A new year brings each of us the chance to begin new projects or revitalize ongoing ones. For me, 2024 marks the sixth year of featuring authors on my website. I’ve been blessed to introduce readers to sixty local and national writers from debut novelists to New York Times and USA Today Best-selling authors. This January, it is my distinct pleasure to highlight one of Ohio’s most accomplished creative minds, a writer whose career spans more than a decade and who has gifted readers with memorable characters, inspiring plots, and stories that touch the heart.
For those new to Kittle’s writing world, she is the author of four books for adults—Traveling Light, Two Truths and a Lie, The Kindness of Strangers, and The Blessings of the Animals— as well as a novel for tweens, Reasons to Be Happy. Her newest novel, Morning in This Broken World, was an Amazon First Reads pick for August and released in September of 2023. Kittle is no stranger to awards and accolades. The Kindness of Strangers won the 2006 Great Lakes Book Award for Fiction. The Blessings of the Animals was an IndieNext pick, a Midwest Connections pick, and was chosen by the Women’s National Book Association as one of ten Great Group Reads for National Book Club Month in October 2010.
Katrina teaches creative writing workshops for all ages, conducts online classes in the Dayton-Cincinnati-Columbus area through Word’s Worth Writing Connections, and is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Dayton. She is a sought-after public speaker, often leading her “Leap and the Net Will Appear” and “Happy Class” workshops. Katrina lives south of Dayton with her fella, her spooky little weirdo cat Annie, her sweet beagle Serena, and her out-of-control garden.
Please settle in for a delightful and informative chat with KATRINA KITTLE.
Janet Irvin: On your website, you describe yourself as “Author. Teacher. Animal lover. Persister.” In your novels, you weave these into narratives that reflect those values. Do you find one dominating more than the others?
Katrina Kittle: What a great question! I would guess that Persister is the most dominant, and it permeates all the others, as well. Certainly, in my writing life, I’ve had to persist persist persist. PERSIST is written on my office wall, and it’s become my mantra.
I had early success, with 5 novels published in ten years…and then experienced a looong publishing drought before Morning in This Broken World was published in September of 2023. A lot happened in my life during those years since my last published book: I had breast cancer twice, lost my mom to dementia, found the love of my life, sold my parents’ home, sold my own home, combined households with my fella, and started a university teaching career. I’m really proud of the fact that I kept writing through it all. I share all this to be open and transparent about how difficult the publishing journey can sometimes be.
Every day, I just kept the faith and kept at it And sometimes in teaching, you must persist as well–really hanging in there with a student, finding new ways to reach them. And even as the animal lover–many of our rescue pets have asked for such patience and compassion from us. In my experience, all of these things are worth fighting for. And, as a Capricorn, I’m a very stubborn person. That tenacity serves me well in all aspects of my life.
JEI: You have a knack for creating compelling characters. Do you draw on real people as inspiration?
KK: Well, thank you for that kind compliment. I often am inspired by people in my real life and use the “spirit” of them–or what I find most compelling or inspiring about the real person–to create a character, but I never try to make a character actually based on any one person. In my newest novel, for example, Vivian is a new widow facing the brutal combination of grief and isolation at the same time, as her world goes into COVID lockdown. Vivian is inspired by my own Dad and one of my best friends Debra, but Vivian is really neither of those real people. Does that make sense? I hope.
We lost my mother in late January of 2020, so my father was newly alone, in a brand new apartment, and suddenly isolated as his retirement community went into lockdown. And my friend Debra lost her wonderful husband Mike to pancreatic cancer before the lockdown, and my closest circle of friends was determined that there was no way we were leaving her alone during those quarantine months. I used my Dad’s and Debra’s real circumstances to help inform and develop the character of Vivian, but she’s not supposed to “be” either of them.
