Monday, September 11, 2017

Interview with Author Kathleen Grissom

I’m so excited to have had the opportunity to talk with Kathleen Grissom, author of THE KITCHEN HOUSE and GLORY OVER EVERYTHING: BEYOND THE KITCHEN HOUSE. I loved both books, and Kathleen immediately came to mind when I was thinking who I should approach for my first Across the Board interview. We had such a wonderful and inspiring talk. Her books are just as amazing as she is, so you should check them out if you haven’t already!

You can also You can follow Kathleen on the following sites:

CB: One part of your story thats always resonated with me is how youve said that you never intended to write a book, but it was as though you were called to do so. I know from experience it can be difficult to take that kind of leap of faith. What would you say to someone who may be experiencing the same kind of calling but is afraid to listen?

KG: If people don’t listen to the calling, I believe it’s because they don’t think that they’re capable, or that they’re not qualified to write it, or there’s some sort of fear attached to it. And I think it’s just so important to walk through fear. So I would say sit down and do it. Put that self-editing voice to the back and sit down and write what’s coming to you. And be grateful for it. Just do it. You know—the old Nike expression.

CB: I agree that fear is at the root of it. Let’s say someone reading this takes your advice and walks through their fear. If you could give them one piece of advice of what not to do, what would it be?

KG: Don’t let your ego run wild—get it out of the way. The ego is the one sitting there saying you have to make yourself important, you have to look important, and all of that ‘you should.’ And it’s not about that. It’s about a gift. One that you’ve followed through on and one that you want to know if people are interested in helping you with. And if they are that’s good and if they aren’t that’s good too. It’s not personal. With THE KITCHEN HOUSE, I had to go present myself to bookstores and I was terrified. I was taking it personally and I was thinking, “Oh my God, they’re going to think I’m a fool.” All that thinking about myself—the ego was wrapped up in it.

Also, I’ve seen authors turn people off by talking about how great their book is. People want to know how you came to write the book. Stay real. Be honest. Let them know that you’re afraid. Let them know that you don’t know if you’re qualified or if you’re good enough. Let them know the real you, the vulnerable part of you. They don’t want to see the ego up there and the pretty pictures we post of our lives on social media. That turns people off.

CB: That’s great advice. Have you come across any unexpected challenges in your life as a published author?

KG: One of the things that surprised me was how hard it is to be in the public eye. I have a whole new appreciation for people who don’t necessarily seek it out but are thrown into it. It can be overwhelming. That’s something I hadn’t expected. Sometimes after I’ve been speaking to a large group someone might come up and tell me how I’ve personally affected them through my writing. Sometimes they might cry or hug me and I realize that this is so much bigger than me. It allows me to again appreciate that this was a gift.

CB: In some of your talks I’ve watched online, you’ve commented that if you ever tried to change the story you were seeing in your head the writing would stop. I love that and know exactly what you mean. Was there a time when you had to defend a part of your vision during the writing process to keep it from changing, for example in editing?

KG: I never had that happen. Both my agent and my publisher were sensitive to this process and the way it works. I thought I was unique, but what I discovered was that many writers write this way—where the story comes to you and you don’t necessarily have control over what the characters decide to do. I certainly don’t. But I have wanted to make changes. As an example, in THE KITCHEN HOUSE I wanted the captain to tell his wife who Belle was. And when I tried to change the story line, the characters all just dissipated and I was left with no story. So I learned early on that I was meant to write it as it came—it was a gift and I was not meant to insert my opinion.

CB: Does anyone ever look at you strangely when you say that? My writing experience is similar, and I worry people will look at me like Im nuts if I tell them that. 
KG: You know, I thought that’s how people would look at me. When I was first told I was going to have to do book clubs, I didn’t know what I would talk about. My publisher told me to talk about how I wrote the book. I told her I couldn’t do that because they would think I was crazy. But she said, “Well, that’s what they’re going to want to know.” I wondered how I was going to do this. Then one day I picked up Alice Walker’s book THE COLOR PURPLE. For no reason. I wasn’t going to read it again—I just picked it up. I was paging through it and came to the very last page where she had thanked the souls for coming through and then she signed it “A.W.—author and medium.” And I thought then that if she can write that in her book then I’m not alone. And that was my first real indication that I needed to be completely honest about this and if people thought I was crazy then so be it.

Once I opened up, I was shocked by how many people then started to tell me about experiences they had. I’m often asked if I think I’m psychic and I say no because that’s a whole different phenomenon to me. But this is something I don’t pretend to understand. I just know that I’m very, very lucky to have been given this gift. But how people interpret me is none of my business. If I make it my business, then it’s the ego again. That ego always wants to get involved.

