Today I am interviewing,Catherine Gierlach Kennedy. She is the author of the upcoming novel, Anna, the story of a young Polish woman who aspires to become a nun.
Anna takes place in the 1920s. Do you research names that were popular during that period? Do you Google names or check baby name books? Or do you name your characters after people you know?
My writing, both published and unpublished, returns me to my Polish roots and locations. Most of my characters are named for loved people who are now deceased.
Do I Google them? No. Many are Polish names. Last names in Polish are very easy to put together and recreate.
Do I research for time frame? No, I’ve heard these names again and again.
Names? If I run out of names, I can read them on the tombstones of the local Catholic cemetery in Pennsylvania. One of my favorite names, Sister Felicia, is a beloved nun from my past. I have enough memories and names to spend the rest of my writing career honoring the wonderful peoples of my childhood and young adult life.
You mentioned Pennsylvania. Do you set your books in places of your past, places that are familiar and easy? Or do you choose exotic places and research them to make them accurate and plausible?
I start with the familiar. My characters, like me, always plan to stay close to home, but because of their curiosity, they stumble into different states and even countries.
One of my characters goes to a cloistered convent in Kentucky. When I was in high school, before 1955, I was introduced to Thomas Merton’s writing. He was a spiritualist and advocate for social justice. He wrote Seven Storey Mountain while in The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane, a monastery in Kentucky. Granted, he was a religious brother, a Trappist Monk, not a religious sister like my Anna character, but it gave me an idea for a wonderful fictitious setting.
So do I research places? Yes, yes, yes.
Another of my books starts in a village in Poland and moves to a metropolitan Polish city. My protagonist quickly progresses to Chicago, on to Pittsburgh, and then to small town Pennsylvania. I put on my traveling clothes, climb into an encyclopedia or a library volume, and come aboard.
When I moved to Florida in 1975, I came in a station wagon. I arrived as a single parent with four daughters, ages twelve, eleven, ten and six. We also had four cats, one Collie, and pots and pans. We brought mats to sleep on until the furniture arrived a month later. In the station wagon, we carried a forty volume set of United Editors Perpetual Encyclopedias, with a 1909 copyright on each volume’s face page. Yes, I do use the computer, too, but these books are my first resource.
How do you title your books? Do you research similar titles before choosing? Or do you give your books a title that fits and ignore your competition?
KISS I have been told, so I try to Keep It Simple S… I think about it. What titles do I remember? Long names that stretch down a garden path of grasses and flowers with fancy Latin titles are to me lost in memory. I prefer something beautiful but plain, such as a rose or a daisy. I believe there is a phrase that begins, “a flower by any other name…”
Last question. How do you ward off writer’s block?
I live in a quiet environment by choice. I raised four daughters while working full time as an RN. Later, I raced around in glee with my ten grandchildren. Now, I turn off the TV, brew a cup of tea, light a few candles, turn on some jazz, and words arrive.
I’ve read that one stops mid-sentence to have a place to start on the next writing occasion. With two dogs, Boudreaux and Jean Claude, who do visual patrol of my grass, sidewalk, street and cul-de-sac, I have frequent interruptions. (This is the healthy get-up-and-move five minutes of every hour mantra.) After I am able to confirm that there are no aliens attacking anywhere in the neighborhood, I go back to my computer.
Thank you, Ms. Kennedy, for a delightful interview. I look forward to reading Anna. It sounds fascinating.
You can reach Catherine Gierlach Kennedy at her website.
She is also on Facebook.