Cathy Gohlke is the two-time Christy Award-winning author of William Henry is a Fine Name and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires. Her second novel also won the Carol Award and was chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Books of 2008. Promise Me This is available now and Band of Sisters will release September 2012 from Tyndale House Publishers. Cathy, her husband, and dog, Reilly, live on the banks of the Laurel Run in Elkton, Maryland. www.cathygohlke.com
Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.
I often pose questions or dilemmas for my characters similar to those with which I’ve struggled. Sometimes those similarities are simple, but other times they are issues that have challenged me to my core—like how to stand against physical or emotional abuse, the courage to choose rightly when I know that choice will hurt someone I love, or how to know what God wants of me.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
Just before my older sister’s summer wedding (I was her thirteen-year-old maid of honor), I was visiting my aunt. A severe storm had pummeled the island, and another was expected the next day. In anticipation, islanders and members of the Coast Guard had stacked sandbags along the shore. Early the next morning, though the wind was high and the crashing sea had already covered those bags, I climbed to their top and ran, barefoot, along their line (never bothering to read the warning signs forbidding such things).
It was exhilarating—the wind whipping my long black hair round my face and shoulders, my skirt flying round my legs like a ship’s sail gone berserk. Romantic lines raced through my brain, “as sure-footed as a mountain goat; as fleet as a gazelle; fearless in the face of danger,” etc., etc. I ran faster and faster—until I slipped on the bags and fell feet first into a gigantic oyster bed.
Over four decades later I still carry a scar on my wrist to remind me of those razor-sharp shells. The half-mile trek on bleeding feet back to my aunt’s home and the sting of iodine unsympathetically administered stole every ounce of adventure and romance from my mind—briefly. Quirky? Maybe. Painful? Foolish? Yes. But it’s one of the thrilling highlights of my memory.
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I knew I wanted to write from the moment my grandmother revealed to me (at five years of age) the astounding fact that books are not created by magic, but that “real people write books.” In fourth grade one of my poems was selected by my teacher to be included on a mimeographed page and presented to the class as part of our Christmas celebration. Seeing my poem “in print” and realizing that others valued the ideas I’d conveyed was a thrilling moment for me. I remember thinking, “This is the beginning. This is the first one.”
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
My Bible first and foremost—it grows more precious and exciting each day. Books on organization fascinate me because I struggle with that. I enjoy reading gardening, do-it-yourself, cookbooks, histories and books of crafts from long ago, poignant YA and some family sagas. I love historical fiction, mysteries, classics, quirky humor and slice of life stories. The most important thing to me is a great story, well written, with a compelling or distinctive voice.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
Prayer—all day long I keep a running conversation with the Lord, which reminds me that I’m not in this alone. And while I take my writing seriously, I try hard not to take myself too seriously. I confess to living nose-to-the-grindstone and feeling overwhelmed sometimes, so am working on developing and maintaining more balance in my life.
When I realized that “pray without ceasing” means an ongoing conversation with God all day long and into the night, my life changed. How do you choose your characters’ names?
I start by researching first and last names (and their meanings) that were common in the era and location of my story’s setting—and then I search for uncommon names, often found in diaries and letters from the period. Next, I identify my story characters’ leading traits and try to match characters with names that convey the ideas of those traits. For instance, the primary villain in Promise Me This is named “Hargrave” because her heart is “hard” and cold as the “grave.”
I take into account that particular letters and their combinations evoke mental images (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) when said aloud, as does the unique spelling of a name printed on the page. All of those things go into making a character seem more like a “Scarlett O’Hara” or a “Ben Hur” rather than some less suited name.
And, then, there are times that I’m just partial to a name or wish to honor someone I know or knew—if their name fits the character and era.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Raising my children. I love them with all of my heart and am very proud of the people they’ve become. Both are loving, giving, and compassionate adults, able to lead but quick to serve and help those around them. In every other way they’re extremely different. They fill my life to overflowing.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
A horse. I love the strength, stamina and beauty of horses. I love to see them in full run—so independent and free. But they’re also affectionate and bond strongly with people. They can work hard alone and well as a team—with their riders or with other horses, side by side. Those are qualities I admire.
