2021 Reading Challenge

2021 Reading Challenge
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Guest Post: On Writing: The Addiction and the Cure by Catherine Gentile, Author of Sunday’s Orphan

Today I’m pleased to bring you a guest piece by author Catherine Gentile, whose recent novel Sunday’s Orphan came out just a few weeks ago. Enjoy!

On Writing: The Addiction and the Cure

by Catherine Gentile 

I’m up to my eyeballs with activities related to the release of my third book, Sunday’s Orphan, a novel set in Georgia in 1930 during the Jim Crow era. Sunday’s Orphan, bobbed in and out of my life over the span of twenty-plus years and entailed memorable visits to Georgia to research specific details, take photos, sniff the loamy soil, then return home and incorporate insights gained into the genre of historical fiction. I loved every second of the process—well, almost every second—and swore, once I completed the last round of edits, that it was time to retire. 

Well, here I am, as close as I’ve ever been to the possibility of really retiring and, instead of listing all the activities to which I will dedicate retirement from my writing, what am I doing? I’m thinking about how best to research my next novel, set in fourteenth century Europe, probably France, or might it be Belgium? Hmm…What is it about decisions such as these that feed my imagination? 

I’ve always been curious about how others live their lives. On a concrete level, I wonder what the outside of their homes look like when viewed by the community in which they reside? What might the owners’ lives be like when they’re on the inside of those homes, where others cannot see them? What prompted them to pursue a living via retail, medicine, the military, culinary arts? Do they behave differently when they are at work vs at home with their families? Do they understand how they came to make the choices that shaped their lives? Are there answers to these questions? More importantly, why do these questions persist as though they live a life of their own?During my early writing days, fellow writers told of stories that stayed with them, begged, pleaded, cajoled until they were shaped with words. From where do these compulsions come? Some writers recall specific instances that resonated, implanted themselves in memory, refused to be dismissed. Others had undergone horrific experiences that wouldn’t rest until they are acknowledged, drawn out in black and white for all to read. Another shares discouraging experiences with the medical establishment in hopes others will profit from her insights. Something similar occurred to me when I converted my family’s experiences with my mother’s Alzheimer’s dementia into my first novel, The Quiet Roar of a Hummingbird

In retrospect, I had no choice but write that first novel; if I hadn’t done so, I wouldn’t have freed myself  to move on. Doing so, I had to set aside an early draft of Sunday’s Orphan. Curiously, once I gave this first novel my full attention, it seemed to write itself. Words, concepts, themes flowed as though worried I’d stop writing in mid-manuscript. What that dog-eared manuscript did not fully appreciate—excuse the anthropomorphosis– was the power it held over me. I wrote for hours on end, transcribing scenes I’d imagined during the hours I spent with my mother on her Memory Care Unit. At first, the characters seemed to push me to write an exposé of the inadequacies I’d witnessed during those early days of dementia care when placing family members was relatively unheard of, and treatment modalities had yet to be researched. As with most of the characters in my writing, they fought against their tendency to seek retribution for ills they’d endured to ultimately counter with more merciful approaches. 

When I’d completed the Hummingbird project, I anticipated taking time away from my office. No such luck—the amorphous questions that had prompted my exploration via Sunday’s Orphan into the senselessness of human prejudices came into focus: What was it like for victims and families living with the irrationality of Jim Crow “law”? How did inhabitants of the island setting I’d created deal with the gnawing fear that had rooted itself within every cell of their bodies? How do citizens tolerate the threat of having freedom plucked out from under them? More importantly, how do they avoid becoming the very thing they fear the most? 

My work within Sunday’s Orphan became a study of the protagonist’s—a young woman’s— reactions to fear, the ways in which it haunted her, suffered under its tyranny, and was ultimately repelled by its soul-leaching power. Having witnessed its destructive impact on those she loves, she gathers her boldest self and refuses to embody the hatefulness she most fears. With this  intention, she acts accordingly. 

Having explored this aspect of fear, why am I compelled to continue to write? Shouldn’t I be satisfied with my protagonist’s response, rational as it is, to fear? Interestingly, there are many more layers yet to be explored. Sunday’s Orphan has done its job, opened an exploration of a type of fear we humans hold within our hearts, or does it hold us? Obviously, there is more, waiting to be mined. Retirement for this writer, addicted to the acts of pondering, considering, and creating is out of the question. Write on!

About the Author

CATHERINE GENTILE’S fiction received the Dana Award for Short Fiction. Her debut novel, The Quiet Roar of a Hummingbird, was a Finalist in the Eric Hoffer Novel Award for Excellence in Independent Publishing. Small Lies, a collection of short stories, was released in October 2020. Her nonfiction covers a variety of topics and has appeared in Writers’ Market, North Dakota Quarterly, Down East, and Maine Magazine. She currently edits and publishes a monthly ezine entitled Together With Alzheimer’s, which has subscribers throughout the United States. A native of Hartford, Connecticut, Catherine lives with her husband and muse on a small island off the coast of Maine. Her latest novel, Sunday’s Orphan, is scheduled for release in September, 2021. Learn more at www.catherinegentile.com.

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