Q&A: Authors unleashedRodgers, Writer's Block guest on KFUN/KLVF, Feb. 5, grew up in a family of six kids in Clovis, N.M., home of Cannon Air Force Base and the Santa Fe Railroad. She spent countless hours in a rocking chair, daydreaming about what it would be like to be someone else. Little did she know then she was creating stories in her head. Her work has appeared in Family Circle Magazine, Air Force, Army & Navy Times, Family: The Magazine for Military Families, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Albuquerque Journal, Clovis News Journal, and in three anthologies: “Because I Fly,” by McGraw-Hill, “Lessons From Our Children,” by Health Communications, Inc. and “Hearts of Steel,” by Military Writers Society of America.
In 2008, Leatherneck Publishing released her debut novel “The Final Salute.” The following year, Army Wife Network selected it as their July 2009 book club pick and Military Writers Society of America awarded it the Silver Medal. In July 2011, the e-book edition was released by Navigator Books. That paperback edition hit the Amazon Bestseller list in 2010 and the Kindle edition November 2012.
H. What do you want people to know about you as a writer?
K. Whether I’m writing a nonfiction piece for a magazine or newspaper or working on a novel or short story, I write to get to the truth. I try to create an emotional impact that will draw my reader in. My former editor at Family Circle Magazine once told me, “Your strength as a writer is your storytelling ability.” This is around the same time that I pulled back on my freelance work and tried to concentrate on the manuscript that would grow up to become “The Final Salute.”
H. What is the earliest piece of writing you remember doing? Why did it stay with you?
K. I wrote a short mystery in seventh grade. I don’t remember the characters or much about the story, but I recall it had three main elements: a trap door, a basement, and skeletons. Looking back, I realize that story was probably my first stab at fiction. Why does it stay with me all these years? That’s the first time I can recall transferring a story in my head onto paper. Of course it was scribbled in sloppy cursive into a spiral notebook. Even then, I don’t think I stayed within the lines. Pretty risky stuff for a shy seventh grader.
H. Who most encouraged your writing?
K. The first person that comes to mind is Bill Kopf, my high school newspaper advisor at Clovis High School. Mr. Kopf let me write about Big Foot and UFOs instead of school news. He also encouraged me to enter a statewide writing contest sponsored by the New Mexico Press Women’s Association where I won first place for “Strange Blobs of Light Whiz Through the Night,” an article about UFOs. My first real boss was Mike Slinker at Eastern New Mexico University. Mike hired me as a student writer in what was then Information Services. After attending ENMU for two semesters, I moved back to Clovis and Bill Southard, the managing editor of the Clovis News Journal, hired me as a cub reporter. Initially, my job was to write first birthdays, obits and headlines. Within a week I was writing front-page feature stories.
My aunt, Kay Lamb of Albuquerque, gave me my first subscription to Writers Digest when I was a senior in high school. She, along with my late uncle gave me my first typewriter, a portable turquoise manual I carried everywhere. My mother bought me my first briefcase with my initials on the handle. Then there’s my longtime writing mentor and friend, Parris Afton Bonds, a New York Times bestselling author. I met Parris in 1984, and she has stayed steadfast in her belief in my work. My husband Tom, is a huge source of support. He pushes me to get my work done. And last but not least, my READERS. They’ve become some of my biggest cheerleaders.
H. What inspired “The Final Salute?”
K. Two things: Fighter pilots dying in peacetime training missions, and how the brass cover up sex scandals in the military. The story is based on the years I spent as a military wife married to an Air Force fighter pilot. I was twenty-one years old when I married into the world of military aviation. A world I thought was full of parties at the Officer’s Club, the roar of jet engines, and a place where my husband and the other pilots lived on the edge of the envelope at a speed faster than the rest of us.
Early in my marriage, I learned about the other side of military aviation. The side that nobody likes to talk about when a plane goes down. When a hush goes over a squadron of men like a black pall because earth and sky have collided and one of their brothers isn’t coming home. In one year alone, my husband and I lost eleven friends in air mishaps. And this was during peacetime. But the crashes kept coming, and the death toll rose. We toasted the dead and partied on.
I learned to accept two things about my husband’s career choice: His job could kill him, and he loved every minute of it. When I started writing the novel twenty years ago, my main goal was to give a voice to the men who perished flying for their country and the women and children they left behind.
