Cathy Lamb: Pretend you’re in North Carolina, in summer, in front of a tough, blunt, poor young woman who has made a choice most of us would find impossible.
Now, read this paragraph, then I’ll chat with you about Kristy Woodson Harvey, the author behind this intriguing debut novel titled, Dear Carolina.
Parsnips and salsify is the only vegetables that you ought to just leave alone. They’re tough as nails, and it don’t matter how cold it is. My daddy, he used to call me his little parsnip. But I’d bet dollars to doughnuts he didn’t get the comparison. A momma who didn’t want me, always scraping by. I could survive damn near anything. But, coming up, I didn’t know we were poor. All them rich kids got packed up and sent off to private school. In a room chock full a’ free lunch cards, that dollar I took may as well have been a gold metal…
Now that is great writing. Voice, originality, pain, desperation, and strength, all in one.
Kristy, thanks for joining me today. If I told you that I would give you a mongo – sized box of chocolates if you could sum up Dear Carolina in just one sentence, what would you say?
Kristy Woodson Harvey: Dear Carolina is a book about the ways in which we create our families. (I will do ANYTHING for chocolate. Seriously.)
Cathy Lamb: Ah, a writer after my own chocolate heart. I so understand you.
I found the premise of Dear Carolina – two mothers, the birth and adoptive mother – writing letters to their baby, Carolina, fascinating and original. What was the spark that led to this idea?
When my son was first born, I remember having this moment where I was just staring at him, and we felt so connected that I couldn’t imagine giving up my child, and I wondered what would have to happen in your life for you to be able to do that. And, on the flip side, what it would be like to adopt a baby knowing that he or she would always have this deep, biological connection to another woman. And what I really, really wondered is how it would be to tackle all of these issues within a very open family adoption.
Jodi and Khaki were just in my head that night. I remember lying in bed and hearing Jodi’s voice and playing out conversations in my head. And that was it! I knew I had to write this story.
It’s amazing, the ideas that come to us in the middle of the night, isn’t it? My characters can trigger my insomnia and keep me up for hours.
You’re an interior designer and live in North Carolina as is your character, Khaki. Is Khaki you? How are you the same, how are you different?
I wouldn’t say Khaki is me. But we do have similarities. I have endometriosis and did all the Chinese medicine stuff, so a good bit of that is real. Although, against all odds and what I had been told forever, I got pregnant with no trouble at all! I have my feisty moments, like Khaki, but I think she’s a little more controlling than I am. (I hope!) And she’s braver, for sure. But a lot of her juggling and decision making throughout the book was similar to things that I was going through.
And she has some real wounds that have shaped her and a very tough momma who also made her who she is. I have the sweetest, best mom in the world and no real tragedies, which I am very, very thankful for!
One thing I so enjoyed in the book was how completely, utterly different the two voices of Khaki and Jodi were. That is much harder to pull off than it looks, as you know. Please include one favorite line/paragraph from each of them that you feel best sums up their personalities.
I don’t know if these sum up their personalities, but I love when Jodi says, “The only thing that can really be changed is a dollar bill.” She’s quick and so cute, and she has so much wisdom for a nineteen-year-old. But, even though she’s been through so much, there’s such a vulnerability about her, too. It’s like she understands the harshness of life but she hasn’t let it make her jaded.
For Khaki, “You can never have too many people who love you,” sums it up, for sure. She has some wounds herself, and the way she heals them is by surrounding herself with love. I think she makes some very, very difficult decisions in this book that aren’t necessarily best for her out of her big heart. She can be kind of annoying and over-bearing at times. But she does it with such good intentions.
You have covered many issues in this book. Alcoholism, widowhood, single motherhood, abuse, a restraining order, adoption, the consideration of an abortion, marriage, infertility. Why were all of these topics important for you to address?
This may sound silly but, to be honest, I didn’t really set out to address any issues. I just had the idea for the book and this is how it unfolded. I think all of these things are issues that real women are grappling with day in and day out. But this book was one hundred percent driven by the characters, not the issues.
What part did your Christian faith play in writing this novel and in the characters and their character arcs?
