Monday, March 19, 2012

Guest Post - Christy-Award Winning Author, Cathy Gohlke

Today, we're welcoming Cathy Gohlke, author of two Christy-award winning books. Her latest novel, "Promise Me This," involved extensive research on the Titanic, its passengers, and the time period. I asked her to share her adventures and the development of this story. Here's Cathy.

Thank you so much, Susan! It's been an exciting journey.

Research for this book was fascinating! It began at a discount table in a bookstore, the moment I happened across a copy of a portion of Titanic's manifest, and found the name of a third class passenger, Owen George Allum, a London gardener sailing from Southampton, England.

My great-grandfather emigrated from England a few short years before Titanic sailed. Unable to find work as the gold-leaf artist he was, he embraced a lifelong hobby and was employed as a gardener for a wealthy Buffalo family. A Master gardener, he created beautiful arbors and arches of roses and developed new strains of flowers. I thought, what an interesting character those two combined would make!

I read a great many books on Titanic, poured over public inquiry records from America and England, toured exhibits in museums in America and Southampton, England, then trekked back and forth through Southampton, recreating as best I could the life of the ship's crew and their families (before and after the tragedy). I spent days in London absorbing its history, life, and atmosphere, as well as the story of John Bunyan's, "The Pilgrim's Progress," interesting features of Bunhill Cemetery, and Britain's experience in WWI.

I haunted a half dozen used bookstores tucked into the most intriguing places from Lincoln to London to  Southampton, then headed across the English Channel, saying good-bye to Dover's white cliffs and hello to Calais, France.

The next year, my husband, son, and I toured numerous WWI sites in France (east to west). In Berlin, Germany, our son flew home, and our daughter joined us for treks through Germany and Poland. Museums, historic sites, and individuals helped me flesh out the stories of each of my characters in ways I could not from this side of the Atlantic.

I read all of Charles Haas' work on Titanic and Lyn MacDonald's books on WWI. Digging up details of the American Ambulance Field Service in France was more challenging, but it was all pure joy.

When I finally returned to the U.S., I spent a few weeks in Cape May County, NJ (where I set Allen's Run gardens, modeled after Leaming's Run Gardens in Swainton). The Cape May County Historical Society staff and the Cape May County public librarians were wonderful companion sleuths, as was an elderly local historian.

Susan here. :) This post was originally part of the upcoming interview, but I wanted to give it prime space. While not all of us can travel far and wide, Cathy's research highlights some tools we can apply to our own writing experience.

Question for writers: What part of Cathy's research stood out to you? Please share some of your own favorite research tips.

Question for readers: How important is setting and time period in the books you read? Please elaborate.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Susan and Cathy - such an interesting post - on how far you travelled and how much you 'dug' up during your travels ..

"Promise Me This" - sounds extremely interesting .. I was going to say fun - but with the Titanic's ultimate demise perhaps not .. the intertwining of the gardening, with gold leaf artwork, and the Atlantic trips ..

This year being that year too - 15th April .. I used to sit in Church at school and always looked at the Titanic plaque commemorating people from Headington in the Oxford area ...

I'd like to read this one day - interesting review - Susan as you say definitely worth a post on its own ... thanks - Hilary

Dorothy said...

I was hooked the minute I read 'gardener.' Can't wait to hunt this book down. Thanks for the spotlight, Susan. And Cathy, your research sounds like a wonderful adventure for all.

As a writer, I'm privileged to holiday every few weeks on the island where my book is set. (And a few more future books too, I hope).

As a reader, I am sucked in by historicals every time. The location is always interesting, but I love to 'travel the world' in my reading. Set me somewhere in the last 100-150 years, and I'm a happy girl.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Hilary - I'm glad you enjoyed Cathy's guest post. I hope you'll visit her site and read the book.

Hi Dorothy - This book had some wonderful gardening scenes. I know you'd like it.

Susan :)

Rhonda Schrock said...

Wow! What extensive research. What fun that must have been. So interesting.

Thank you, Susan, for sharing this look behind the scenes. And thanks to Cathy, too.

Hope you have a great week!

Karen Lange said...

This book is excellent - it reflects Cathy's extensive research and amazing writing talent. I am impressed by the amount of research she did; it not only lends the book its wonderful flavor, but it transports and nestles the reader into the story.

Thanks, Cathy and Susan, for sharing this!


Cathy Gohlke said...

Thank you so much for having me visit on your lovely blog, Susan! It's always great to talk books with you, and to meet new readers and writers.

Yes, Hilary and Rhonda, the research for this book was a grand adventure--truly one of the highlights of my life. I look forward to using gold nuggets of history discovered in the process for many books to come--including a story set during WWII Germany that I'm contemplating now.

How exciting, Dorothy, to be able to spend time on an island where you've set a story! The very idea of that draws me in. I have to admit that gardens and gardening has a special place in my heart, too. "Promise Me This" swept me away, even before my fingers found the keyboard.

Thank you for your kind words, Susan. The characters seemed real to me--people I still wouldn't be surprised to meet in the course of a day. That's one of the things about fiction that I love most!

Nancy said...

What stood out to me was all the places she went and all the reading she did. I think the two-person character mix will work very well.

I enjoy just about any story set in London or its outskirts. Any time 50 years ago or more will be fine.

Unknown said...

Amazing to read about all the research that goes into writing a historical fiction book! Cathy - your book sounds fascinating. And Susan, I always enjoy visiting your blog! God bless you, ladies!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Rhonda - While research can be done on the Internet, I'm sure it's a lot more fun doing it in person.

Hi Karen - I know you're a big fan of Cathy's writing. She's not only a great writer, but a wonderful person. I'm privileged to highlight her books.

Hi Cathy - Thanks for stopping by. I had such a great time interviewing you and visiting your brand new website.

Hi Nancy - I liked combining two people into one also. I've learned a lot from Cathy.

Hi Maria - I'm glad Cathy will be able to use the material she found for other books as well. If you're going to do such extensive research, you might as well get as mileage out of it as possible!

Susan :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Wow, fascinating to hear the story about how she combined her grandfather's story with her research. Thanks for sharing, Cathy and Susan!

Loree Huebner said...

Loved this Susan and Cathy!

I'm putting, Promise Me This, on my TBR list.

I loved your tour of research, Cathy.

I write the Civil War era and have walked the battlefields that are in my books, and studied the life of the soldiers and civilians during that era by becoming a living historian.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Sarah - Yes, that was one of my favorite items as well.

Hi Loree - I'm doing a full interview and giveaway with Cathy over the next two Wednesdays. I think you'll enjoy it.

Susan :)