If you’ve read much I’ve what I’ve written, you know that I have a complicated relationship with the church of my faith, Christianity. So Katie Andraski’s new book speaks strongly to me. If you have the same struggle with your faith and the people who represent it (and who doesn’t?), I hope you’ll get to know Katie a bit. I think you’ll appreciate her wisdom.
1.Tell us about your book. – Here, feel free to summarize the story, explain how you came to write the book, describe what you hope people take from it. The book you discuss here should be published and available for purchase.
When I arrived at my job publicizing an upstart evangelical publisher, my mom was given nine months to live. Within the year, both parents died, and I was tasked with promoting Frank and Francis Schaeffer as they urged evangelicals to take a radical stand against abortion, which meant anything from civil protest to using violence against abortion clinics if Roe v. Wade could not be repealed.
I disagreed with the message I was promoting, feeling that I was betraying my understanding of Christianity, but I also felt like Judas betraying my authors when I spoke to journalists, though I convinced them to run stories in publications like The New York Times, Newsweek, US News and World Report, and Publishers Weekly. All the while I was grieving my parents’ deaths.
The River Caught Sunlight is a fictional retelling of my story. For me, writing for me is a healing art. This was such a painful time in my life that the novel wouldn’t release me until I was dumped into a deep peace. But it took thirty years of writing and rewriting to make the story come right.
This book contributes to the national conversation with regards to the beginnings of the Tea Party and the politicization of evangelicalism. Frank Schaeffer has claimed he is partly responsible for the rise of that faction. About The River Caught Sunlight, he says, “It’s odd to find my darker self fictionalized. But in another life (as it were), Katie and I traveled together when she was doing publicity work for my right-wing evangelical crusades. Like all good writers, Katie has plucked her story from her life. This book has a piercing insight at its heart as humane as it is damning of religion gone off the rails.”
2. What do you do when you’re not writing?
I ride and train my Norwegian Fjord horses, Morgen and Tessie. I recently broke loose from chronic fear that had taken the fun out of riding and found a new trainer who is helping us learn the basics of dressage. I had my other horse trained to drive a carriage because she was too much horse to ride. We explore the roads in our neighborhood.
Since I retired, cleaning house has felt like a luxury, so I try to keep up with that. I am very slowly working on letting go of excess stuff.
I enjoy going out to lunch with friends and spend way too much time on Facebook.
3. What made you believe you could write a book? How did you dispel doubt as you wrote?
I was called to be a writer when I was a junior in high school and reading C.S. Lewis’ works. I wanted to do for others what he did for me. So I shaped my life according to that goal, eventually attending graduate school in creative writing (poetry).
My first book was a collection of poetry, When the Plow Cuts , that was published by Thorntree Press in 1988. This showed me that I could write a book. The next collection, The Grieving Dreams was a seed for The River Caught Sunlight. I saw that more people were entering poetry contests than novel or short story contests, so I decided to shape the book into inter-related stories. Through the years following, I revised and shaped the book to become something very different than it started. The impulse that drove it was to work through some personal difficulties on the page, but as I revised the book, my imagination took over and I was able to gain authorial distance on those events.
Reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Julia Cameron’s Right to Write while I was writing kept me going. Also I caught the attention of editors and agents, so their personal rejections and advice also gave me enough hope that the book would be published, and to keep writing and revising. I attended the Write by Lake, Writers for Racing, the Iowa Summer Writing Conference and the Nebraska Summer Writing Conference. My teachers there also gave me tools and encouragement to keep going.
Finally, I realized that other writers could only do so much to help me shape the book, so I hired a professional editor to help me overcome the problems my rejections pointed to. She helped me work out things artistically and personally. I dumped into a peace that people spend years trying to obtain through therapy.
4. Describe the first 2-3 steps of your process in writing your book.
As I said before this book started as a collection of poetry. Then it became a collection of interrelated stories. Then I started to imagine what would happen if the protagonist moved out to the country and married a farmer. I was able to leave behind the autobiographical roots and begin to imagine the story. Julia Cameron talked about how you write down the story, not think it up. In other words, she said you have to listen to the images.
While I was shopping this book around, I wrote the sequel and did exactly that. I wrote down the images and wrote the story little bit by little bit.
Then it became obvious that this book was too long, so I broke it in two. I kept getting drawn back to the part where Janice leaves home and enters the publishing industry as a publicist and how conflicted she was with regards to the work she was doing. I forgot to mention that another seed of the book was a manuscript I wrote while I was still working for Crossway Books. I would come home from work, take a nap, and write down the stories I was living. By the time I was finished, I’d amassed 400 pages of material.
