Caitlin Hamilton Summie is the author of the new novel Geographies of the Heart. She also has written the story collection To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Beloit Fiction Journal and Wisconsin Review. She is the co-owner of the book marketing firm Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, and she lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Q: How would you describe the relationship between Geographies of the Heart and your story collection To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts?
A: I think of the two books as a little bit like sisters. Three stories in the collection inspired the novel, though I have been writing stories about these characters for years and not all are in the story collection. The books share some themes; both include stories or chapters told by male characters; both deal with family, and often the Midwest as home; both ultimately are about hope.
Q: How did you create your character Sarah, and how would you describe her role within her family?
A: I started writing about Sarah so long ago, during graduate school in 1993 or 1994, that I don’t remember where she began, exactly.
I can say that the first piece/chapter/story that I wrote about her was “Cleaning House,” chapter 2 in Geographies of the Heart. At that time, I was in a similar position with my grandparents—not caretaking but watching them slip, watching my life change. I’m not Sarah, and my gentle grandmother is nothing like Catherine, but that experience of pending goodbyes is likely where Sarah started.
When I write, I hear a voice or a line. There is no plan initially, so I never set out to create Sarah. She just appeared, and I welcomed her.
Q: Some of the chapters in Geographies of the Heart are in first person and some are in third. Why did you structure the book that way?
A: I structured the novel that way because that is how I heard the characters’ voices. Also, I think in this very emotional novel, sometimes one needs the closeness of first person, and sometimes one needs the space that third person allows.
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: I felt that the chapter entitled “Geographies of the Heart,” about Sarah and her sister, Glennie, trying to mend their relationship spoke to the core of this novel—the shape of family, loss, definitions of familial love and duty, the importance of forgiveness, the weight of legacies…it seemed this particular story addressed much of what the novel as a whole tries to do. Also, the book is about the various geographies our hearts know.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Nothing! And it is wonderful! It took me decades to write my two books, and I am enjoying other activities now.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I appreciate this opportunity to speak to you, thank you! I hope people will visit my website, www.caitlinhamiltonsummie.com, and also give my books a read.
Small press titles have a tougher time in the marketplace. Give one a try, mine or someone else’s. Small press titles win awards (and yes, even big ones). The quality of small press publishing is astounding, and I encourage readers to branch out.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Caitlin Hamilton Summie.