For press releases, high-resolution covers, author bios and other information, check out the following press kit for Kathryn’s books.
How did you get started with writing?
I started writing in the third grade. I was obsessed with death. I wrote a poem about the death penalty. I was lucky to be in a school with a good arts curriculum and we had creative writing, so I really took off at an early age. I thought I was a witch too, so I wrote spells and cast spells on people. It was my way of being powerful. I was a somewhat morbid child. We moved around a lot and it was a way for me to carve out a realm of my own.
How do you define chick lit and how do you see yourself in relation to that category?
Chick lit in my view is romance, a derivation of the romance genre.What concerns me is not that this genre exists, but that there is an increasing tendency to pull all women’s literature into that category. If all women writers are all classified that way, what happens to the female writers of social protest and other difficult social questions?
I believe that the blanket classifying of all women’s writing as chick lit goes back to the age-old notion that women only write about small, domestic matters. Lumping female literature together like this prevents the serious questions from getting asked about what it’s like to try and combine life with a partner and a career and children. This is something that obviously a lot of young women are thinking about. I am not opposed to chick lit, but I think it is important to be mindful of distinctions that matter.
I see my book as tackling some challenging social questions and not fitting into the category of chick lit.
What are some of the struggles you recognize when it comes to balancing career and motherhood?
I think one of the challenges is the way that our society views the role of the mother. I do not see the social support there that could be there in terms of government subsidies to encourage corporations to have childcare and to have true family-friendly policies. If you work part-time in this country, you don’t have health care. That’s the work that a lot of mothers need if they are going to be parenting their children.
The U.S. Census doesn’t include the act of caring in its pie charts. That’s what struck me when I read New York Times economist Anne Crittendon’s book, The Price of Motherhood. You can be a woman working full-time caring for children and caring for parents with dementia and when it comes to the question of “do you have a job?” you check your contribution to society as “zero”. I see something wrong there.
Where did your ideas for The Baby Lottery come from?
I have long been interested in medical issues and the effect that they have on identity. My first book, The Sperm Donor’s Daughter, looks at assisted reproduction. The Baby Lottery looks at both fertility treatment and the huge question of second trimester abortion. I am interested in the subject of abortion because I think that we have not progressed, as a country, in our discussion of abortion. I really feel that people are stuck in an either-or, black-and-white kind of thinking about it, which does not reflect where a great many women are.
My father was an obstetrician, and as a young man he served his medical residency in the labor-and-delivery ward of Los Angeles County Hospital before Roe v. Wade was passed. A section of the floor was called the OB Infection Ward, a euphemism really, because it was where they sent patients with botched abortions if they didn’t die first.
Finley is the only male that get his own chapter in The Baby Lottery and the readers only hear from Charlotte, the one who decides to have the abortion, once as well. Why are these chapters present and what do you believe they offer the reader?
The presence of these chapters is crucial. They un-pattern the book a bit. If a reader gets stuck in a book’s pattern of rotating narrators, the book can seem tedious. These two chapters mix it up. Finley just kept asserting himself as a character until finally I had to put him in.
This book is sympathetic to men as well as women. Finley’s voice is important in understanding the complexity of the situation that the characters find themselves in. He has a different perspective on things and adds even more depth to the story.
Most of all, I did not want this story to have one fixed angle on the issues it discusses. Charlotte’s chapter, which is written in the first person because she has no distance from herself, keeps the reader troubled by sympathies. That is, there is no easy way to take sides with the characters and, by the end, the book does not settle on one attitude toward the issues it discusses, but presents multiple perspectives.
You’ve written a novella and stories called The Sperm Donor’s Daughter and now the novel, The Baby Lottery. In both books there are stories about steps, exes, and halves. What is it about broken connections in families?
I think there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on families, and I think our definitions of family are far too narrow, so that people are made to feel either failed or weird. The former Pope, Jean Paul, had it right when he said: “we live in an age of savage capitalism.” I want to write about the savage feelings that go along with that. Women are exhausted. Men are exhausted. The social changes that feminists envisioned in the the 70s were not enacted. But there’s very little social analysis, in fact, I think instead men and women are encouraged to blame each other—the so-called mommy wars. Or we’re encouraged to pathologize our problems–the exhaustion of the impossible task must be depression or some sort of personality disorder.
You identify yourself as a Northwest writer. Why is this identity important to you?
I am a sixth generation Westerner. My grandmother’s grandmother arrived in 1860. My parents split up when I was small, and I moved around a fair bit so that my childhood encompassed Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and the Eastern Sierra Nevada. I think that, like painters, writers have a palette of color and hues; mine definitely belong to the West.
What do you like to teach?
Teaching puts me in the middle of a cultural conversation, and I love that. Because of my students, I update my knowledge base constantly. I recently established a course called “The Literature of War,” because I see this disconnect in society between Main Street and military culture and that troubles me, especially with so many Vets returning home and coming to campus on the G.I. Bill. I also established a 1960s lit course in my department and that has been a great opportunity to talk about the Vietnam War, political protest, civil rights, idealism, all of it.