Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Interview with Author Cathy Gohlke

Cathy Gohlke's writing has appeared in, "Chicken Soup for the Single's Soul," in, "My Turn to Care - Affirmations for Caregivers of Aging Parents," in magazines, newspapers, and in dramatic works produced on local stages. Her first novel, "William Henry is a Fine Name," received a Christy Award - the Catherine Marshall Christian Fiction Award of Excellence. Her second novel, "I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires," was included in Library Journal's list of, "Best of 2008."

Cathy and her husband live and raised their children in Elkton, Maryland.

1. Thank you for joining us, Cathy. I noticed your writing credits include non-fiction articles. How did your non-fiction work inspire you to dive into the world of fiction?

I've always wanted to write fiction but didn't know if I could develop a riveting plot, see a story through to the end, if I could maintain pacing, or hold a reader's interest. Writing non-fiction, especially articles, helped me learn to think analytically, to sculpt a story, cut extraneous material, and to make every word count in limited space. It taught me to set a deadline and "get it done." Writing, selling, and seeing my non-fiction in print built writing confidence and gave me publications to cite when submitting writing of any type. But there came a day when I really wanted to write the story of my imagination instead of telling the story of someone else. And so, once upon a time...

2. Some of the scenes in, "William Henry is a Fine Name," are emotionally supercharged and depict the horrors of slavery. As a writer, how did this affect you?

History is not always pretty, and the dark places grieve me. I can only imagine how they grieve God.

I felt sickened by the realities of slavery, by the drawings, documents and documentaries, diaries, stories - all of it. I've never understood how human beings could treat other human beings so cruelly, how one group or race of people could be so arrogant as to imagine themselves masters of another race. And yet, that mystery and the determination that such evil should never happen again, propelled me to write about it.

The whole issue of slavery leaves me bewildered and broken. I think that if truly our Father holds all our tears in bottles that Heaven must be riddled with oceans. Thank God that He is with us, and heals our brokenness.

3. How do you cope with the upheaval your research and writing cause?

To understand the character's experiences during those horrific times, both slavery (from "William Henry is a Fine Name") and the Civil War (from "I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires") I had to recreate those days in my mind. I worked on the imagery, did all I could to recreate the senses - the smells of those foods, the colors and textures of uniforms, the music they knew and played. I rubbed my hands over leather whips and hefted the weight of chains and manacles, etc. I imagined, to the best of my ability, what it was like to be both slave and master, to be someone on the sidelines watching, to be a soldier for the Union, a soldier for the Confederacy, a nurse, a woman who'd lost everything, a woman who loved and feared for those she loved - so many emotions and so many lives to try to understand and convey. And that, while absorbing and exhilerating, was also draining.

During the writing of the sequel, "I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires," I walked around numb for days and days after relating a character's memories of the battle of Gettysburg - carnage in the heat of summer. And when the battle ended I had to imagine what it was like for those men to go on, to get up and live another day - those who won and those who lost.

In the end I have to give all that sadness, all those spent lives to the Lord, and remember that this (this life, and that history) is not the end of the story. God has so much more to come. But sometimes research is hard and it surely leaves me sober. I find I have to plan things to lift my spirits after those long writing sessions - church, music, theatre, dancing, comedy, garden walks, time with friends. God supplies, but we must reach out and accept His gifts.

4. Can you give us a peek at your next project?

The working title for my new book is, "Owen Allen's Legacy," which opens in 1912:

When the Titanic sinks, Owen Allen offers his plans for a gardening and landscaping business, his dreams, and even his family to Michael Dunnagan, an orphaned and abused Irish stowaway, who looks young enough to pass as a child and board one of the lifeboats. But Michael, who carries his own dark secret, finds that accepting and learning to live with such an amazing and unmerited gift is not easy. Nor is it easy for Owen's younger sister, Annie, to forgive Michael for taking her brother's place. Through years of hardship and war (WWI), Michael and Annie, too, are called to sacrifice. Together they find forgiveness, redemption, and the love and joy they both seek.

Owen's sacrifice and gift parallels, in part, Jesus' sacrifice and gift so that we might live, and live abundantly. Michael's struggle to accept that life, and Annie's struggle to forgive, parallels our own.

Thanks, Cathy, for taking time out of your busy schedule to give us a description of the emotional side of writing. May the Lord bless you.


Jessica Nelson said...

Your new book sounds great. I really, really look forward to reading John Henry.
Thanks for the great interview!

Rita Gerlach said...

Cathy is an excellent author. I have her novel, 'I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires'. She is also a fellow Marylander. Maryland is rich with history, and its great Cathy chose this era to write about. Not far from where I live is Antietam and Monocacy Battlefields. Whenever I drive past them, I think of the thousands of men that gave their lives. In our day and time, I don't think we can fully conceive the horror of those battles.

Thank you, Susan, for this interview with Cathy.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Rita -

I'm so impressed not only with Cathy's writing, but with her passion. These stories bring the dry facts of history to life. They show events in the context of people and how they were affected.

Thanks for your comments. I think books like Cathy's help us to remember the lessons of history.

Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jess -

I'm sure Cathy will be delighted that you plan to read her book. BTW, the title is, "William Henry is a Fine Name." :)


Sarah said...

Thank you for sharing how you dealt with writing such heavy content. Very insightful.

The new book sounds like it will be interesting. I'm already looking forward to it!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Sarah -

You hit on my favorite part of the interview. Writers get so involved with their stories that it affects them emotionally.

Susan :)

Cathy Gohlke said...

Thank you all for your encouragement! I'll remember your comments when the writing gets tough--as it surely does from time to time. Researching and writing in a new time period is always a challenge.

Back to the Civil War--
I agree, Rita, that it is hard for us to conceive the horror of those Civil War battles. We've not known a war on our own grounds in our lifetime. Unless we or a loved one has served in wartime I think we're very far removed. It is too easy to forget the sacrifice of those who have gone before.

I'm glad if the comments re. research and writing of heavy content are helpful, Sarah. I've learned so much from other writers. It is a joy to pass that on.

Many thanks and blessings,


Cathy Gohlke said...

Thank you all so much for your encouragement! I'll tuck those comments away and bring them out on days I need an extra writing push!

I know what you mean, Rita, about those Civil War battlefields. Never having fought a battle on our own soil in our lifetime leaves us far removed from the suffering of those who gave their lives--both in the service of their country or cause, and those who suffered outside of military service.

Research can be heavy, as you mentioned, Sarah, but it is also like a treasure hunt. Sometimes I'm so caught up in the research that I have to make myself go back to writing. Sometimes I'm so excited about things discovered through research that I have to resist the temptation to include them all in my story. Details can bring a manuscript to life, but too many details can overload it. Balance is a tricky thing--one I struggle with and am always trying to achieve.

I hope you enjoy the book, Jessica, and am so glad you're looking forward to reading it!

Thank you, Susan, for a great interview and for the opportunity to share with your readers!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Cathy -

Thank you so much for a great interview. We appreciate your insights on writing about difficult subjects.

Susan :)

Jessica Nelson said...

William Henry, John Henry...
Sorry about that! Hehee. I still want to read it though, even if I can't keep the title straight. :-)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jess -

It's easy to remember because William was my Dad's name. :)