Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Cathy Gohlke Interview, Day Two
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.
Is there anything or anyone that inspires your writing?
I am especially inspired by Scripture and the themes I find there. I love that the questions we struggle with today, both in life and in fiction, are the same ones that writers and prophets, men and women, have always struggled with. I love that the answers are the same yesterday, today, and forever. There will never be enough time to write all those stories.
I'm also inspired by a number of writers:
B. J. Hoff for moving stories and lyrical voice
Bodie and Brock Thoene for diligent and detailed research, for pursuit of truth through fiction
Jan Karon for wonderful characters
Ann Rinaldi for prolific stories in so many time periods, and for pursuit of a dream, despite early discouragers in life
Garrison Keillor for making me laugh at myself and smile at human nature
Of Bygone Eras:
Lucy Maud Montgomery, for wonderful storytelling skills
Mark Twain, for irrepressible wit, wisdom, cutting humor, and the ability to spin a yarn
Louisa May Alcott for determination—as a writer who pursued the craft in many forms and as a person who persisted through physical pain, and for her great love of family
And then there are the many members of my dear family, my friends, my church, and all the readers who say, "what's next and when will it be ready?" They inspire and ignite me.
What do you enjoy most about reading historical fiction?
I most enjoy the story—the human element, the conflict and emotion—set in a historical time period I can step into and grasp. I love "turning back the clock." I love books that give me lots to think about in my own life—strong "take aways" woven so tightly into the fabric of the story that I'm not aware of the weaving.
Once we become writers, we read with a critical eye. For some grammatical errors in a book are like fingernails on a chalkboard. For others weak plots cause them to lay a book aside without finishing it. What, if anything, annoys you about some historical fiction? (Without naming names!)
Most annoying to me is a story contrived to fit historical events. Good stories spring naturally from historical events and/or time periods. They are wildflowers that force themselves through stone outcroppings.
Historical fiction requires a lot of research. How did you go about researching your work?
Before choosing a story I pray that the Lord will lead me in ways I can understand to whatever I need to know to write whatever He would have me write. That is what matters to me. Writing in partnership with Him is also the only way I know I will love writing a book to its end.
Then I browse the shelves of bookstores, libraries, and Internet lists and bibliographies for histories and fiction set in the time period and/or the event I'm interested in. I research in library history rooms, historical societies and museums for as much original source material as I can find. I check old newspapers and census records. I watch documentaries and movies set in the time period, read diaries, letters, magazines and books written in the period whenever I can find them, and listen carefully as people tell me their family stories and share their heirlooms.
By this time I usually either have a story or at least the developing seed of a story. I begin to hear the voice of one or more characters in my head. As they reveal their story I continue the above research but also begin sensory research. It is important for me, if possible, to walk the physical path my characters may have walked, to take in the sights, sounds, smells, etc. I take many photographs, try to prepare and eat food and drink my characters might have consumed, try to find the kinds of fabric they might have worn—run my hands over those fabrics. I listen to music they might have played or heard. I absorb as much sensory detail as possible. I continue doing this as I begin to write.
What would you like readers to gain from reading your book(s)?
I would love for readers to come away convinced that they are not alone, that God loves them, that Jesus died for them to have an abundant life—a vibrant, loving relationship with God now and for eternity. I'd love for readers to be convinced that we are not victims in this life, but are free to choose what we believe and how we act upon those beliefs. I'd love for them to discover that the age old hard questions and answers for life were written in a far better book than mine, one written long ago—the Bible. These are the messages that I hope readers find in each of my books.
Any advice for aspiring novelists?
Write. Determine to develop a thick skin. Find an experienced mentor and/or take writing courses. Use critiques to help improve your writing. I found correspondence writing courses especially helpful. They can be very much like working with an editor. Discipline yourself to write with or without "the muse." Set your own deadlines but don't be ruled by them.
Conferences and networking can help and inspire as long as you don't compare yourself to others. You are on a unique journey, as are they. Don't be discouraged or intimidated by the success of others, just keep walking your own path.
Prepare a website. Blog if you feel it won't distract from your writing goal. Network when you can. Develop lists (names, media contacts, mailing addresses, email lists) of those who might be interested in your work when it is published. Prepare a list of topics related to your book and writing on which you feel qualified to speak, as well as a list of groups that might be interested in a presentation on those topics. Prepare a list of possible locations for book signings and contact information. Prepare lists of 10 or so possible interview questions to go with each novel, as well as a one line, a 50 word, and a 100 word hook for your novel--before it is published. You will be asked to supply these and it is much easier to brainstorm and create while the specific project and time period is current in your mind.
Keep relationship priorities in order. Writing is important and requires time and discipline, but we all age (spouses and significant others included), our children grow up, and our parents and friends grow older.
Always give back. Help other writers along the way as you would like to be helped. It is a win/win life plan.
Any final words?
Love what you are doing or don't do it. Writing is hard work, time consuming, and the financial pay will not keep you in sneaker tread. It is also unimaginable joy for those who love it and thrive on it. Know that the first novel is the hardest to sell. If the first novel is well received the second novel is the hardest to write. Self doubt runs rampant—"Was the first one a fluke? Can I do it again?" Remember to breathe, to pray, then sit down and "just do it"—one word at a time.
Remember to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Cathy Gohlke's book, William Henry is A Fine Name.