Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Katie Andraski to the blog.
Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.
My original “call” to be a writer happened in the big red barn where we stored our hay, during one winter rain. I’d been reading C.S. Lewis, and wanted to do for others what he did for me. I wanted to capture a vision of glory and offer it to my readers. I ached to do this so badly I wept and asked God if I could.
I followed this “call” to an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and followed it yet again as a publicist for Crossway books. I pretty much launched that company as far as publicity goes. I worked with Francis and Edith Schaeffer, Frank Schaeffer, Stephen Lawhead, and Larry Woiwode. I began work on my novel The River Caught Sunlight during this time.
When I found myself teaching composition at Northern Illinois University I began drafting other books—poetry, a collection of essays, very rough memoirs, and sequels to my novel. The only books that I have published are a poetry collection in 1988, When the Plow Cuts, and The River Caught Sunlight in 2014.
Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?
We have two Norwegian Fjord ponies, two Australian Shepherd dogs, two cats, and approximately seven chickens. (As of this writing, we’re not sure of the count.) I am currently shopping around a collection of poetry called Spiritual Warhorse, which is about the spiritual and psychological journey I’ve been on with my two horses. They have helped me practice new habits of thought and introduced me to a community of good people. I’ve written about the chickens and the cats in my blog and on Facebook.
Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names?
A former race horse, Martha, and Johnny, her son, the result of an oops breeding, showed up in my novel The River Caught Sunlight. (They are fictional horses.) Janice finds out Marcel is going to marry her brother while the two women are riding. She doesn’t react well. I also wrote about a Bernese Mountain Dog, Joshua, who appears towards the end of the book. Janice is going to buy a young dog to keep her company and finds a place to live as well as the man she will marry in the process. At the time I owned and showed two Bernese and wanted to write a plot thread about showing these dogs for the sequel. The book took so long to write my Berners are long gone as are the first two Aussies that I owned. When you’re writing, time slides by.
What are you reading now?
I read way too much Facebook. I’m also reading a friend’s book, Because I Do Not want to Disappear, which is about his battle with leukemia and lymphoma. It’s philosophical and well written. I’m a few chapters into How Jesus Saves the World from Us by Morgan Guyton. He offers a fresh and challenging way to follow Jesus. I’m also reading Paul by N.T. Wright, a book that pulls together the apostle’s life as shown through his epistles and the book of Acts. Finally, I just started Warlight by Michael Ondaatje.
What writing projects are you currently working on?
I try to write my blog as regularly as possible, which takes up much of my writing time. I also write short Perspectives for our local NPR station, WNIJ. Those appear every five weeks. I would like to re-publish my poetry collection, When The Plow Cuts this year. I would like to settle down and work on one of my novel sequels and maybe collect my blog posts into a memoir of sorts.
Who is your favorite author and why?
I admire Annie Dillard because of how precisely and spiritually she writes about nature. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek grabbed me when I was a young writer in the seventies. She helps me look closely at the world around me. I also admire Mark Helprin because of how lush and slow moving his books are. His sentences make me stop and ponder.
Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.
My first pet was a calico cat named Puffball. One summer my parents brought up two puppies, one right after the other, that both died. I was heartbroken with the double grief. But my brave parents, found another dog, this time he was six months old, and gave him to me for Christmas. He was a border collie from working lines. They took him to the vet right away and got him checked out before they brought him home. He bonded to me when I handed him a piece of turkey. A close family friend still remarks about how loyal he was to me.
I also got a pony, Trigger, who was quite the escape artist. When I out grew her, my brother rode her bareback and I rode a chesnut mare, who was probably gaited, that I called My Whisper. I showed her at local open shows. My brother and I rode in the back country between our home and our town. I sold Trigger to Mary who boarded her at my house and we continued our adventures riding all over the area.
How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?
The animals are characters in their own right. They thread through the two sequels I’ve written to The River Caught Sunlight that and play a major role in an unfinished young adult novel that is a prequel. The working title of the young adult novel is Two Girls Who Love the Same Horse.
Why do you include animals in your writing?
Animals are a major part of my life.
What do your pets do when you are writing?
My red Aussie, Little Dog, call name Doupy, lies at the foot of my chair while I’m writing. If I am lost in my work, she will bark at my husband when he walks in the room, to let me know he is there. The other Aussie, Night, lies somewhere nearby. Sometimes the cat will sit on the table that is near one of my writing chairs. Right now he’s moved from sleeping on the landing to sleeping next to me. My mare, Morgen, will stand at the fence and look for me if I take too long to come out. Some times she whinnies. The rooster will occasionally jump on the porch and crow.
What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now? And how many TBR piles do you have?
I just picked up This Day by Wendell Berry, which is a collection of his Sabbath poems. I’d like to dig into Mary Oliver’s collected poems, Devotions. Also I’d like to read The Age of the Horse about horses in history. Barking to the Choir is also on my list. Finally I’d also like to order Lee Martin’s The Mutual UFO Network, which is about how redemption is possible even in difficult situations. I have about six TBR piles, two of which are books already on shelves. I love to read but save it for bedtime, which means it takes forever to finish a book.
Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why?
There’s a big, fat chair in the corner of our living room, with an ottoman for my feet. There’s a table where I can put my tea and just enough room for the dog to lie at my feet and the cat to sit on the table if he so chooses. The light coming through the blinds can be quite beautiful.
We moved my favorite writing chair into my office because we couldn’t bear to throw away our old loveseat even though we had bought a new one. I don’t sit there very often because my office is where I dump stuff and the light isn’t very good except in the morning. When I do, the chair seems to wrap me up in writing vibes. I heard once that sometimes a favorite chair or routine can be a cue for us to do our writing. That seems to be true for me.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
Be open to people who have gone ahead of you as writers. Don’t limit yourself to the well published, fancy writers. Sometimes your first year English teacher, or the person who has been living a writing life for years, have wisdom for the road ahead. They might be able to save you missteps.
The biggest insight I can offer, is to try to stay alone with your story, essay, poem until you’ve imagined it end to end. If possible take it as far as you can take it before you show it to people. Years ago I was in a First Draft writers group that critiqued our chapters as we wrote them. Unfortunately I found the first chapters were highly polished but the book pushed out to the end. When I let go of this idea and stayed alone with my work, I was able to complete the draft. When others comment on your work, they are often inserting their imagination. They tell you what they would do, which is fine, but you might lose the very quiet voice of the story itself. That voice is pretty wise as far as knowing where your story is going.
The revision process can show you so much about your story. The first draft often merely scratches the surface, but as you work away at the story, it can unfold and become more itself as you learn to listen to what it’s telling you. When I cut things I put them in a separate file of Cut Stuff so that I didn’t feel like I was throwing it away. A good editor can help you dive deeper with the material. I have read several self-published books that read like polished first drafts, with undeveloped plot lines. So be sure to take the time to revise and proofread your work before you publish it.
Finally, here is a short piece I wrote for WNIJ that talks about how not all our dreams come true, not even the publishing dreams. But how our life unfolds might be better. http://northernpublicradio.org/post/working-dream
Katie Andraski recently retired from twenty years of teaching developmental composition at Northern Illinois University. She published her first novel The River Caught Sunlight in 2014 with Koehler books and published her collection of poetry When the Plow Cuts in 1988 with Thorntree Press. She blogs regularly at https://katieandraski.com and writes Perspectives for the local NPR station,WNIJ. She lives on a tiny farm with her husband and two Norwegian Fjord horses, two dogs, two cats and seven chickens.
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