Heroines that dare to Bloom!
Dottie Kyle, an everyday Midwestern woman who lost her only son in the war and her husband soon after, takes a cooking/cleaning job at a local boarding house. But when a new employee is hired, complications arise, and when they niggle Dottie’s “justice meter”, she must decide whether to speak up or not.
At the same time, her daughter's pregnancy goes awry and the little California grandchildren she's never met need her desperately. But an old fear blocks her way. When the widower next door shows Dottie unexpected attention, she has no idea he might hold the clue to unlocking her long-held anxieties.
Let's all welcome Gail Kittleson to The Diamond Mine today!!
Gail has written a wonderful historical romance, full of characters you'll love to spend time with. Be sure to leave a comment after the interview for a chance to win a free copy of Gail's great book! Now, let's get to the interview!
Hi Gail, Welcome to The Diamond Mine! I have some questions for you.
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
In my teens, I walked out in a pasture one beautiful summer day and sensed that writing ought to be a huge part of my future. But I had minus-zero confidence that anything I wrote would be important to anyone else. In ninth grade, our English teacher put a big red A+ on one of my papers, along with a note: Your writing shows real talent. That encouraged me not to give up.
That's wonderful. Good for you! What’s the first story you remember writing?
It was an essay about summer in the schoolhouse. Then in college, I recall writing a poem around a story. But to be honest, I really wasn’t much of a storywriter back then. Actually, I never thought I’d write fiction, as poetry was my first and favorite mode of expression. Teaching college expository writing brought out the essayist in me—suddenly I realized I could communicate in this way just as I did with poetry. Still, I had no dream of fiction writing. That didn’t come until I was in my fifties, when I led several groups through Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. Even now, I’m not sure what happened, or exactly how, but something loosened up inside me, and a fiction book formed in my mind.
That's so interesting. Every writer I've interviewed seems to travel a different path to novel writing. What attracted you to writing a story set just after World War II?
The era is my mother’s. In high school, she watched her two older brothers go off to war. She told us how she and the other girls would dance with each other on Saturday nights because most of the young men were fighting. WWII has always fascinated me—such a treasure trove of endless stories. My father-in-law was a bona fide war hero, and that may have affected me, too, as I learned about his service.
It certainly is an era that captures the imagination of many people. Tell us something about the characters in your book, and what they’re facing.
The heroine, Dottie, a down-to-earth Gold Star mother, lost her only son Bill at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass in North Africa, and her husband died soon after the war. So she makes do by taking a cooking and cleaning position at the local boarding house, where she tolerates her stingy boss, a curmudgeonly negative thinker. But when a new employee, Bonnie Mae, arrives on the scene, conflicts arise that niggle Dottie’s sense of injustice. Finally, she must decide whether to maintain silence or speak up for what she thinks is right.
At the same time, Dottie’s daughter Cora develops complications in her third pregnancy and needs Dottie desperately. But she lives in California, and the thought of boarding a train for such a long trip pushes all of Dottie’s fear buttons. Though she longs to meet her precious grandbabies, relentless fear roots her to the Iowa earth.
And then Al, Dottie’s widower next-door neighbor, starts showing her unexpected attention. Oh my! What will happen next? Of course, Dottie has no inkling that Al, a World War I veteran, deals with his own haunting fears, or that he might hold the key to untangling her dilemma.
Sounds like a great read! Do any of the characters share qualities with you, or someone else in real life?
Absolutely. Most women I know are make-do folks. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, we discover our strengths like teabags—when we’re in hot water. My Grandma and Mom were like this. You don’t survive the Great Depression and a world war without making do. Mom used to tell us about walking to school with cardboard in her shoe to insulate the hole in her sole. That’s the kind of poverty most of us have never known, and yet when other sorts of trouble threaten, I think each of us reaches down—or up—for the strength we need to get through.
