I did a guest post on Anna Belfrage’s blog yesterday. We became acquainted on social media through our network of historical novelists. To read the post, you can click here.
Tag Archives: writing
Today is publication day for my third novel—Katie, Bar the Door, a work of contemporary women’s fiction.
You can order the book in Kindle or paperback here: https://bit.ly/order_KBtD (The Kindle is live now; the paperback will be up in a day or two.)
Summary: From a childhood of parental loss, religious repression, and sexual shaming, Katie Thompson suffers deep wounds and persistent self-doubt. Her desire to find meaning through education and a career is threatened by those who push her to conform to a more traditional path. In her desperate search for love, Katie makes disastrous choices about men, leading her to the brink of self-destruction. Her journey through Katie, Bar the Door is the universal quest for healing and hope as she struggles to save herself and her dreams.
“The full circle of love, loss, and forgiveness left me with a great deal of hope and heart-swell.”—Kelly Fumiko Weiss, Windy City Reviews
“An admirable literary feat”—Jodi Daynard, The Midwife’s Revolt
“Tackles the cost of secrets and silence in this raw yet tender coming-of-age story”—Pat Wahler, I Am Mrs. Jesse James
“A gut-punching, white-knuckled labyrinthine tale of Katie’s tormented, guilt-ridden passions”—Nina Romano, The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley
“Manages to offer the reader both deep psychological insight and a page-turning narrative”—Barbara Monier, The Rocky Orchard
Radio Interview with Susan Wingate
To mark the book launch, I was interviewed toady on blog talk radio by the fabulous Susan Wingate. Click on the image to go to the interview.
I’ve never posted this poem here, but today seems an appropriate day. I wrote it when my brother Keith was serving as a civilian contractor, driving trucks in Iraq, and he told me they weren’t allowed to stop when people ran in the road because of the threat of IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Please note that what happens to the trucker in the poem is something that I imagined, not that my brother experienced. Keith died last December of COVID-19, so now for me personally, this poem relates to two of the great tragedies in our country’s recent history.
I. The Fireman
He never knows what wakes him—
the click of the furnace,
the dull scrape of a snowplow in the street,
his wife’s soft sigh—
but once awakened, he hears explosions,
the loud percussive impact of a body hitting street,
bursting in a wet and heavy instant
like a monstrous water balloon
or a dropped melon.
Like a repeating loop of newsreel,
he sees them jump from the towering pyre
and try to keep on running,
arms pumping, legs striding through the smoky sky
as they plummet to eternity.
And he who could not save them,
nor the comrades lost in the Twin Towers’ fall,
keeps faith by living with the burden of memory—
the smell of burning flesh and fuel
the acrid taste of powdered concrete—
and waits for it to crush him
so he can join the others.
II. The Trucker
The snores are loud in a tent of 40 men,
shaking him from sleep
just as the roar of jet engines
must have vibrated the tower windows
right before the impact.
Eighteen hours he drove that day,
hauling steak, detergent, and stacks of mail
to an army base near Fallujah.
As he returned,
a barefoot boy in dirty clothes,
scrambled over the gravel shoulder
and onto the single-lane highway.
The boy held out his hands before him
in the universal gesture for “Stop”
and squeezed shut his eyes.
the convoy neither slowed nor turned
but drove straight forward to avoid ambush.
His was the truck that hit the slender body,
the initial thud of impact
followed by a bump as he ran over a yielding mass,
each set of wheels encountering less and less of a barrier.
Now he lies on his cot, trying not to shudder,
and tells himself the boy would have grown to be a terrorist,
so that killing him was like squashing a baby scorpion.
Above the snores of his tent mates,
comes the high-pitched hum of an overworked heater.
And hearing its whine, he imagines
that somewhere in the desert,
a brother or uncle or cousin
wails over a broken body
and vows jihad.
Copyright: Ruth Hull Chatlien. May not be reprinted or published without the author’s written permission.
