Good morning and welcome to Extra Gravy, a Harrison Bergeron Production coming to you from the glass-enclosed studios in Biscuit City, a wonderful magical land where all your dreams come true, everyone is intelligent and beautiful and has a ton of money! And it’s 72 degrees and sunny year ‘round. Our guest today is Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt, local activist, writer for the News and Messenger, novelist, poet and mover and shaker in the local writing scene.
Dan: Welcome, Katherine and I should have asked before we went on the air, do you prefer “Katherine” or “Kathy” or something else?
Katherine: “Katherine”! Thank you. : )
Dan: I first became aware of you on Facebook with your connections to Write by the Rails (a Facebook group for local writers) and to Writers with a Cause and the News and Messenger. You had good posts about writing and social issues, so I friended you (or you me, I forget) and we went on like that for a while.
Then I saw you were having a book signing at the Mayfield Bazaar in December and I wanted to meet you in person so I went to the Bazaar and met you and also Nancy Kyme, a local novelist. We talked about writing and writers for about an hour and I got your books and Nancy’s.
I’ve never done a book signing so I don’t know how they go. Do people walk by and stare with an occasional interested party such as I stopping by? I love talking to authors when they are sitting at their little tables with their books spread out. I always try to buy a book even if it’s something I don’t particularly care for like recipes for road kill or the like. So please tell us about book signings. Is that how they generally turn out?
Katherine: Well first, thank you for buying my books! I was very flattered and appreciated your interest. You are atypical at a book signing, I’m afraid. It seems book signings don’t always get the attention they should…unless you’re J. K. Rowling, of course, (so says the struggling writer). Seriously, though, between Amazon, the plethora of books available in e-format, readers’ hectic schedules and the tough market for new authors, book signings can be pretty sparsely attended. But you have to go in with the mindset that these signings have other value, especially when they are held at community events like the one you attended. Connecting with the general public, other writers and readers can lead you in unexpected directions. I’ve had some terrific conversations at signings and besides, I got to speak with you in person! What’s bad about that? It was also wonderful talking to Nancy who had some great ideas on writing and marketing. She is a very talented author.
Dan: Thank you. That was very interesting. I don’t know where to start first on the other subjects. Can you tell us something about your involvement with Writers with a Cause?
Katherine: Sure. I started Writers for a Cause when I realized there were so many authors donating book sale proceeds to charities and non-profits. Writers for a Cause is made up of these authors. Readers can select from a variety of genres and feel good that their purchases support the community. We have 21 titles for sale through our site (www.WritersforaCause.org), representing seventeen authors who are doing things to fight poverty, homelessness, and cancer as well as support historic preservation, the arts and education. I’m really proud of our authors, not only because they are great writers, but because they are great people who have a vision of a better world.
Dan: And about the Write by the Rails group? I think you were instrumental in starting it along with Cindy Brookshire, who also was there at Mayfield and Leigh Giza. Is that right? How did it begin?
Katherine: Write by the Rails was another one of Cindy’s brilliant ideas. If you know anything about Cindy’s past, you will recognize Write by the Rails as one more facet of her commitment to community. Among other things, Cindy runs study circles to improve neighborhood understanding and relationships. Those circles have won state awards. Cindy was also Woman of the Year in Manassas recently because she has done so much for so many. AND Cindy is one of our authors at Writers for a Cause.
Anyway, Cindy wanted a way to raise the profile of writers in the Manassas/Prince William Area. She was instrumental in getting individual writers accepted as members of the Prince William Arts Council, and then established Write by the Rails as a group that hosts events highlighting artists.
There were many other people who helped get this group rolling, including Pete, Sheila, Leigh…Cindy would have the full list. All I did was help get the word out and assist in arranging logistics.
Since its inception, WbtR has sponsored organizational and networking meetings, public speaking opportunities as well as book signings. WbtR is a fantastic organization for any local writer who wants to get out of the isolation and into the real literary world.
