Thursday, February 13, 2020

Kathleen West Interview - Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes

Photo Credit: © Anne Marie Photography

Kathleen West is a veteran middle and high-school teacher. She graduated with a degree in English from Macalester College and holds a Master’s degree in literacy education from the University of Minnesota. She lives in Minneapolis with her hilarious husband, two sporty sons, and very bad goldendoodle.


What inspired you to pen your first novel?
I’ve been a writer since childhood, but I haven’t written any books until now. As I entered my late thirties, I realized it was time to get started on that mythical novel I always imagined producing. Writing about kids, parents, and teachers, as I did in Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, was a delight. I’ve been living the school-teacher life for twenty years, and I have no shortage of school-related thoughts and experiences to share.

Tell us your latest news.
I just turned in my second, as-yet-untitled novel. That feels momentous! I’ve been writing full-time this year, whereas I used to write from 4:45-6:15am before my regular day began. I also recently traded in the minivan I’ve driven for the last ten years. My kids are older now, and one is on the verge of driving himself. That’s another miraculous transition.

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?

My reading consistently impacts my writing. I’m inspired by funny, creative, and insightful writers like Liane Moriarty, Maria Semple, and Celeste Ng. Further, I’m forever influenced by my own teachers at every level. My fifth-grade teacher was the first one to suggest I’d someday write a book. My high school teachers nurtured me and provided opportunities to practice. The community of writers I’ve met along my publishing journey have been incredibly generous in their time, encouragement, and advice.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
The best part of signing a book deal has been meeting and interacting with so many talented people. I love chatting with other writers. My publishing team has been incredibly supportive. A few former students have reached out, as well, and it’s always, always gratifying to hear from someone you worked with in the classroom.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
Most of all, I hope they’re laughing and entertained. A second hope is that they empathize with both main characters and come to root for them in spite of their flaws.

In your new book; MINOR DRAMAS & OTHER CATASTROPHES, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it
Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes is about those difficult moments when, as a parent, you’re dying to use your adult influence to shield your children from hurt or disappointment. Every parent I know has the impulse to step in, to smooth things over; but the parents I really admire resist the temptation. The book is also about a teacher’s deep commitment to her students and what happens when her values come into conflict with the values of her students’ parents.

What part of Isobel did you enjoy writing the most?
I love being in the classroom with students, so I loved writing Isobel in her classroom as well. She’s home there and in control. Of course, that dynamic makes it all the more hurtful to her when her career is threatened. I’ll admit it was also pretty fun to write parents behaving badly. We have to laugh at ourselves, and I’m definitely poking fun at my own over-parenting instincts in this book, too.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
It might be fun to have a fictional meeting of the school administrators. I know he’s from a movie, but wouldn’t Ed Rooney from Ferris Bueller love to chat with Wayne Wallace from Liston Heights High? Perhaps Miss Trunchbull from Matilda could join them, and Principal Skinner and Mr. Belding could meet up later for happy hour?

  • 1. I wrote Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes over three-and-a-half years, working most weekday mornings from 4:45-6:15am.
  • 2. Isobel Johnson, the teacher in the book, is leading her class through a reading of The Great Gatsby. Reading that book with my high school English teacher changed my life and my ideas about literature.
  • 3. I tried to sprinkle a few nods to Gatsby throughout the novel—references to green and naming an apartment development Tuolomee Square after Dan Cody’s yacht.
  • 4. There’s a 5k race at a climactic moment in the book. I’m a lifelong runner, myself, and I love to write about running.
  • 5. I snuck the names of some of my lifelong friends into the book, and it’s been fun to watch them discover these.
  • 6. After I found an agent, she directed me to completely rewrite the book and reimagine the genesis of the conflict. Those editorial notes made all the difference.
  • 7. Before I began writing Minor Dramas, I spent a year on an ill-conceived multi-generational family saga which will never see the light of day. I did mine that book, though, for some supporting characters who appear in my second novel.
  • 8. Minor Dramas was originally titled Detention, which my agent thought sounded too much like a romance novel.
  • 9. I cannot write romance, and there’s not even so much as a kiss in Minor Dramas or in my second book.
  • 10. The Sadie’s Dance costumes mentioned in the book are real ones I encountered while working in a suburban high school outside of Minneapolis. Many other setting details from that school appear in the novel as well.
What’s the most ridiculous fact you know?
I’m not sure if this is actually true, but I read recently that we swallow four cups of boogers per day. Gross.

Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew?
I’ve stood up for kids many times.

Best date you've ever had?
On our first date, my husband and I went to the opening of the then-brand new Science Museum of Minnesota. We saw an IMAX film called Epic Journeys: The Great Migrations, which we now refer to as Birds Across America.

Choose a unique item from your wallet and explain why you carry it around.
I have a new wallet that has an amazing feature. You pull a lever, and your four most frequently used cards pop up. They’re staggered, so you can easily choose the one you need in the moment. I love to show that wallet off. I don’t have anything interesting in it, though--just the usual stuff, plus gum wrappers and wrinkled ones.

What event in your life would make a good movie?
I am adopted, and I met my birthmother when I was seventeen. I think our meeting felt cinematic, electric in the moment.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
I think feeling uncomfortable, sitting in it, and being okay with it is a worthwhile experience. We should all get better at that.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
Having my own children made me a more empathetic person in general and definitely a better teacher. I came to understand on a deep level that parents act out of love or fear or both, and I loosened up a bit in order to accommodate more individual needs and differences. Not every teacher needs the empathy infusion of becoming a parent, but it was transformative for me.

Perfect for fans of Where'd You Go, Bernadette and Small Admissions, a wry and cleverly observed debut novel about the privileged bubble that is Liston Heights High--the micro-managing parents, the overworked teachers, and the students caught in the middle--and the fallout for each of them when the bubble finally bursts.

Isobel Johnson knows helicopter parents like Julia Abbott--a stage mom whose world revolves around interfering in her children's lives--come with the territory. Julia resents teachers like Isobel, who effortlessly bond with students, including Julia's own teenagers, who have started pulling further away from her.

Isobel has spent her teaching career in Liston Heights side-stepping the community's high-powered families. But when she receives a threatening voicemail accusing her of Anti-Americanism and a "blatant liberal agenda," she realizes she's squarely in the fray. Rather than cowering, Isobel doubles down on her social-justice ideals. Meanwhile, Julia, obsessed with the casting of the high school's winter musical, inadvertently shoves the female student lead after sneaking onto the school campus. The damning video footage goes viral and has far-reaching consequences for Julia and her entire family.

With nothing to unite them beyond the sting of humiliation from public meltdowns, Isobel and Julia will find common ground where they least expect it, confronting a secret Facebook gossip site that's stirring up more trouble for this tumultuous, fractured school community.


“A smart and delightful story of entitlement, friendship, and overparenting, with page-turning twists galore. West writes across lines of class and generation with grace and ease. A big-hearted debut." —Bruce Holsinger, author of The Gifted School

“As intriguing as it is timely. West provides a funny and shocking glimpse into American parenting through the lens of an out-of-control stage mother who has lost all sense of boundaries.” —Amy Poeppel, author of Limelight

"Helicopter parenting and high school politics at their worst—and funniest. A smart, fast-paced, and deliciously entertaining debut!" —Meg Donohue, USA Today bestselling author of You, Me, and The Sea

"A cutting and witty examination of modern parenting that excels in suburban relatability, West's debut novel will pique the curiosity of fans of Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette." —Booklist

"West offers a sharp, unflinching look at her characters: teachers and administrators trying to do—and keep—their jobs; busy, high-powered parents who buy the best they can for their families; helicopter mothers who see themselves as the omniscient beings who control their children's lives; and the high school students themselves, who sometimes have to learn about kindness and mentoring, bullying and inappropriate behavior by judging their parents' and teachers' actions rather than those of their peers. An excellent, nuanced exploration of the world of high school and the students and adults who live within it." —Kirkus (starred review)

You can purchase Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you KATHLEEN WEST for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes by Kathleen West.