Sunday, September 3, 2023

Q&A with Katrina Kittle




Katrina Kittle is the author of the new novel Morning in This Broken World. Her other novels include The Kindness of Strangers. She teaches creative writing at the University of Dayton, and she lives near Dayton.


Q: What inspired you to write Morning in This Broken World, and how did you create your cast of characters?


A: I actually started writing the story in 2019, before COVID. I was inspired by a story about a country combining a retirement community with a day care center, so that older people and the very young would be spending time with each other. I love intergenerational relationships like that and knew I wanted to write about one.


But then, COVID happened, which was really the catalyst for my plot—it could be the reason this disparate group of people came together.


I was also very inspired by a meme that was going around in the early days of COVID in response to the idea that “We’re in this together” and “We’re all in the same boat.” The meme said, “We’re not all in the same boat. We’re in the same storm. Some have yachts, some have canoes, and some are drowning.”


My own pandemic experience was fairly easy, but I was very aware of people for whom that was not the case. I wanted to explore the many ways different people were drowning during lockdown.


My cast developed from those real people—people in retirement communities and nursing homes totally isolated in lockdown, people with disabilities who relied on various therapies and programs that were canceled due to COVID and who found their worlds much smaller, and essential workers risking their lives but not being very fairly compensated for the important work they did.


I was also interested in students suddenly at home in remote learning—the students who were happy to be free of the bullying and tension at school, and the students who desperately missed their social lives.


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


A: Titles are really difficult for me! For a long time, this novel was in a folder on my computer simply titled “Assisted Living Story.” But I’m a big fan of poet Mary Oliver, and her lovely poem, “Invitation” really captured what I was after in this book, especially the line: “It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.”


I think my four point-of-view characters all come to the realization of just how serious it is to be alive, and how there is always beautiful and value to be found in living, even in the darkest, most troubled times.

For me, it ties to being a two-time cancer survivor. I’ve learned that, yes, the world is broken, but I get to be here for it. I get to be here for the car trouble, and the bad hair days, and even for the pandemics.


Q: The writer Jessica Strawser called the book “A heartfelt take on the family we’re born with, the family we choose, and the messy, beautiful intersections between the two.” What do you think of that description?


A: I really adore that description and I’m so grateful to Jessica for that generous blurb. I was lucky to have a wonderful biological family, as well as a chosen family of fiercely loyal friends I’ve accumulated over the years. My pack is everything to me—my immediate pack of my partner and our pets, as well as my family, and our circle of amazing friends.


In this novel, for each character, there are times their real families fail them and “strangers” (perhaps initially) show up for them, and for each character there are times that strangers let them down, and their families lift them. By the end of the novel, it’s hard to know where “family” begins and ends.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: Without spoiling anything, I did know the big surprise Wren receives at the end of the book from very early on. But I didn’t know how we got there, and I certainly didn’t set out writing already knowing about one of the losses that occurs.  I love that joy of discovery in a first draft. It’s one of my biggest joys in writing.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I just finished major revisions on a novel currently called I Forgot to Know You. It’s the story of Harper who is trying to solve a mystery from her mother’s childhood, but her mother has dementia so she’s an unreliable source, and Harper isn’t sure if the traumatic events her mother is referencing are real or imagined.


Harper and her adopted daughter Lucy set out to find the truth about Grace before their chance is lost forever. As they sift through secrets obscured by time and illness, what they learn about Grace’s past upends the way they understand the woman they thought they knew as mother and grandmother, and how they understand their own histories as well.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’m a huge animal lover and have a soft spot for rescue animals. My home pack currently includes a rescue beagle and a rescue cat, both of whom went through really rough times before they came into our lives. I love stories where there are nonhuman characters who are just as important as the human cast.


Morning in This Broken World contains a very fat cat named Ox. Ox owns my heart, and I hope readers will love him, too.


Thank you so much, Deborah, for this opportunity.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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