Dan: Now please tell us about your work with the News and Messenger
Katherine: I’ve written for News and Messenger for about four years now. I started out as a community columnist reporting on Gainesville and Nokesville communities. I also wrote feature articles and took some okay-but-not-great photos. : ) When the newspaper reorganized, I was assigned to News and Messenger’s magazine PW Business, to which I contribute articles on local businesses. At one point, I was subcontracted to the Quantico Sentry on the marine base, an awesome experience for me, since I had never been on a base or worked closely with the military. You could say News and Messenger and the editors there really launched my public profile as a writer. I am grateful for that opportunity.
Dan: I know you teach adults in the ADC (Adult Detention Center) here in town. How did you get started doing this?
Katherine: In 2006, I started teaching for Prince William County’s adult education program. I taught English as a Second Language and an accelerated GED course. I moved from teaching to assisting with registration and assessing students’ verbal skills as well as working on projects such as piloting an online ESOL program. My boss, an incredibly supportive and lovely human being, kept trying to recruit me back into teaching, which I finally did. However, most of the classes were at night, and my brain just doesn’t function as well at night. : ) An opening came up at the ADC, and I jumped at the chance, not only because it was during the day, but because I have always been interested in law enforcement. However, since I am not fond of guns, teaching seemed like a more obvious choice. : )
Right now I teach students whose second language is English. I have students who have no English skills whatsoever, all the way up to students who got their GED and are ready to prepare for college. It is an incredibly rewarding job, and I could talk about it all day, but I don’t want to take up too much of your time. So I will end by saying my students are some of the most respectful, hard working people I have ever worked with. They are also among the most needy on several levels. Their lives have been full of challenges we can’t even begin to imagine, and all we as teachers can do is contribute to their rehabilitation, help them keep from becoming depressed, keep their minds busy and help them achieve something in spite of their circumstances. I love my students at the ADC. I do not condone what they have done, but I love them.
Dan: I’m getting a little ahead of myself. How did you learn to write, and who encouraged you?
Katherine: My mother has worked as a paraprofessional in public school systems for years. She taught me to read. As soon as I learned to read, I started to write. I soon discovered I had to write. It was just part of my personality. I’m very much an introverted person, believe it or not, and writing has been a way to help me synthesize my thoughts and perceptions. It is how I process, and I thank God for the gift my mother and teachers gave me.
Dan: Tell us about writing your first novel, please.
Katherine: Approaching Felonias Park is what I would call an accidental novel. In 2006, I took part in National Novel Writing Month, during which authors are challenged to write 50,000+ words in thirty days. Well I did, and I thought it was crap, so I didn’t do much with it. A writer and editor friend of mine, Better Hileman, convinced me to show her the draft, and she said I needed to work on it, but that it was publishable. She edited the whole thing for free. Had it not been for Bette, I would not have ever published a novel.
Dan: And how did it come to be published?
Katherine: Ross Murphy of Aberdeen Bay Publishers did a presentation on publishing at Central Library. I attended. Ross was straightforward, gruff and honest about the state of publishing and what it takes to make a book successful. He expects authors to market their books. He said if he wasn’t interested in a book by the first two pages, he tossed the submission. In spite of myself, I submitted my book, and he accepted it. I couldn’t believe it, really, considering I had only submitted it to one other place prior. Aberdeen Bay is an independent, small publishing house that really supports new and emerging writers. Their authors have won national acclaim and have been highlighted on public radio, as well as through other media.
Dan: How has your book been received?
Katherine: Readers have loved this book. The characters are real people facing real challenges, including poverty. The protagonist works at a payday lending company and slowly realizes how terrible it is. She has a mystical experience and, hence, an entire life change. This book very much advocates for the poor, against predatory lending and encourages social change. However, it’s not didactic. Readers love the message, say it’s easy to read, interesting and enlightening. That kind of feedback is hard to dislike!
Dan: You also write poetry based on the places and people involved in the two battles of Manassas. How did that happen?
