Welcome back for our second day with Cathy Gohlke, the two-time Christy Award–winning author of the critically acclaimed novels Saving Amelie, Band of Sisters, Promise Me This (listed by Library Journal as one of the best books of 2012), William Henry Is a Fine Name, and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires, which also won the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Book of the Year Award and was listed by Library Journal as one of the best books of 2008.
Cathy, you’ve had a varied career path – school librarian, drama director, director of children’s and education ministries. How do you think each of these positions helps you as a writer and storyteller?
School librarian: Discovering and exploring stories and the lives of authors and illustrators with children in the library helped me see the world through the eyes of children—full of wonder, and insistent upon an engaging and credible story. Working with children also reminded me to be sometimes playful in my writing and to bring lightness and joy even to serious situations.
Directing drama—for children, teens and adults—helped me see stories as plays. Characters on stage are three dimensional and are visible at all times—like theatre in the round. Just so, in novels all the characters must be simultaneously doing something. There can be no dead space or slow time. The playgoer must be actively engaged in the story and the characters must act true to their natures and roles. Dialogue must be sharp, must reveal clear motivation, and must move the story along at a good pace. There must be a strong premise to the play and a story arc with turning points, just like in a novel. So, I think that seeing all those things acted out on stage and urging actors to constantly engage the audience has been a great help in creating novels. Good stories tend to come full circle—whether they are written as plays or novels. Good stories leave us with that “ahh” feeling.
Director of Children’s and Education Ministries: This position forced me to plan, organize and coordinate large projects while working with a number of staff and many volunteers. I was always looking for the spiritual takeaway for adults in the studies the church ran and for the greatest possible way to engage the greatest number of children and adults in meaningful studies. I wanted the experience to be energizing, build community, and most especially be spiritually rewarding for them. I quickly learned that I could set and dress the stage, but God gives the experience and works in the heart of each person bringing themselves to the moment. In the same way, I can create a synopsis and write a story, but only God works in the hearts of readers to help them see and experience what He wills. That total surrender to Him, and partnership between God, reader and writer is amazing, exciting, creative—and more than I could have hoped or imagined.
It’s always interesting to see how all the pieces of our lives come together for something down the road. If you could be any character from a favorite historical novel for a few days, who would it be and why?
Although these weren’t written as historical novels, I’ve imagined myself as Anne of Green Gables and Jo March in Little Women. Recently, I’ve thought I might like to step into the shoes of Maisie Dobbs—female private investigator just after WWI, when such a thing was not heard of! But, I confess I’m climbing closer to Miss Marple, Agatha Christie’s grandmotherly sleuth.
When starting a new project, do you tend to begin with a time period or event and create the characters to live it, or do you start with characters and then find their story?
This is a chicken or egg question for me—which came first? The characters are primary. That way I understand who they are and how they face the dilemmas of their time period and the events of history. But, the two are so tightly woven that they appear as one. It’s as though I open a book in my mind to a time period, a point in history and find those characters waiting for me, eager to share their lives and story.
Reading fiction can be a way to escape reality for a while, but those stories can still teach some valuable lessons. What points do you hope readers take away from your books?
I hope readers see Christ in my stories, that He is the solution and road to peace and wholeness. I hope they understand that through a relationship with Him the bonds of slavery are broken—those that bind us from outside sources and those of our own making. If readers are brought closer to the Lord through my stories, I’m so very grateful.
Any final words?
Thank you so much for having me. I’ve loved sharing my life and stories with your readers, and look forward to today’s conversations.
And we’re glad you’ve been able to share those things with us! Visitors, you can learn more about Cathy and her books on her website or Facebook page.
And, don’t forget to answer Cathy’s question for your chance to win a copy of Saving Amelie:
What is the name of the controversial German pastor, the author of The Cost of Discipleship, who gave me new insights for Saving Amelie?
Be sure to include your name and email address with your comment (spelling out ‘at’ and ‘dot’ to help cut down on spam). The drawing will be held Friday morning, July 11. Good luck, and we’ll see you back tomorrow!