Photo: MrHarman, Wikimedia Commons
From the age of six until the time I went away to college, I lived about three blocks away from Cobb Park in Kankakee, Illinois—significant to me because Cobb Park is bordered by the curve of the Kankakee River. Children had more freedom in the 1960s than they do now, and from the time I was nine or ten, I was allowed to walk or ride my bike to the park on my own during summer vacation. Sometimes my little brother came with me. I remember spending unsupervised time on the bank of that river, which I came to love with an abiding affection that has never left me. My brother and I knew we should never wade in it, although we did creep close to the water or walk out onto the square concrete block that was all that remained of a long-vanished boat house. The photo above shows a view similar to the one that greeted me on those idyllic summer days.
The origin of the word Kankakee (pronounced KANG•kuh•kee) is Native American, although records differ as to the people who originated the name and its possible meaning. According to an early fur trader (1822), the original Pottawatomi name was Ti-yar-ack-naunk and meant “wonderful river.” However, a priest who visited the region in 1721 recorded the original name as The-a-ki-ki, which meant “wolf.” (Houde, M. J., & Klasey, J. Of the People: A Popular History of Kankakee County, pp. 2-3.)
Whatever its exact origin, I appropriated an approximation of the native name for the river in my novel Katie, Bar the Door, which is coming out on September 22, 2021. (It can be preordered here.) I dubbed my river the Theakia (pronounced Tay•AH•kee•uh) and didn’t bother to assign an original meaning.
My main character Katie lives in a small community consisting of about a dozen houses and a general store out in the countryside of fictional Bishop County, very loosely based on Kankakee County. The river doesn’t run past her home, but it is close enough that she can pass it when she goes out running, and like me, she loves it with a deep, instinctive love. Here is a description from her point of view:
Up ahead, a flock of starlings wheeled in a huge cloud against the white sky and then settled in a field. I lifted my braid from my neck. Sweat poured down my face, and I tasted salt on my lips. Already I was beginning to sense the almost mystical sense of rhythm that possessed me when I ran. Sometimes, I imagined my veins sucking up strength from this ancient prairie where I’d been born. I loved it here, even though the land was flat as a table.
Turning the corner, I passed a white farmhouse whose yard displayed a silver milk can surrounded by orange marigolds. Half a mile farther, I turned onto Eagle Island Road. On my left, a tangle of wild shrubbery followed the line of the Theakia River. In places, openings broke through the green wall. After running another mile, I halted by one of those clearings.
From here, I could see Eagle Island, a long sandy oval overrun with thin trees and dense undergrowth. On mornings when mist from the river curled up around the island, the view made my heart ache.
Often, people sat fishing here when I ran past. The spot where I stood was empty that day, but down near the water’s edge stood a table made from a large wooden spool and two rusty metal chairs with scalloped backs.
A breeze moved across my sweaty skin, and I pulled at the tank top plastered to my chest and then turned back.
Kankakee River: ©Shutterstock/Tolk83
I have a long, painful, and winding odyssey to share with you. With a happy ending.
Thirty-eight years ago, I wrote a short story about a young woman who was leaving her husband. I felt I didn’t know the characters well enough, so I decided to explore their history. The main character’s name was Katie, and she seized my heart. By the time I was done exploring, I had a manuscript that was 1,187-pages long! (I was teaching myself how to write novels. It was a necessary phase.) I cut it to 750 pages. I cut it again.
Then I tried to get an agent. And pretty consistently, I heard that they liked the writing, liked the characters, didn’t think they could sell the story.
So after sixteen years (!) of living with Katie et al, I put the manuscript away and went on to write other things.
About three years ago, I felt renewed grief over this unrealized dream, so I took out the manuscript and revised it. I sent it to a round of beta readers. Then I revised it again.
On Saturday, September 5, 2020 it went to my publisher. I fully expected that it would take a least a month to hear anything. The answer came after six days. They loved it!
Now, nearly a year later, my novel Katie, Bar the Door is about to be published. It’s coming out on September 22, 2021.
From a childhood of parental loss, religious repression, and sexual shaming, Katie Thompson suffers deep wounds and persistent self-doubt. Her desire to find meaning through education and a career is threatened by those who push her to conform to a more traditional path. In her desperate search for love, Katie makes disastrous choices about men, leading her to the brink of self-destruction. Her journey through Katie, Bar the Door is the universal quest for healing and hope as she struggles to save herself and her dreams.
You can preorder the book here.