My faith is very important to me, but I didn’t really set out to include that in the book. (In fact, my work in progress really has none of that.) This was a very Southern story, and I think Christianity is something sort of ingrained and intrinsic to this culture and, in particular, these characters. It almost felt like I couldn’t tell the story without a little faith woven in because they would have been raised with that as such a critical part of their lives.
This is your first book. (Whooee!) What did you learn during this process? What advice would you give new writers? Are you working on another book?
Getting your first book deal is a bit like jumping into the deep end before your first swimming lesson. It has been fun and amazing and trying at times. But so, so gratifying. A dream come true! I learned patience at a level I have never known, for sure. So my advice to new writers is to submit when you can, know you’re going to wait a long time, and keep writing. It makes the waiting so much easier. And then, if you get a big stack of rejections back, you have a brand new book to submit.
My next book, LIES AND OTHER ACTS OF LOVE, is coming out April 2016. I’m about halfway through my third book, but I haven’t been working on it much with the launch of DEAR CAROLINA. I can’t wait to dive back in.
Can you describe for us your writing process? Do you write a first draft and then edit multiple times, or do you edit as you go? Do you ever feel like banging your head against the wall when you’re writing?
I always start the book with a scene that won’t let me go. For DEAR CAROLINA, it was the scene where Jodi is on the beach, deciding whether to give up Carolina, the cover scene, actually. I write those really critical scenes that are in my head and then weave the story around those. I try to write a first draft fairly quickly and then I edit and edit and edit, put it away for a couple of months, come back and edit again. I value my writing time so incredibly much because, as a stay-at-home mom, I don’t get it as regularly as I would like. So, usually, I’m ready to jump in.
Some days, I muddle through those 2,000 words and think they are terrible. But, funnily enough, I tend to come back to those passages where it felt like pulling teeth later and think they are great. Weird, right?
Well, there’s a lot that is “weird” about writing, that’s for sure. I can go on and on about that very topic, but I won’t.
We’ve jumped ahead a little bit, but it’s not too late. Tell us about you, especially your adorable three year old. What is a normal day like for you, when do you write, when do you work, what do you like to do, etc.
I think a “normal” day might be a bit of a stretch! Hahaha! He’s in preschool four mornings a week so, ideally, I drop him off at school, write my 2,000 words while he’s there, and hopefully get some emails answered. After he goes to bed, I do my design blog, author blog, freelance work etc. I help my husband a bit at his dental office so sometimes my little guy gets to come do that with me. It’s not always pretty, but it usually tends to work out.
We spend pretty much every weekend at the beach, and I always try to get some writing time in while Daddy is on duty. I love hanging out with those boys and always try to get my girls’ nights in too. I got my yoga certification a few years ago, so I try to fit a bit of that in there, too. This has been a very, very fun and happy time in my life, and I know I will always look back on these years as some of the best.
I just have to ask this, as I’m curious and am not good at decorating: As an interior designer, can you give us five To Do Tips For Decorating and Five Don’t Do Tips For Decorating?
I don’t believe that one bit. You couldn’t have written Grenady without being a good decorator! But, all the same, here’s my two cents:
1. Buy things you love.
2. Pick out rooms you like in magazines, on Pinterest, etc. to help give you a clear vision of what you want.
3. When in doubt, start with art. One focal point can totally make a room.
4. Buy the best furniture you can afford and keep it for years.
5. If you aren’t sure of your “look,” buy your major pieces in neutral fabrics and change up the pillows and accessories with your mood.
1. Buy furniture without measuring first. Scale is so important and the wrong scale can ruin the look of a room.
2. Decorate with trends. Nothing is timeless, so you’ll probably have to refresh your look every few years, but you don’t want to buy furniture that you like for a season only to have to turn around and do it all over again.
3. Be in such a rush to get it all done that you sacrifice what you really want for convenience.
4. Buy anything that you don’t love. Period. If you don’t love it, it doesn’t have a place in your home.
5. Forget to let your personality shine through. Your home should be a reflection of your family.
Visit with Kristy on her website http://www.kristywoodsonharvey.com/
To buy Dear Carolina…
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