What is your favorite food?
Blackberry Crumble Pie—the recipe for my son’s birthday pie—with vanilla ice cream. It tastes of summer—Yum!!!
Sounds delicious. I loved the huge blackberries that grew in
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did
you overcome it? Arkansas
My greatest roadblock was insecurity and fear: not believing I could figure out a plot, build it up, wind it down, and tie up all those loose ends; not believing I could sustain a reader’s interest or write something that others would want to read. I feared failure, but not as much as I feared getting old and not having tried. I expected the road to be long and hard and that I’d learn something new at every junction; I’ve not been disappointed.
Sometimes people have said to me, “I’d never have stuck at it that long.”
But the notion of quitting astounds me. If I needed to walk from
Maine to Florida
I wouldn’t think of giving up in . I overcame my fears by praying constantly,
believing that God had given me the passion to write for a purpose, and walking
forward each day. The wonderful surprise was that I’ve not had to walk the
trail alone—many wonderful sisters and brothers in Christ walk it with me. North
Tell us about the featured book.
Promise Me This –Michael Dunnagan was never supposed to sail on the Titanic, nor would he have survived if not for the courage of Owen Allen. Determined to carry out his promise to care for Owen’s family in
his younger sister Annie in England,
Michael works hard to strengthen the family’s gardening and landscaping
business. New Jersey
Annie Allen doesn’t care what Michael promised Owen. She only knows that her brother is gone—like their mother and father—and the grief is enough to swallow her whole. As Annie struggles to navigate life in
without Owen, Michael reaches out to her through letters. In time, as she
begins to lay aside her anger that Michael lived when Owen did not, a tentative
friendship takes root and blossoms into something neither expected. England
Just as Michael saves enough money to bring Annie to
WWI erupts in Europe. When Annie’s letters
mysteriously stop, Michael risks everything to fulfill his promise—and find the
woman he’s grown to love—before she’s lost forever.
Please give us the first page of the book.
Promise Me This—First Page
The great ship returned late from her sea trials beyond the shores of Carrickfergus, needing only her sea papers, a last-minute load of supplies, and the
Belfast mail before racing to Southampton.
But in that rush to ferry supplies, a dockworker’s hand was crushed beneath two heavy crates carelessly dropped. The fury and swearing that followed reddened the neck of the toughest man aboard the sturdy supply boat.
Michael Dunnagan’s eyes and ears spread wide with all the fascination of his fifteen years.
“You there! Lad! Do you want to make a shilling?”
Michael, who’d stolen the last two hours of the day from his sweep’s work to run home and scrub before seeing Titanic off, turned at the gruff offer, certain he’d not heard with both ears.
“Are you deaf, lad? Do you want to make a shilling, I say!” the mate aboard the supply craft called again.
“I do, sir! I do!” Michael vowed, propelled by wonder and a fear the man might change his mind.
“Give us a hand, then. My man’s smashed his paw, and we’ve got to get these supplies aboard Titanic. She’s late from her trials and wants to be under way!”
Michael could not move his feet from the splintered dock. For months he’d slipped from work to steal glimpses of the lady’s growing. He’d spied three years ago as her magnificent keel was laid and had checked week by week as ribs grew into skeleton, as metal plates formed sinew and muscle to strengthen her frame, as decks and funnels fleshed her out. He’d speculated on her finishing, the sure beauty and mystery of her insides. He had cheered, with most of
as she’d been gently pulled from her berth that morning by tugboats so small
with names so mighty that the contrast was laughable. Belfast
I will be reading this book very soon. I can hardly wait. How can readers find you on the Internet?
I’d love to hear from you! Visit my website at www.cathygohlke.com . A new website (same address) that includes recipes my characters loved and photos of locations that inspired Promise Me This will be up and running soon.
Thank you so much for having me,
I’ve loved spending time with you and your readers!
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Promise Me This - paperback
Promise Me This - Kindle
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