5. How do you balance what will sell with what you want to say?
I’m not sure I do balance that. I simply say what I want to say. I try to listen to the story I want to tell. If I try to please my audience I might lose what attracts them to my writing in the first place, my unique voice. I do ask the Lord to help me write something that will speak to people’s hearts, that will build them up or let them go away or not feel so alone. Then I write what I write and offer my life and imagination back to my readers.
I don’t think manipulating your art according to what sells works for the long haul. After all, who knows what will sell?
I’m still getting to know my audience and have not published some blog posts because I was afraid of alienating my audience.
I had pretty much figured The River Caught Sunlight would not see the light of day because my heart broke at the number of “close, but no,” rejections. Other than writing for Facebook, I pretty much let the dream of writing go. Then a friend suggested I submit to Koehler Books. I did, and they quickly accepted the book.
6. Which is more difficult – drafting or revising? Why?
Drafting is harder for me because I am listening for images and the voice of the story, which sometimes comes as character’s voices and other times comes as sentences. My mind tends to jump around and draw blanks. That blank page can be a frightening thing. I have learned to wait my imagination out, like a fisherman waits for the fish to strike, but it can be a patient process.
Revision on the other hand is a gas. I have material to work with and know I will be discovering new things. It’s fun to see the “shitty” rough draft start to turn into something beautiful and readable. The story becomes even more clear, more itself as I revise.
7. What is your favorite part about being a writer?
Being able to while away hours imagining new worlds or shaping my understanding of this world. I am enjoying being read. I worked pretty much without an audience for twenty, thirty years. It’s a real pleasure to publish my work on a blog and know that some people are reading what I wrote. That’s far better than the work being stuck in a computer file and notebook.
8. What is your least favorite part about being a writer?
The rejection. It’s very hard sending out my work and getting rejected. The writer’s workshop process is also very difficult for me. There are so many layers to other writers’ comments about a person’s work that it’s hard to sort out. I prefer working with a professional editor.
9. When you write, who do you imagine as your reader?
I have no idea who my audience is.
10. What are a few of your favorite books of all time?
Jeremiah and Daniel in the Bible are favorite books because they tell the story of what it means to be in conversation with God. I also love C.S. Lewis’s Till We have Faces, The Weight of Glory and The Chronicles of Narnia. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is brilliant. I love Mark Helprin’s work especially A Winter’s Tale.
11. What are some things that get in the way of your writing? How do you move them out of the way?
I spend way too much time on Facebook. And I struggle with overwhelm, not the anxiety kind, just the I have so much to do kind, that it’s easier to read Facebook than do the work. I have been writing down my goals for the week and that has helped me focus. I bought a bookshelf and cabinet which helped me organize my office. This also helped clear my head even though I don’t work up there.
12. What’s the best writing advice you ever received?
William Stafford’s essay “A Way of Writing” is spot on. He talks about how we are rich in imagination and all we have to do is wait for our minds to speak. I also love Anne Lamott’s emphasis on writing a “shitty” rough draft and writing your work bit by bit. She urges us to lower our standards. Also Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic is packed with great advice about how to live the creative life.
13. If you could inhabit the setting of one book, where would you live and why?
When I wrote The River Caught Sunlight, I imagined what it would be like to marry a farmer and live on a farm in the Midwest. (Most of that story is now in the sequel, which is not finished.) Then a miraculous thing happened. My husband and I found ourselves on a farm with some similarities to the farm I imagined, including a Standardbred horse farm around the corner. I imagined all this because I was fairly certain I would never live in the country again. Well, I was surprised when that all worked out.
14. What’s your philosophy and practice about reading reviews of your work?
My Amazon reviews have been very kind and insightful. They have helped me understand what the book is about. But sometimes a reader will offer revision suggestions that are impossible because the book is finished, albeit imperfectly, and in the world. I gave thirty years to this book and very much need to move on. I get irritated and then shrug it off. I have several books I need to imagine, write, revise or finish, and time is short.
Katie Andraski recently retired from teaching composition at Northern Illinois University. She continues to learn about marketing her novel, The River Caught Sunlight, which Koehler Books published in 2014. She blogs weekly at http://katieandraski.com and writes Perspectives for Northern Public Radio every three weeks. She lives on a farm with her husband Bruce, two dogs, two horses, a flock of chickens, and a feral cat turned house cat who runs the place.