Head of Janus, Vatican Museum, Rome
The month of January is said to be named after the Roman god Janus, who was the god of beginnings, transitions, and endings among other things. He had two faces, which enabled him to look to the future and to the past.
I find this fitting because that’s what my husband and I always do on New Year’s Eve; we talk about the milestones of the past year and we set our hopeful goals for the future.
One of the biggest milestones of 2017 for me was the publication of my second novel, Blood Moon: A Captive’s Tale. In some ways, getting that second novel out into the world was even more satisfying than the first because it proved that getting published wasn’t a fluke and that I wasn’t going to be plagued by the “sophomore slump.”
However, 2017 had its writing difficulties too. One of the big adjustments I had to make was to completely abandon the idea for my next novel after having spent six to eight months researching it. The more I read, the more I realized that the person I thought was I was going to write about just wasn’t a good fit for me right now.
So I am starting over from scratch, and the reboot coincides almost exactly with the beginning of the new year. The good news is that I am very excited about the new story idea, and I can already feel the creative juices stirring in a way they didn’t last year.
Watch this space. Over the next few months, I plan to share some of the intriguing tidbits that I uncover during my research process.
And I wish each and every one of you a wonderful 2018 in which you achieve some of your own deeply cherished goals and received some pleasant surprises!
Yesterday, I figured out a plausible back story for the protagonist of my next novel. Like The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, this one will be based on the life of a real women—but this story is more difficult because she left her New England home to go west and then refused to talk about her childhood because of some unspecified break with her family of origin. Historians have not even been able to identify her birth family with complete accuracy because there are three different recorded birth dates for her and two different maiden names!
Needless to say, this situation has both pros and cons. On the one hand, I get to make up her back story to suit myself, while on the other hand, the field is almost too wide open. It’s difficult to make choices that hang together properly. I’ve been struggling with it for several weeks and finally decided to read a history of the state where she grew up, which unfortunately, is one of the few states I’ve never even set foot in. Reading that book made a huge difference. I learned that the industry I thought dominated the state had all but died out by the time she was born, and something else entirely had begun to take its place. Then, about a week ago, I had an intuitive flash in which I “saw” this woman as a child in a distinctive setting. After that, everything fell into place. I now know how I’ll portray the events that brought about the unlikely occurrence of a single woman from New England leaving behind her well-established family and traveling alone to the frontier.
I’m really embarrassed at how infrequently I’ve been blogging. I’m well, but my attention has been focused on other things—mainly trying to develop a regular routine again. I’m working about 2/3 time, exercising regularly, marketing The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, trying to get my garden in, and researching the new book. Blogging always seems to be the last thing on the list.
The good news is that, judging from how much exercise I am able to do, I seem to have built my stamina up to my pre-cancer levels. However, that’s still not all it could be because, during the six months before the diagnosis, I was working too much and not taking care of myself. Hopefully, my energy levels will continue to improve if I stick to my program of healthy eating, regular exercise, and slow, very gradual weight loss. But I don’t want to minimize this milestone. Even though I still have a long way to go to meet my end goals, I’ve achieved something important in getting back to where I was before the cancer.
I’m not going to make any promises about when I’ll be back to regular blogging, but I’ll try not to go a month between posts. Hope you are all well!
As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, it occurs to me that part of my problem is how much time I’m actually spending working on the new novel right now. As most of you know, I’m trying to get back to a semi-normal schedule after my bout with cancer. I’m working only about 60% time right now, so you’d think I would have lots of time for the novel. But three things are working against me:
1. I have a lot of new health-related things added to my daily routine, and those aren’t ever going to go away.
2. I’m really behind on household and garden chores, and I’m trying to gradually, oh so slowly, catch up.
3. It’s important that I don’t overdo my work hours for a while.
The upshot of all of this is that I’m working on the new book only about five hours a week. I plan to increase that over the course of the next few months because it’s really a pitiful amount. How can I get inside my characters’ heads when I spend so little time with them?
But it can’t be helped. I’m still in the situation that my health has to come first. It will get better when I can work at the writing at least 10-12 hours a week. I’m just not there yet.
Have you ever gone through a period in which you have so little time for your writing? What do you do to keep your excitement about the project alive?