H. How did you market your book?
K. Without the help of an expensive publicist, I used modern technology and old-school methods to gain national attention for my book. Write-ups have appeared in The Associated Press, USA Today, Military Times, Family Magazine, Mobile Press-Register, Midwest Book Review, Fort Worth-Texas Magazine, the Star-Telegram, and many other publications. The Final Salute hit #1 on Amazon's Top Rated War Fiction in 2012 and #2 on Amazon's Bestseller list in Military Aviation in 2010. In 2009, Army Wife Network selected The Final Salute for their July book club, and that same year I won a Silver Medal from Military Writers Society of America.
H. Do you typically base your characters on specific people or are they composites... or are they completely created out of thin air?
K. My characters are composites of other people. I like to think of my fiction as a combination of real life and make-believe. When mixed together, you have a rich and satisfying gumbo. At least that’s my goal as a novelist.
H. What is your writing process like?
K. I whine a lot. Then I realize how lucky I am. A writing instructor at SMU reminded me recently that writing fiction is a privilege that so many people in the world don’t get to indulge in. Even when I’m writing a first draft, I’m constantly revising. I write longhand on legal pads, in journals, on Post -it-notes, in the margins of the church bulletin and on the computer. The writing life is a messy life, but it’s the only life I know.
Many years ago I was contracted to write a story about ADHD for Family Circle. The 2500 word piece was puzzled together using sticky notes, napkins, scraps of paper, index cards. In a photo my husband snapped of me at work, I’m seated on the living room floor with all those notes fanned out in front of me. There’s nothing linear about my process, but with the magic of computers, I can put it all together into some semblance of order.
Since “The Final Salute” was written on speculation, I had to impose my own deadlines, and I had to keep telling the ugly voices in my head to shut up. One voice kept asking, “Who are you to tell a story about fighter pilots? You’re a woman. You’re not even a pilot.” I learned to trust my storytelling abilities and my life experiences, and that combination gave me the authority I needed to complete the novel and put it through numerous revisions.
H. What writers inspired you as a child? What writers inspire you now?
K. I wasn’t a big reader as a child, but the book – or series – that got my attention was “The Boxcar Children.” My oldest sister and I used to act out the stories in our backyard, taking turns being each of the characters. Then imagine my delight as a young writer to learn that I'm a descendant of Samuel Langhorne Clemens on my Grandmother Virgie Clemens side. I’ve been trying to channel him for years.
Although I was born and raised in New Mexico, I’ve always been drawn to southern writers. When I was young and trying to find my own voice, I practically worshipped at the feet of Pat Conroy. My favorite African-American author is Ernest J. Gaines. I’ve read “A Lesson Before Dying,” “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” and “A Gathering of Old Men” at least twice. Mark Childress’ novel “Crazy In Alabama,” taught me that a good story could have a reader laughing and crying at the same time. That’s what I tried to do in “The Final Salute.” I tried to balance the serious stuff with lots of dark humor.
Two of my favorite female novelists are the late Carol Shields and Irish novelist Maeve Binchy. Both have a gift for turning the ordinary family situation into the dramatic without it coming across like a soap opera. That’s my goal, too.
H. What are you writing now?
K. A midlife coming-of-age novel titled “Johnnie Come Lately.” I’m about four scenes shy of completion. In the story, closet writer Johnnie Kitchen has a crisis that turns explosive, exposing a secret that tears her family apart. Still haunted by her mama’s disappearance and her father’s death in Vietnam, Johnnie turns to her journal, penning irreverent letters to the missing and dead. It’s 2007, the country is involved in two bloody wars, and her youngest son enlists in the military against her will. Rebuffed in her efforts to repair the damage she’s inflicted on her now-estranged husband, Johnnie finds herself trapped in a terrifying emotional spiral that threatens to trigger a relapse of her bulimia, which almost killed her. On top of that, a mysterious woman who looks like her mama has been seen around their small town of Portion, Texas.
After “The Final Salute” came out in late 2008, I thought I was done exploring the military in my fiction. Then my youngest son joined the Army. Let’s just say it’s had an impact on my work. My goal is to find a major publishing house, but the industry is changing so rapidly. One way or another “Johnnie Come Lately” will find an audience.
H. Where can people get “The Final Salute”?K. Thee-book edition is available at Amazon: www.thefinalsalute.com
The paperback edition is almost sold out, but used copes are available on Amazon and other online retailers.
I would like to add in conclusion that if you have a dream, go out there and chase it. God gave me a teaspoon of talent and a jug of determination. When mixed together, I milk it for all it’s worth.
Author’s website: www.kathleenMRodgers.com
Kathleen M. Rodgers
Author of the Amazon best-selling novel, THE FINAL SALUTE
Ranked #1 in Amazon's Top Rated War Fiction - 2012
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