CB: Just hearing you talk about your experience creates an emotional reaction. I’ve found the same to be true in your writing. Both novels convey a strong emotional pull for the reader, which leads me to believe you were personally immersed in those emotions as you were writing. Was it difficult for you to let go of those feelings after you finished writing?

KG: You know it’s interesting—the way this comes to me is an interesting phenomenon because when I leave my writing room, it stays in there. While I’m writing it, I’m often pacing and crying. I’m feeling strong emotions. There’s this expression, I don’t remember where it came from, but it’s 'if it doesn’t come from the heart it won’t reach the heart.' And I believe that. So I let myself feel whatever my characters are feeling and I try to write that down. But after I’m finished for the day, that’s it. The feelings don’t follow me around, and when I finish the book we’re done. The characters don’t come back to let me know how they’re doing. That’s the gift. It’s presented in a certain package, and once that package is wrapped and sent out into the world it is no longer mine.

CB: You mentioned your writing room—can you tell me more about that?

KG: I’m lucky enough to have a writing room over my garage. At the beginning, when I first started writing THE KITCHEN HOUSE, I was writing in a corner of my dining room. I think it’s important to have a separate space. For me, I think it’s where the souls gather. So now I have my writing room, and in there I have a little alter. Right now I’m writing about a Native American woman Crow Mary, so I have a picture of Crow Mary and her daughter standing in front of a tipi. I also have a picture of my mother who’s passed away. Next to that, I have a little statue of Mary, a candle and a mixture of sage, cedar, and some other sacred herbs that the Crow used. Before I write, I smudge the room, and I ask for God’s direction. Then I sit down and write.

CB: I like the writing ritual you described.  I can see where that would help get you centered and get you into what you’re trying to achieve with your writing. I believe having things we can connect with is so powerful. Many readers often connect with specific quotes in books. I don’t tend to be one of those readers for some reason, but I did experience that connection with GLORY OVER EVERYTHING. The quote is from Jamie: “ could I blame her for an inability to love the part of me that I, too, loathed?” That really resonated with me on a personal level. Is there a quote from a book that has had a strong impact on you?

KG: Oh, that’s such a good question in that I don’t know that I’ve ever really given it much thought. There was this book, THE MADNESS OF A SEDUCED WOMAN by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, but I don’t remember the quote. However, there was some insight in that book about how a woman was treating her husband, and it had to do with fear and anger. She explained how fear was motivating the anger. And that was so powerful for me because that helped me to understand anger. That stayed with me for so many years and is still with me today. I think that when you are reading and something resonates it helps you understand something that’s deeply personal to you.

CB: Is there anything you can tell us about Crow Mary, the book that you’re working on now?

KG: Yes, I can tell you that I’m deeply committed. Crow Mary’s story is very challenging, in that it took place between 1850 to around 1900, which is a time when Natives were put onto reservations. There is so much research that I am doing, and it is ongoing, even as she speaks. She has so much to say—so much to tell us about her amazing life. You can imagine I’m burning a lot of that smoke at my little alter!

CB: I’m excited to read it. I loved your first two, I really did. They were great. Well, I have two more questions for you. They’re probably the most difficult questions, and they’re from my 11-year-old daughter. She likes to participate in my writing life as much as possible. Her first question—What’s your favorite color?

KG: I think my favorite color is purple. I think so. I would never have said that before, but I think it’s purple. I don’t know why, but it is. What’s her favorite color?

CB: If you can call cheetah print a color, then that’s it. She’s all over anything cheetah print. But if we’re not counting that, then her favorite color is aqua. The other thing she wants to know is if you like ice cream.

KG: I do like ice cream, but ice cream doesn’t necessarily like me.

CB: Ah, see that’s why she wanted me to first ask you if you liked ice cream. I told her we could just ask your favorite flavor, but she pointed out you might not be able to have dairy. 

KG: Well, she was right. Now I want to know her favorite flavor of ice cream.

CB: Mint chocolate chip.
KG: Oh, that’s my daughter’s favorite. And please tell your daughter thank you for those wonderful questions.

CB: I will—she was very excited about this interview. As was I. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me.

KG: It was no problem. Thank you—I enjoyed our conversation.


Brenda St John Brown said...

What a terrific interview. I'm unfamiliar with these books, but will definitely check them out.

Carrie Beckort said...

You should definitely check them out!

Cheryl Oreglia said...

Carrie this was such a gift! I love hearing how other people write, where they write, how they find inspiration! This was fabulous, great questions, especially around how the stories come through her and keeping her ego at bay. I'm now following her on twitter and ordering her first book. Thank you.

Carrie Beckort said...

You're welcome, Cheryl! And I hope you enjoy The Kitchen House as much as I did.

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