I am so excited to welcome author Kathy Czepiel to The Maiden’s Court today! I had the chance to ask her a few questions about her debut release A Violet Season and found out that we have something in common! Read on, oh do read on !
I have to say that my attention was immediately caught by the mention of the violet industry – I didn’t even know there was such a thing! How did you come to writing about this subject?
I didn’t know there was such a thing either until I returned to my hometown after college to work for the local newspaper. My editor was a local history buff, and she told me that the area where I grew up—New York’s mid-Hudson Valley—had once been known as The Violet Capital of the World. Many years later, when I was ready to write a novel, a violet farm was the obvious choice of setting. It was something I knew I would be interested in researching.
Mother-Daughter themes can be such powerful reading. Did you draw on any of your own experiences with your mother or with your daughter?
Not directly. But I think there is always some emotional truth behind the fiction, whether it’s our own or something we’ve observed. My mother and I have a great relationship, though it took the usual bumpy road through my adolescence. My daughters are 10 and 13, so we’re just entering that phase together. The “truth” behind the fiction for me, in this case, is probably the fear we have as mothers that we will let our children down or hurt them without even realizing or understanding that we’re doing it, that we will make mistakes that can’t entirely be repaired. I say “we” because I know I’m not the only mother who thinks about this.
What has been the most difficult part of the process for your debut novel? What has been the most surprising or interesting?
The most difficult part was writing it without knowing whether anyone but my writing friends would ever read it. For fiction, you have to have a complete, polished manuscript before you can begin pitching it to agents. Some of my short stories had been published in various literary journals, so I knew it was possible that I could sell a novel. But there is never a guarantee. The most interesting part has been learning how the publishing process works. There’s a steep learning curve in terms of marketing and publicity.
How do you find time to write? Do you have a certain schedule you like to follow or squeeze it in around work and your kids’ activities?
I have a somewhat unusual writing schedule. I wrote the novel over the course of four summers because I teach during the school year, and I don’t have time then to do much writing. I spent a fifth year pitching it before my agent picked it up and sold it to Simon & Schuster. Now I’ve received a wonderful grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and another from the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, which have supplemented my income so I can teach less and write more. I would never want to give up teaching altogether, though, so I have a really nice balance now in my professional life.
I noticed on your website that you currently teach at Quinnipiac University and have since 2004. I attended QU from 2005-2009 (and actually started my blog while a student there) – we might have crossed paths at some point, it being the small school that it is! What do you enjoy most about teaching there?
What a great coincidence! I love teaching at Quinnipiac. I teach only the freshman writing classes, 101 in the fall and 102 in the spring. Our students come in eager and willing to try new things, and it’s exciting to see the transformation they undergo as readers and writers over the course of the year. It’s very hard work for them, but rewarding to see what comes of it! I also have fantastic colleagues in the First-Year Writing Program. They’re brilliant and talented, and they continue to challenge me to think about my own teaching and writing in new ways.
Also on your website I saw that you and your daughter are part of a mother-daughter reading group. Could you tell us a little more about how this works? I think this is such a fascinating idea as my mother and I have begun to read similar books.
My 13-year-old daughter and I go to a book group at a local library once a month. The girls choose the books, and every month a different mother-daughter pair plans and leads the discussion. I really enjoy reading books that I normally wouldn’t read and comparing notes with my daughter. A couple of favorites that we’ve read together include First Light by Rebecca Stead and Red Scarf Girl by Ji-li Jiang.
I always comment on book covers, and the cover of A Violet Season is beautiful. Did you get to have any creative input in the cover?
I’m glad you like it—it was our sixth cover attempt! I’ll be blogging more about that at Beyond the Margins this week. I did have some input, but I didn’t have the last word; the sales department did. Covers are seen as marketing tools, so the sales force has to like the cover. What was most important to me was that the cover be historically accurate and true to the story, and I think this cover accomplishes that, in addition to using that beautiful purple that really pops!
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and teaches writing at Quinnipiac University. Her short fiction has been published in numerous journals including Cimarron Review, Indiana Review, Calyx, Confrontation, and The Pinch. A native of New York State’s mid-Hudson Valley, she now lives in Connecticut with her husband and two children.
Here is a video of Kathy talking more about the inspiration behind the novel:
You can visit Kathy on the following sites:
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