Katherine Gehan earned her MFA in fiction from Emerson College and her BA in English from Haverford College. The first short story she remembers writing was about a man who washed up on the shore of an island he would later discover was heaven. She was eight at the time. And had she spent any time revising it, she's sure it would now be a best-selling pamphlet in Sunday Schools across the country. Katherine has played the flute at Carnegie Hall, lived in cities as varied as Vienna and Indianapolis, climbed mountains and raced in triathlons, given IQ tests to over 200 twins, and worked in higher educational publishing for over ten years. For the last four years she's put her creative energy towards procreating rather than writing, but she's now getting enough sleep to begin her first novel and polish up some stories.
Q: Could you tell us something about the life of a writer who is also a parent? What strategies have you found for getting in that precious writing time, and how does raising another human being change a writer?
A: Well, I'm sad to report that I have failed miserably at being a writer while my children are very young. But I will say that the rich dream-life of pregnancy, the sheer mind-bending experience of sleep deprivation, and the roller coaster of nearly-adolescent-like hormones that come with procreating do provide an amazing set of experiences for a writer. I've felt emotionally raw—nearly skinless at times—and in that state stories come to me in waves, but I've frustratingly missed the opportunity to write much down. If you're not knee deep in explosive diapers or praying for a long nap, you're tip-toeing around narcissistic, OCD toddlers with horrid tempers. Once you are a parent you are no longer captain of your own ship.
All is not lost though. Now that my children are a little older (2 and 4 yrs) I'm able to find more time—I don't pass out at 8 pm anymore, and I can prioritize an hour here or there to write during the week. In the end, it's what we all know as writers: If you don't schedule the time and sit down and do it, it's just not going to happen.
Raising human beings, or being solely responsible for any other person, can force a huge shift in perspective. Every day, and sometimes every hour, I am forced to face my own selfishness and vanity. I tap into levels of patience and creativity I didn't realize I had, and, as trite as it sounds, buried memories of my own childhood resurface and teach me things about my own parents and siblings. Parenthood also connects me with my community and the larger world in new ways. I care more about the future for all of us. All of this makes me a better person and a more sympathetic writer who is able to see the big picture.
Q: Could you also get into your own writing process? How do you approach your work, and what kind of characters haunt you?
A: I find inspiration in everyday situations, like conversations I overhear at the gas station or story lines in the news. I'm a runner, and over the years have trained for several half-marathons. On my long runs, I delve into characters or work out plot lines. There's a meditative quality to running that gives me silence and mental space—away from everything else—to ask questions of characters and their problems. Then, when I have the time, I write down what's been accumulating in my head for an hour or so. (You may wonder why I'm not writing during the time I'm running since I'm so strapped for time as it is. The answer is this: running keeps me functional in all parts of my life—without it, there's no writing, really, because I turn into a basket case.)
I'm haunted by characters who throw themselves down wells. Ultimately, they own their flaws and make their own choices, but sometimes bad luck or circumstances have pushed them to the edge. I want to pull them out, or at the very least, give them a view of a blue sky when they look up.