Thursday, March 18, 2021

Kathleen West Interview - Are We There Yet?

Photo Content from Kathleen West 

Kathleen West is the author of Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, which was a best books pick by Real Simple, Newsweek, People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and the New York Post. A teacher for 20 years before she published her first novel, Kathleen is particularly interested in the topics of motherhood, ambition, competitive parenting, and the elusiveness of work-life balance. Her sophomore effort, Are We There Yet?, publishes in March 2021. She is a life-long Minnesotan and lives in Minneapolis with her family.


Greatest thing you learned at school.
I remember feeling absolutely blown away and flabbergasted when, in junior English, we read The Great Gatsby. My teacher revealed these theories and secret meanings he found in the text. The significance of the color white! Owl Eyes + T.J. Eckleberg! The shirts on the bed! I had no idea one could analyze text like that. I couldn’t wait to become an English major.

Where were you born and where do you call home?
I was born in St. Paul, MN, and I have never lived outside of my state for more than six months. I never meant for it to be like this, but I do like it here.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I just turned in my third novel, HOME PLAYS AND AWAY GAMES. In it, a woman who almost played on the Olympic hockey team in 2002 re-enters the sports world as the mother of a youth hockey player. She has to revisit the not-so-great decisions she made in her quest to be the best.

If you could work for anyone you choose, who would it be?
I love classroom teaching and I hope to continue to do it, at least on a part time basis, as I write.

Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from ARE WE THERE YET?
Early on in the writing of the novel, I knew I wanted to bring the characters, who wouldn’t be getting along at this point in the story, together for a Thanksgiving dinner. I wanted my main character, Alice, to have what amounts to a temper tantrum. She’s in her late thirties and the mother of two children—too old, too composed, and too polite to lose her mind in the way I wanted her to.

It was really fun to pile on all the insults that would lead to the kind of breakdown I wanted. The final straw was inspired by some research my sister had done about “The Hidden Mother” photos of Victorian area. The trend was to drape mothers with a dark-colored cloths as they held their children for photographs. The pictures show lumpy, faceless figures behind well-dressed kids. In my scene, Alice’s mom drapes in her in a navy pashmina, barbershop-cape style, and that wardrobe alteration shoves her over the edge.

  • 1. It took many, many drafts to make Teddy, the thirteen year-old-boy, seem normal. In the early versions he seemed a little sociopathic. He’s not. He’s just a teenaged boy.
  • 2. My own children would not tutor me in SnapChat for research purposes.
  • 3. An early title was WALL TO WALL CHAOS, a nod to Alice’s profession as an interior designer.
  • 4. The story is set in Elm Creek, MN, a fictional suburb of Minneapolis that borders on Liston Heights, another fictional suburb of Minneapolis I created for my first novel.
  • 5. I mostly wrote the novel in my friend and author Nicole Kronzer’s backyard studio. This was in the beforetimes when I could be safely in a room with another writer.
  • 6. There are seven point-of-view characters. The person whose voice came the easiest to me was Meredith’s, the type-A super mom.
  • 7. I have no design sense, so I had to do multiple interviews with an interior designer to pick furnishings, wallpapers, accessories in this book.
  • 8. I became really interested in both forest bathing and earthing while writing the nature therapy sections of this book, but I don’t really like walking outside in bare feet. That’s what you do when you “earth.”
  • 9. In addition to Meredith, I also really liked writing Jasper, the bro-ey teacher at Echo Environmental Charter School.
  • 10. In the very beginning, Alice had a much-younger sister. I liked her, but she muddied the waters too much in the structure of the book and had to go.
Meet the Characters
There are three moms who became BFFs in Kindergarten Round-Up. Now, seven years later, things are more complicated between them. Alice Sullivan is put-together and appearance-obsessed. Her husband travels a lot for work, her career is taking off, and skimming the teachers’ newsletters has always served her just fine… until now. Nadia Reddy works at home as a software engineer and manages her son, Donovan, who has been on a “behavior plan” since the third grade. Lucky for Alice, Nadia has all the ins on the best therapists in town. And finally, there’s Meredith Yoshida. She monitors her daughter’s caffeine intake and protein needs. She makes her charge her phone in the kitchen overnight and turns her social media apps off at 9 pm. Still, she learns in a pretty horrifying way she can’t control her child’s every behavior.

Your Journey to Publication
I have had a relatively smooth journey to professional authordom. I began writing fiction seriously in about 2014. In 2015, I started writing my first published novel, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes. I began querying that book in January of 2018 and signed with my agent that March. We did a massive rewrite of the book together, and then sold it the following fall to Kerry Donovan at Berkley after about ten days on submission.

I have since signed a subsequent contract with Berkley and will publish my third and fourth books with them in 2022 and 2023.

My family and friends are immensely supportive, and sometimes it seems unbelievable to all of us that writing fake stories is my job now.

Writing Behind the Scenes
Drafting is very hard for me, and I do it in little chunks. Revising is easier, and my stamina increases toward the end of projects. I used to write very early in the mornings—4:45-6:15am—but now that I’m not teaching full-time, I use regular business hours for the most part, as well as some weekends. I’m useless at night, and even when I’m staring down the most menacing deadline, I pretty much can’t write after 7 pm.

What is the first job you have had?
I babysat at age 9. Who let me do that?

Best date you've ever had?
My husband and I went to the opening of our city’s new Science Museum for our first date in 1999.
What is your most memorable travel experience?

My mom and I spent six months in China when I was 10. When I returned, I wrote a travel memoir that my sixth-grade teacher found so impressive that she took me to McDonald’s to discuss publication opportunities.

What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
I was a camp counselor from 1997-2000. I loved that job, even when I had to wriggle into a wet bathing suit for lifeguard duty.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
Teaching changed my outlook on kids, families, and trying our best.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
True love, for sure.

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
I’m obsessed with my brown spots and freckles. They’re multiplying as I age.

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
I have a trick I use to fall asleep. I read until I’m very, very tired. And then I think of a longish word (maybe, “Sugarplum”) and then think of an object in the house for every letter of the word (spoon, umbrella, granola…). I’m almost always asleep before the end of the word.

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
I was mean to someone in eighth grade. I think about it sometimes, and I wish I hadn’t been that way.

What event in your life would make a good movie?
I reunited with my birth mother when I was seventeen, and it feels a little like a Hallmark movie.

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
Skydiving. And, climate change.

Among fake Instagram pages, long-buried family secrets, and the horrors of middle school, one suburban mom searches to find herself.

Alice Sullivan feels like she's finally found her groove in middle age, but it only takes one moment for her perfectly curated life to unravel. On the same day she learns her daughter is struggling in second grade, a call from her son's school accusing him of bullying throws Alice into a tailspin.

When it comes to light that the incident is part of a new behavior pattern for her son, one complete with fake social media profiles with a lot of questionable content, Alice's social standing is quickly eroded to one of "those moms" who can't control her kids. Soon she's facing the very judgement she was all too happy to dole out when she thought no one was looking (or when she thought her house wasn't made of glass).

Then her mother unloads a family secret she's kept for more than thirty years, and Alice's entire perception of herself is shattered.

As her son's new reputation polarizes her friendships and her family buzzes with the ramification of her mother's choices, Alice realizes that she's been too focused on measuring her success and happiness by everyone else's standards. Now, with all her shortcomings laid bare, she'll have to figure out to whom to turn for help and decide who she really wants to be

You can purchase Are We There Yet? at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you KATHLEEN WEST for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Are We There Yet? by Kathleen West.