award—Young Adult Category. Her second novel, I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires, will release September 2008.
Cathy loves campfires, great books, gardens, trekking through ruins and old cemeteries, and riding her bike on flat roads on sunny days. She has worked with children and adults as a drama coach, director of children's and education ministries, and as a children's librarian. Cathy and her husband, Dan, live in Elkton, MD where they raised their two children.
Tell us a little about your road to publication.
My first published pieces were newspaper stories, mostly human interest and features. I love and wrote about people and their causes: rape crisis prevention and healing, mission trips, promotion of literacy, kids raising money for a critically ill mom's surgery, etc. Writing on deadline taught me to interview, sit down and get the job done. Some of my poems were published in local magazines and newspapers. Writing poetry taught me to appreciate the beauty, flow, rhythm and sounds of words, and to make every word count. Several plays and monologues were produced on local stages. After attending a Christian Writers' Conference I submitted essays that were published in "My Turn to Care—Affirmations for Caregivers of Aging Parents," "Chicken Soup for the Single Soul" and in a national magazine. A short story received an honorable mention in the annual Writer's Digest Short Story Competition. During this time I was learning the craft and discovering my voice as a writer—things I'm still learning. A writer's correspondence course gave me tools necessary to outline a novel. Once my first novel was finished and critiqued by a wonderful team of colleagues and friends, I mailed queries to publishers, including a submission to The Writer's Edge, an online service that notifies Christian publishers of new manuscripts. An Acquisitions Editor, Andrew McGuire of Moody Publishers, saw my listing and contacted me for the complete manuscript. I signed my first novel contract on my 50th birthday, a perfect gift, and the beginning of a new life.
What a wonderful present! When you first entered the publishing world, what surprised you the most? Was there any aspect of the business that caught you off guard?
I learned, much to my chagrin, that words are not sacred. Newspaper editors chop ruthlessly for space constraints and writers need thick skins to survive and learn from that. It was a valuable lesson.
In book publication I naively believed that writing and selling the book was the most difficult and time consuming part. I had no idea of the amount of time and energy required for publicity, promotion, the writing and giving of talks and speeches, setting up and attending book signings and conferences, the anxiety attached to first time radio and television interviews—the list goes on. I did not understand the importance of a website, nor did I know how to create one. All of these things needed to happen quickly while researching and writing a second novel. The first year was wonderful, exhilarating and exhausting. Had I better understood the promotion process, I could have prepared some of those things before selling the first book.
Why historical fiction?
I love and have learned so much from history and from those who have gone before. In some ways mine is a "if they can do it—if they can survive and thrive, then so can I" response to life. I love stepping into bygone eras and getting to know the people, the culture, the politics, the struggles of everyday life in the midst of crisis. I love learning the nuts and bolts of how they lived—home crafts, cooking, farming, etc.
History repeats itself with astonishing regularity. I see many of our current struggles as repetitions of past problems—just a different century, a new setting, new characters. I think it is easier to see the answers to our own problems by viewing them, or something similar to them, through the lens of the past. The view is less personal, less threatening, and clearer.
I crave the joy of weaving stories of human nature addressed by Divine love through history.
What are you working on now that you'd like us to know about?
I've recently finished my second novel. I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires, will release September 2008. It is the continued story of Robert, from William Henry is a Fine Name. In this book Robert, nearly 18, is determined to join the Union, to fight for President Lincoln's emancipation of the slaves he has long helped on the Underground Railroad. But first he must find a way to bring to his mother and cousin north, through enemy lines, to safety. Robert never counted on being tricked into a prison escape, or caught, tried, and nearly shot as a spy, on the run from both armies. He never expected to love his enemy, or to find himself and his family trapped in a war he no longer understands.
I've also just returned from a research trip to England in preparation for writing a new book. So I'm hot on the trail of a new novel set in a new time period with an entirely new set of characters. My toes are shivering. It is as thrilling as Spring!
Do you have a favorite historical novel?
There are so many! Although not historical for its time, my life was changed at twelve years of age by reading In His Steps. It is popular today to criticize Henry Maxwell's writing, but his message is unfailing and taught me not to flinch at challenge, to write frankly in response to hard questions. It is something I've carried with me always.
[Cindy’s note: I agree. That novel made a big impression on me also. By the way, criticizing a best-selling author’s writing is still popular today, especially on Amazon!]
Is there anything or anyone that inspires your writing?
Come back tomorrow for part two of the interview with Cathy Gohlke. Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of William Henry Is a Fine Name.