Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Interview with contemporary women’s fiction author Katie O’Rourke

Author Katie O’Rourke joins me today to have a conversation about her contemporary women’s fiction novel, A Long Thaw.

Katie O'Rourke was born and raised in New England, growing up along the seacoast of New Hampshire. She went to college in Massachusetts and graduated with a degree in gender and sexuality. She lives in Tucson, Arizona where she writes, loves and is happy. 

Monsoon Season, her debut novel, was a bestselling e-book. A Long Thaw was released in 2014, followed up by Still Life, a collection of short stories. Her most recent novel, Finding Charlie, was selected for publication by KindleScout.

Please tell us about your novel.
A Long Thaw is about two female cousins who were close as children and reconnect as adults. Abby and Juliet were born into one big, close, Catholic family. But the divorce of Juliet’s parents fragments this family and sends the girls in very different directions. 

Juliet grows up too quickly, on the west coast, forced to be responsible for her younger sisters as well as an alcoholic, single mother. On the east coast, Abby grows up a pampered, sheltered only child. As women, they try to mend the rift and come to terms with the way their shared history connects them in spite of the years apart.

What inspired you to write this book?
I've always imagined A Long Thaw as a modern interpretation of the old prince and the pauper story. Abby and Juliet are cousins who, until the age of ten, live the same privileged, sheltered lives in a big Irish Catholic family. When Juliet's parents divorce, her mother moves across the country so that she no longer has that safety net. The cousins reconnect in their twenties and the book deals with the ways we are changed by our experiences as well as the ways we are unchangeable.

Excerpt from A Long Thaw:

            In September, Ryan comes home from work and tosses the lease on the kitchen table. “It’s that time again,” he says as he removes his tie, hanging it over the back of a chair.
            Abby stands at the stove, pushing the chicken stir-fry with a spatula.
            After graduation, they both took jobs in Boston and neither could afford to live in the city without a roommate. Living together just made sense; it was about practicality. Love was incidental.
            Ryan kisses her on the cheek and gets a pen out of the drawer beside her. He signs his name and holds the pen out towards her.
            They have shared the apartment for a year. They do their own dishes, take turns making dinner, split all the bills, fifty/fifty. They never argue with raised voices. They renewed in March without much discussion. Their signatures side by side on a legally binding document caught Abby’s attention, distracting her from the landlord’s monologue on snow plows. She handed the papers to him with a reluctance she hadn’t quite understood.
            Abby sets the spatula on the counter and reaches out her hand. Then, she hesitates, drops her hand back to her side. They look at each other.
            “What?” Ryan says. His sandy hair curls at the edge of his ears, overdue for a haircut.
            “I’m not sure about this.” Abby's as surprised as he is to hear herself say this.
            “What do you mean?”
            The stir-fry is starting to smoke. Abby turns off the burner. Ryan waits, still holding out the pen.
            “What are we doing?” Abby asks.
            Ryan expresses his confusion with a shrug.
            “How many times do we renew this lease? Is this it? Is this all you want?”
            Ryan turns his back and places the pen on the table. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
            Abby crosses her arms. “I don’t want you to say anything.” Especially not that, she thinks. As if she could tell him how to act and that would fix everything; the fact that it didn’t naturally occur to him was just irrelevant. “I’m not asking for anything. I never ask you for anything.”
            Ryan turns around. “Isn’t that exactly what you’re doing?”
            They look at each other without talking, locked in a silent battle of wills. Ryan blinks first. “Abby, we’re young,” he says, as if this has meaning.
            “I know we’re young. I just need to know if you want this to work.”
            He sighs then, a deep sigh that signals annoyance or defeat or exhaustion. Abby isn’t sure which. “Are we in this together?” Abby asks. “Are you in this?”
            “I love you.” Ryan steps closer, but Abby backs away.
            “Yeah, but what does that mean? You love me in this exact moment and possibly for the next six months?” Abby gestures to the paper on the table.
            “I can’t see into the future.”
            “You don’t have to. You just have to want it.” Abby studies Ryan’s face. “I just need to know it’s a possibility, that you see us as a possibility.”
            Ryan sighs again. Defeat, this time. “I don’t know what I see.”
            Abby leaves him standing in the kitchen. She isn’t hungry.

What exciting story are you working on next?
Blood & Water is about family, in its various manifestations: the one you're born into, the one you choose and the one you create. The novel follows five characters: a young mother named Ally, the deliberately childless Tim and Sara, single dad David with a college-bound daughter and David's little sister, Delilah, who shows up on his doorstep with a secret.

On the surface, these friends are on very different paths in their lives with seemingly little in common, but they connect in meaningful and sometimes unexpected ways. Their experiences overlap in a way that reminds us what it is to be human.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I started calling myself a writer in college, but it took me awhile before I felt comfortable enough to claim it when answering the question at parties: “So, what do you do?” I think it took the publication of my first book.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I have never been a writer who forces a daily output. Some days the inspiration hits and some days it doesn’t. There’s definitely value to carving out regular writing time and making it a priority. I try to participate in NaNoWriMo every year to help me remember that.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
One of my favorite things to do in my work is have characters who pop up in subsequent books, even though I don’t write sequels. The imaginary world that I constructed for my first novel, Monsoon Season, is the same world that exists in A Long Thaw and Finding Charlie. Characters overlap because they're inhabiting the same space. A main character in A Long Thaw is a peripheral character in the book I’m writing now.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a young child, I thought I’d be a teacher. I think a lot of kids imagine that because it’s one of the only professions we see up close. By high school, I was thinking about being a psychologist because I’m endlessly fascinated by issues of identity and family dynamics, by the nature vs. nurture debate. These are things that inevitably find their way into my fiction.


Thanks for being here today, Katie!

1 comment:

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