Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Q&A with Christine Gallagher Kearney



Christine Gallagher Kearney is the author of the new historical novel What We Leave Behind. She lives in Chicago.


Q: Why did you decide to write this novel based on the life of your grandmother?


A: The story in What We Leave Behind has been a part of my life since I was a child.


I took a memoir workshop for a few years at StoryStudio Chicago where I wrote a piece about the first time I met Ursula, my maternal grandmother. I wanted to turn that experience into a longer work, but I didn’t have enough material to include.


The more I thought about it, the more I realized it would be possible to explore Ursula’s world better if I wrote a novel inspired by her life instead.


Q: How was the novel's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: Originally the book was called “I Will Find Her” because I was trying to find out more about Ursula and her life. The team at She Writes Press, my publisher, suggested other names that would be more suitable.


I felt that “What We Leave Behind” encapsulated a major theme of the novel, Ursula leaving behind her family in Germany to start a new life in America. The title also gives a nod to the ending of the book (which I won’t give away here).

Q: How did you research the book, and what did you see as the right balance between history and fiction?


A: Ursula’s fictional character drove the research process. Once I knew the general outline of the story and Ursula’s character arc, I was able to dig into primary sources (e.g., the archives at the University of Minnesota) and I read extensively about the time period, especially as it related to war brides, immigration, polio, womanhood, and motherhood.


Q: A review of the book in Foreword Clarion Reviews said, “Ursula is a resilient heroine who persists through gargantuan travails. The narrative’s focus on her dogged pursuit of dignity and independence as a polio survivor is refreshing and noteworthy.” What do you think of that assessment?


A: The Foreword Clarion Review is beautiful. I was delighted to read about Ursula from the reviewer’s perspective and I think she captured her essence so well.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm about three-quarters finished with the manuscript for my second novel. It's about a dead whale, climate change and grief.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Thank you for the chance to share more about What We Leave Behind with your readers. I hope that anyone who reads the novel will come away with a curiosity about lives lived before them and the complexities that their own families faced.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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