Dottie is also out to please, which is my natural modus operandi. Keep everybody happy and avoid conflict at all costs. Yep, above all, be NICE!
Not so easy to do when troubles come flying at you! I think that's when we learn to really pray.
When you imagine a story, what comes first, the characters, the storyline, the era, etc.?
The characters. Dottie came to me first, and then the guy next door—sweet, lonely Al. I believe Dottie’s boss Helene arrived in my mind next. She shoved her way right into my thoughts, and into Dottie’s knack for toleration.
People like Helene really don’t care about hurting anyone’s feelings—they don’t even notice. Their agenda matters so much to them, it’s all they can see. And people like Dottie let them run roughshod—after all, Helene’s writing out the paychecks. But when Helene hires a new, sassy young employee with a strong sense of justice, Dottie discovers her own limits.
I love character-driven stories that show how people change and grow.
So, do you write from an outline, or develop it as you go?
I don’t use an outline, and the characters develop the story. I seem to end up in their little town, walking their streets with them, and the 1946 culture creeps into my spirit. In those days, options were a bit more limited technologically, but not interpersonally. And going through something as awful as a world war changes the population. Quirky small town atmosphere and actual historical events also help develop the plot.
What would you like the reader to take away from your stories?
Even though Dottie suffered the most heart-wrenching grief—losing a child, her actions and attitudes exhibit a die-hard underlying confidence that life is good. How can that be true? That’s one of the foundational premises that weaves this story together. We may not understand it. Dottie certainly doesn’t, but in ways beyond her comprehension, comfort comes to her in her dark hours and gives her hope.
I think that’s so true to life. When I consider my most difficult experiences, this spiritual sense (that’s what I’ll call it, for lack of a better term) that life is still worth living always comes through. I hope readers see a simple, strong faith in Dottie’s ability to “make do,” a foundation that holds no matter what. And as Dottie clings to this powerful, very tangible reality, she begins to realize second chances just around the corner. Then gradually, she allows a bit of joy to seep into her soul again.
Ah, you’ll love Dottie!
You bet I will!
When you write a historical story, do you do research, listen to the music of the era, or read literature from that time?
Yes, yes, and yes. What’s fun is the folks still around who lived through the forties. What a wealth they have to offer. And the documentaries are ongoing—I learn so much from the history channel. The songs popular back then: I grew up with Mom singing them as she worked. And my mother-in-law has told me how she and my father-in-law chose one of Hoagie Carmichael’s for “their song.”
I love the research aspect of writing historicals almost as much as writing the story!
So Gail, what are you working on now?
The second in a World War II series that takes the reader from Iowa farm country to London, and then into southern France to aid the Resistance. Talk about research! The lengths to which people went to fight for their freedom amaze me—we’re so used to being free, we can forget how much liberty means. But the French Resistance laid down everything, including their lives, for this privilege.
As always, my characters voice honest questions: how can a loving, almighty Creator allow such evil to persist? How is it that in the midst of the violent Waffen S.S. advance northward toward Normandy to squelch the Allied invasion, these characters still experience evidence of God’s loving care? Tough inquiries for almost impossible times, but in such seasons, we may find Him hiding in the questions.
Absolutely! It's been wonderful to share this time with you. I'm looking forward to more stories from you!
Well readers, here's a bit more about Gail:
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. WhiteFire Publishing released Gail’s memoir, Catching Up With Daylight in 2013, and her debut women’s historical fiction, In This Together (Wild Rose Press/Vintage Imprint) releases now. Gail also contributed to the Little Cab Press 2015 Christmas Anthology— https://www.facebook.com/LittleCABpress
Please feel free to contact her—meeting new reading friends is the frosting on her cake!
And don't forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of In This Together!!
The Wild Rose Press: http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/maincatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=195&products_id=6492
Allromance Books: https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-inthistogether-1904515-368.html
Barnes and Noble Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/in-this-together-gail-kittleson/1122788648?ean=2940151071727