Katherine: You know, inspiration comes from different places, places we don’t always expect. I lived the first 27 years of my life in Massachusetts where everything is about the Revolutionary War. Sure, we learned about the Civil War, but that wasn’t the conflict that was closest to home. The reenactments I went to were of Paul Revere, the first shots fired in Lexington, that kind of thing. So coming here where everything is Civil War centric was a real historic culture shock—not only was the war focus different, I was now Yankee living in the South. Somewhere around 2003-2004, I started hiking the battlefields and reading the placards and asking myself what really happened. I wanted to understand the people of the times, the sentiment of the south and the feelings of the soldiers and families on both sides. The more I hiked, the more I was inspired to write poetry, and that’s where Poems from the Battlefield came from—another book, by the way, that I didn’t necessarily plan to publish.
Dan: How do your husband and family regard your writing career?
Katherine: My family and close friends know me as a writer, but it’s more than that. Writing is part of my personality. They expect me to write. My husband says it’s interesting because he never knows what’s going to come out of me—one moment, it’s poetry, the next, it’s a kids’ book, then it’s a novel, then a newspaper article. He doesn’t always understand what I write, especially when it comes to poetry, but he’s always supportive. It can’t be easy living with a writer, because, as you know, Dan, writers tend to be quirky. We’re a loveable lot but we are sometimes hard to figure out, hahaha!
Dan: We are indeed!
I want to thank you for being with us of Extra Gravy from the Biscuit City studios today. I wish you well with your novel and your poetry. You’ve been a delightful guest and we’re learned so much from you.
We’d love to have you back to talk about any future books you write when they come out. Do you have anything you’d like to add to this interview?
Katherine: First, I want to thank you so much for having me! This has been great. Besides getting publicity, which is always fun, interviews like these make me step back and think about aspects of my writing that I hadn’t considered. Questions are the best way to jump start thinking, so I appreciate the jump start!
I do want to mention that proceeds from Approaching Felonias Park support a local food pantry. With the growing numbers of people living beneath the poverty line, pantries are often a first line of defense for families trying to hold it together. So if for no other reason, I hope people will buy the book to support that mission. They won’t be sorry—it’s really a good book, so I hear. : )
Dan: …I have one final question. If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be? I would be a Brazilian rosewood tree because they are beautiful and their wood is used in high-end guitars.
Katherine: HAHAHA! That’s great. You’ll have to post pictures of your guitar collection. As for me, I’m going to have to say an oak and give you a copy of the very first poem I published in an independent magazine…give you a sense of where I am from.
“I did not wish to live what was not life.”
I was fifteen, a sophomore, that year
I learned about you and went to the woods
to live deliberately. I climbed an old
Oak, lit up a Marlboro, slowly inhaled the
rebellious air, watched drops from the misty
day balance on green leaves, and bark
turn suede on perspiring branches. It didn’t
matter that I was skipping class. It was
Civil Disobedience–you could smell it
everywhere: in the gray ripples that cut
Walden Pond to pieces, in the pounding heart
of the Pines swaying in disarray–Oh,
yes, this would be worth even getting caught.
I was, of course. Suspended for a week.
I slouched in a chair in the indoor suspension
room, wrote the punishment essay on the many
evils of skipping school, tossed crumpled balls of
notebook paper into the barrel nearby, counting
the times I missed. Nothing there by the deep
voice of the six-foot dean what would grab my
ear whenever I even imagined an exit.
But I fooled him–because part of me did escape.
I am sure it walked back to Walden. I am sure it
traveled the same brown patch I shared with you that
rainy spring day. I am certain it walked to the water’s
edge and set one green foot into that sharp pool.
Published Winter, 1992
ELF: Eclectic Literary Forum
Dan: Wow! A bonus poem for us. Thank you, Katherine!
We’ve been talking with Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt , novelist, poet, mother, wife, activist, and newspaperperson. This has been the Local Writer of the Week feature, brought to you on the Extra Gravy Show on the Biscuit City Network. The Local Writer of the Week is a Harrison Bergeron Production and is sponsored by Molly Bolt molly bolts, the best bolt there is for being securely anchored. Remember, if it’s not a Molly Bolt, it’s not going to hold! So hold on and insist on the best—Molly Bolt brand molly bolts! This is Dan Verner, bidding you a fond adieu from the glass-enclosed nerve center of the Biscuit City Network until next time when we’ll talk to another local writer.