Cathy Gohlke is the two-time Christy Award–winning author of the critically acclaimed novels Secrets She Kept, Saving Amelie, Band of Sisters, Promise Me This (listed by Library Journal as one of the best books of 2012), William Henry Is a Fine Name, and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires (listed by Library Journal as one of the best books of 2008), which also won the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Book of the Year Award.
Cathy has worked as a school librarian, drama director, and director of children’s and education ministries. When not traipsing the hills and dales of historic sites, she, her husband, and their dog, Reilly, divide their time between Northern Virginia and their home on the Jersey Shore.
Savanna: Welcome to the blog, Cathy. I’m so happy to have you here! And congratulations on your upcoming release, Secrets She Kept. I’ve already added it to my TBR list! 😉
Cathy: Thank you so much for having me, Savanna. I’m delighted to share Secrets She Kept with new readers, and hope you enjoy the book. There are cameo appearances in the novel by Corrie ten Boom, both as a young woman who meets Lieselotte during WWII, and as an older woman who meets her daughter, Hannah, in the 1970s. This is special for me, as Corrie ten Boom was a great influence in my life as a young woman. There is even a new movie releasing called “Return to the Hiding Place,” which shares more information about the Ten Boom family and their rescue work. I’m thrilled that Corrie’s ministry is reaching a new generation.
Savanna: That’s wonderful, Cathy! Which character from your new novel are you most excited for readers to meet and why?
Cathy: Choosing one character is like choosing one child over another! So, I opt to choose two: Hannah, the daughter and young woman of the 1970s who longs for a connection with her mother and who, even after her mother’s death, determines to delve into her mysterious past. I love Hannah’s determination, tenacity, and ultimate willingness to face and attempt to take responsibility for her family’s tragic past. I love watching her learn and change from those she encounters on her journey.
And then there is Lieselotte as a young woman of the 1930s and 1940s who ultimately becomes Hannah’s mother. I love watching Lieselotte grow up, wrestle with the Nazi ideology of her time and place in Germany, see her compassion and grit. I love watching her fall in love and choose a course contrary to her Nazi father’s wishes that she knows will bring her both fulfillment and likely sudden destruction. I love watching her survive, and I love witnessing those who help her. Lieselotte is complex, and though her end choices are not what I want for her, they are realistic. Even that, I love.
Savanna: Did you have the title before you began writing Secrets She Kept or did you settle on that later in the process?
Cathy: Titles are rarely easy for me. They either spring with the idea, or come much later. The title for Secrets She Kept was the result of collaboration with Stephanie Broene, my wonderful editor at Tyndale, the Tyndale team, and Natasha Kern, my friend and agent extraordinaire. Titles are important, yet oh so tricky to find just the right words to convey the essence of a book. I love this one—it fits perfectly.
Savanna: I love the pictures on your website from your travels abroad and the quotes from your books. It adds so much to your stories! What was one of your favorite places to visit?
Cathy: My favorite places to visit were England’s breathtaking Lake District and Scotland’s Highlands and Islands. You won’t see these on my website for quite awhile. The trip was research I did last year for the book I’m writing now—a book that is set to release in 2017. Because the beauty of the region meant so much to me I want to share it with you, so here is a sneak peek at a couple of photos. (Lake District of England, near Windermere; and Iona, an island of early Christianity in Scotland).
None of the photos I took of the Highlands captured the wild and rugged beauty I found there. It is a land like no other. I explored England with my friend and sister writer, Carrie Turansky. We were both researching new books—she in the south of England and I in the north. We joined a tour of Scotland’s Highlands and Gardens led by Liz Curtis Higgs—a wonderful spiritual journey, rich in new experiences.
Savanna: You’ve won multiple writing awards. What has been one of the greatest lessons and fondest memories from participating in these contests?
Cathy: Each award has felt like an affirmation from the Lord that I’m on the right path, that I’ve listened for His voice, His direction, and that I should continue in that vein—listening, and writing. Equally important was the lesson I learned over a book I was certain glorified Him the most, had received wide recognition and multiple foreign language translations, but didn’t win an award. I didn’t think I’d expected recognition or an award for anything and was disappointed in myself to realize that I had. It was a lesson in humility and surrender, and was one of the most important lessons of my life. God works in us to bring healing and wholeness in all the ways we need, especially those needs we don’t recognize.
Savanna: Can you share with us a piece of writing advice that has made a difference in your career?
Cathy: “What is that in your hand?” It’s the question God asked Moses as he stood, trembling before the burning bush at the base of Mt. Horeb. God had just told Moses to go back to Egypt (where he was wanted for murder) and tell Pharaoh to let His people go.
No way, no how did Moses want that job. He thought of every reason in the book why he wasn’t the person qualified to confront Pharaoh—much as we, as writers, might list our excuses when God calls us to write for Him: I don’t have credentials. I don’t have a Masters in Fine Arts—or even a college degree. Nobody in my family ever did this. I have children, a husband, parents to care for, I work full time—with no time or energy to write, let alone pursue publication. I’m an introvert and can’t possibly talk to agents or editors. God gave me these words—how can I allow some agent or editor to change my story?
Excuses and our to-do lists are endless—because we live in a real world with real fears and real distractions.
But we must decide if we’re going to write or not, and for anyone called by God to write—or do anything—it is a question of obedience, just as it was for Moses.
Once that’s decided, everything else falls into place—not through wishing, and not easily, but by forming a plan and placing one foot in front of the other.
To consider each of these issues and other points of interest for writers, stop by my website and check the tab for writers.
Savanna: I love that. Thank you, Cathy! Is there anything else you’d like to add? Any upcoming projects you can share with us?
Cathy: I think it’s important for new writers to know that sometimes God steps in and changes our writing and life plans. Sometimes there are simply things He knows and sees that we can’t anticipate. I’d just finished writing Secrets She Kept and contracted a new book (the one set in England’s breathtaking Lake District) when I was diagnosed with breast cancer—a complete surprise. Right away surgery was scheduled, and soon after I began chemotherapy with plans for radiation treatments this fall and eventually hormone therapy for five years. Needless to say, surgery and chemo-brain derailed my writing plans. But the things I’ve learned from the Lord in the silence of pain and waiting are lessons I’ll carry into all of life ahead, lessons that will surely show up in anything I write in the future, most definitely in the book I’ll resume writing as soon as I’m able. I share this to say that an interruption in hopes and dreams and plans for a writer is not a dead end. It is a fork in the road less traveled that leads us to new understandings—if we allow it to enrich and not embitter us. Everything in life is material for a writer, every joy and every trial. Let all of life, the good, the bad and the ugly, be the gift it’s meant to be. Seek joy each day, through each experience. We’ll all be better people and better writers for this, we’ll all have more from the Lord to share and more ways to bless one another.
Savanna: Cathy, your words have blessed me in so many ways. Thank you for sharing God’s grace and joy with us today. Praying He continues to guide you and bless you every day. Sending you a big hug!!
Cathy has graciously offered to give away a copy of Secrets She Kept to one lucky winner. Enter below and it could be YOU! 😉
Thanks for entering! Contest is open only in the U.S. and ends October 6, 2015. The winner will be notified by email. Happy Reading, everybody!