The blessings of Katrina Kittle

Maybe I should have brought a list of questions, all written out with a bullet point next to each one so I’d know where one ended and the next started and I could check them off as I went.

That works for some interviews, but yesterday was a day to meander.

I was sitting at the writing desk of author Katrina Kittle, interviewing her for a story I’ll write in the next couple of days. I’m drinking the glass of lemonade she offered when I walked in the door while her cat, Joey, wanders across the desk between us before finally plopping down on a pile of manuscript pages for a new teen book Katrina’s working on, Strange Katie, the story of a girl who talks to animals and solves crimes.

From her seat behind the desk, Katrina has a panoramic view of the garden she’s built over the last year. When we walked through it a moment before, I asked her about what looked to me like a fuzzy pole bean of some kind. Soy, she said. She doesn’t know how to tell when they’re ready to pick, so she grabbed a pod, snapped it open and popped a bean in her mouth. Then she offered me one, pulling the pod apart for me to pick the bean out like you’d offer a friend a stick of gum from the pack.

A day to meander, like I said.

Katrina is in marketing and publicity mode to promote her fourth novel, The Blessings of the Animals, published earlier this month by Harper Perennial. It has been a good day. She has found hours to write, her first in weeks. It was, she said, “a gift.” Not that she minded the doing the marketing and publicity work, setting up appearances at bookstores, answering reader e-mails and doing interviews like ours. It comes with the territory and gives her a chance to talk to readers. That, too, is also “a gift.”

And so we talked for an hour about her writing, her characters, her life. She’s very generous with her answers, very thoughtful in her responses, often pausing before speaking or buying a little time with the compliments she sprinkles. “Wow, that’s a really good question,” she’ll say, even to questions I know others have asked her. A few times, I worry I’m boring her, but that comes with the territory too.

Because I haven’t transcribed a list of questions and I am recording the interview rather than taking notes, I just follow the conversation even though as the interviewer I am meant to lead it. When I do lead, the topics jump around as much as my mind. One moment I’m asking about craft, the next about her favorite restaurants and then out of the blue recalling verbatim a line from a character whose name I inevitably can’t remember. Katrina comes along through every conversational twist and turn.

With some interviews, you know the basic story you’re there to get. With others, you don’t, and this is one of the latter.

Shortly before I left, I looked at Katrina, whom I’ve known tangentially for more than two decades, and told her what was on my mind at that moment: “You seem so incredibly happy,” I told her. “I really am,” she said.

What a gift. Now I just have to find the story.

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