Today Wednesday Writers welcomes Gail Kittleson. Gail, tell us about the book you are showcasing.
In This Together, Dottie Kyle’s story, stars a Gold Star mother from World War II who has lost her son and husband. This, my debut novel, released on Nov. 18—yes, last week. That was a long-dreamed-about and awaited day.
How did you come up with the concept for this book?
I love the WWII era, so full of challenges, change, and courage. I grew up in a huge old house that could easily have served as a boarding house, and one day I was in another upstairs. That’s when the idea for Dottie came to me. Then she simply became so real I couldn’t NOT write her story.
What are you working on now? Do you have a release date for this book?
I’m working on the third in a series of World War II women’s fiction novels that span from Iowa farmland to London to Resistance fighting in southern France. The middle one, A Purpose True, has found its publishing home—Lighthouse of the Carolinas—and is due out in early 2017. The first one is being reviewed right now, and the third … its future remains to be seen.
Do you write in more than one genre? If so, why?
I do. Non-fiction and women’s fiction. My memoir, Catching Up With Daylight, took about ten years to complete. My first assignment for the Oregon Summer Writing Program (Thank you, Nancy Knowles, again for nominating me for that.) got me going and I couldn’t stop.
The leap between the two was quite the ride, I must say. I taught college expository writing and fancied my skills would easily adapt. NOT SO MUCH!!! I had a lot to learn, and it was humbling. Don’t we love that?
But I did adapt, and the fiction writing has become such a gift to me. During all those long years without a publisher and plenty of rejections, every day, I still work up with an urgent desire to write. That certainly told me something. I’m finally doing what I was born to do.
I find you have to believe in yourself in order to write confidently. And for many years, I didn’t. That confidence has been extremely slow to develop, but I’m so glad I didn’t give up.
Tell us about your writing space.
Here’s a picture for you. Am I transparent or what—my desk is FULL of notes like this, maps, etc., but I do try to clean it off between manuscripts. My one wall hanging that says “Once in a while in an ordinary life, God gives us a fairytale” inspires me. So does a little block that says “GIVE THANKS,” and another tiny sign that says “It’s all about the journey.”
How have your reading (and writing) tastes evolved over the years? Do you still read the same genre of books you did as a teenager?
Great question. You know, I do still read the same genre: women’s historical fiction and biography. I love history, which leads me to these 2 genres. I’m not sure my tastes have evolved much, to be honest. I loved To Kill A Mockingbird, Gone With The Wind (I read it during algebra class), and biographies of famous men and women back then, and I still do. Of course, Annie Dillard hadn’t written The Living yet, nor had Barbara Kingsolver penned The Poisonwood Bible—such incredible sagas!!
Likewise, I couldn’t have fallen in love with Jane Kirkpatrick’s work back then, or The Cloister Walk, or The Art of Spiritual Writing, a non-fiction wonder by Vinita Hampton Wright that encouraged me SO much in my writing, or … you get the idea. But I’d say every book I love has a spiritual dimension, one way or the other.
Right now, I’m reading Johnnie Alexander’s Where Treasure Hides and loving it.
It’s impossible to choose a favorite book, but Five Quarters of an Orange is so skillfully written. I love it when an author uses a child’s voice—I haven’t the courage to give that a try yet. And Five Quarters is about World War II, so that puts it right up there.
I also stand in awe of C.S. Lewis’s ability to create a believable fantasy world people by REAL children … and again, that was during World War II. Funny how this keeps happening?!?!
Writing is such and sedentary job. Do you do anything to keep in shape?
I love walking. It’s been a spiritual and physical discipline for many years, and has kept me from going over the edge a few (hundred) times. Walking motivates me to work out whatever’s driving me crazy. I’ve had imaginary conversations out on country roads that would make your hair stand on end. But when I get back, I’m ready to face whatever it is again.
The mountains do something wonderful for me, physically, mentally, and emotionally. In the winter, thanks to my very uncooperative sinuses, I spend a couple of months in the wonderful Mogollon Rim area near Payson, Arizona in the Ponderosa pine forest. With clean air and snows that melt in a couple of days, and afternoons when you can walk in jeans and a sweater. Oh my. It doesn’t get better than that.
We like to travel. What is the farthest place from your home that you have visited?
The farthest I’ve ever traveled is Bariloche, Argentina. It’s in Patagonia, and might just play a role in that third novel of my WWII series, since some Nazi leaders took refuge there. That flight was looooong, and then we got stuck in Miami for many extra hours. Being from Iowa, it was tough to believe that a TORNADO was spotted an hour from the airport, right when we happened to be waiting for our plane home. Go figure. Ah…traveling.
It’s been a pleasure having you here today. As you say goodbye, can you leave the readers with an encapsulation of your life’s philosophy? (a quote, a Bible verse, a precept you live by or have tried to instill in your children?)
Thanks so much for having me, Catherine. Well, I could talk on and on here, but it’s time to close. One thing I believe, to seek truth, stands me in good stead. Although I have to say, seeking truth isn’t always comfortable, pleasant, or full of instant gratification. I think this hunger for truth is why I like the ancient mystics so much. Meister Eckhardt’s quote, “If the only prayer you ever say is thank you, that is enough,” really motivates me toward gratitude.
As the header on my author page says, words can lock you up (hold you captive), and they can also set you free—so often our philosophies are two-edged swords. Being thankful isn’t always so easy/simple for truth seekers, but I’d like to live the rest of my life with a healthy blend of these two.
Excerpt from In This Together
Al laughed out loud.
A few minutes farther on, he motioned to the right. “Turn in here.
“Here” turned out to be Almira’s Café. Dottie pushed back her dripping hair. “I must look a sight.
Al grinned, a raindrop balanced on the tip of his nose. “Me too, but who cares? How about I treat you to a California hamburger? Otherwise, it’s dumplings for the third night in a row.
“You’re going to go broke, Al Jensen.
“Nope. Del owes me for a lot of hours at the store. Even though I’ve only been working mornings the past couple of weeks, I rack up the hours. Besides, we’ve got something to celebrate.”
“Del pays you?” She could have sworn Al told her he volunteered at the hardware.
He made a Stan Laurel face. “No, but it sounded good. Del’s still making monthly payments on the store, though, and will be for a good long time.”
He helped her with her coat. “What a sudden storm. Hope it lets up by the time we’re ready to go.” He handed her a menu from behind the chrome napkin holder.
“I meant it. I’m indebted to you. What’s something you would really, really like? Somewhere you’d like to go, maybe?”
The falling star and her wish to see Cora and the children flashed through Dottie’s mind. That scene out in the starry back yard replayed, her hands raised to the heavens and her heart open to surprises. But she tore her eyes away from Al’s to stare at the menu.
About the Author:
Our stories are our best gifts, and blooming late has its advantages—the novel fodder never ends. Gail writes from northern Iowa, where she and her husband enjoy gardening and grandchildren. In winter, Arizona’s Ponderosa pine forests provide relief from Midwest weather and a whole raft of new people and stories. Gail’s memoir, Catching Up With Daylight, paved the way for fiction writing, and she’s so excited to announce the release of her debut women’s fiction novel, In This Together (Wild Rose Press/Vintage Line) on November 18, 2015. She hopes you’ll get to know Dottie and cheer for her on her post World War II journey. Also, please feel free to contact her—meeting new reading friends is the frosting on her cake!