I do that a lot. I also love to leave little tiny bits of real life for my friends and family to recognize, but that I hope just become enriching details to readers who don’t actually know me–things like having Drew in the novel make amazing cinnamon rolls from scratch (which my real life friend Dave actually makes) and having Vivian think that the rabbits are the bane of her existence in her garden (something my own friends have heard me say repeatedly).
JEI: I know your parents were hugely instrumental in your development as a reader and a writer. Do you have another muse or mentor who has also inspired you?
KK: I think all my fellow writers inspire me. As you well know, this business is humbling and crazy-making. It’s good to have kindred spirits sharing this rocky path with you. Many local writers inspire and challenge me–and make me want to be better–like Sharon Short, Erin Flanagan, Meredith Doench, Christina Consolino, and Kristina McBride. Two other writers who act as muses are not local, but are dear friends: Rachel Moulton and Angela Jackson-Brown. Their persistence, talent, and creativity lift me and keep me going.
JEI: Every writer encounters obstacles as they write. What has been the biggest challenge to your writing?
KK: My own self is my biggest obstacle! Honestly. I catch myself wasting valuable writing time. Or not organizing my day to best aid and abet the writing. A couple of times of year I have to have a serious check-in and “reboot” with myself, recommitting to a schedule and to some discipline!
JEI: How do you judge when an idea is ripe for drafting?
KK: Two “tests” help guide me. First, if I can name the motivation and at least three obstacles that will act as conflict for that motivation, for my protagonist(s), and if I can write a simple “log line” summing up the story. If I can do those things, and I feel the project “pulling” on me, like a little kid tugging on my sleeve, then I feel comfortable making the official document on my computer and proceeding. That’s always a very exciting moment (usually following some months of noodling around in notebooks and mulling mulling mulling on walks in the woods).
JEI: Can you describe your research process? Do you do the background search first, after the first draft, as you go?
KK: I actually do all three. It often depends on the book. With some of my past books, I began by immersing myself in the world of the book before I even started. For example, my first novel, Traveling Light, dealt with AIDS. I’d been working at the AIDS Foundation Miami Valley (which later became AIDS Resource Center, and is now Equitas) and knew my AIDS facts pretty well, but I read every book–fiction, nonfiction, and memoir–I could get my hands on that dealt with a story about lives touched by AIDS. I watched movies and documentaries, read interviews and articles.
I was looking for the character who could inhabit this world that we hadn’t heard from yet. But then, as I wrote the draft, I flagged many medical things I wanted to make sure were accurate. A doctor read for me, when a later draft was polished, and helped me correct some medical details to make the story more authentic. I always try to move forward with writing the story I want to write even if I know I need to research details later. I try to avoid the trap of falling down the rabbit hole of research only…which means I’m not writing! Oh, there are so many ways to not write.
JEI: Morning In This Broken World brought me to tears several times. Even the title invites the reader in. How do you choose the titles for your work?
KK: Again, thank you so, so much. Titles are hard, and each novel title has come to me in very different ways. This particular title came very late in the process. I actually sent it to my agent still with the working “title” of “Assisted Living Draft!”
I love the poet Mary Oliver, and this title comes from her poem “Invitation.” The full line reads: “It is a serious thing, just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.” I think all four of the point of view characters learn this truth. The world is broken, but they get to be there for it, and there is always, always beauty to be found.
JEI: What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
KK: “You can make it better later. First, you must make it exist.” My MFA mentor, Sena Jeter Naslund, said that and it had such an impact on me. Making it exist is the hardest part of this crazy writing journey. Once you do that, no matter how flawed it is, you can make it better through revision. If you’re just talking about writing in the abstract, you’ve got nothing. My students hear me say this over and over again.
JEI: When you find time to relax, what’s your favorite way to do so?
KK: You might find me walking or hiking, baking, gardening, and always reading reading reading. I also love to watch interspecies friendship videos from The Dodo and look at wildlife cam footage.
To contact the author, please visit Kittle’s website — www.katrinakittle.com
— which also includes links to her email, Facebook, and Instagram accounts.