Katherine Center on Craft, Character, and THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE
If you've been around the shop lately, you know we're buzzing over the new book from Katherine Center, Things You Save in a Fire. Friends, it is so enjoyable. You'll be falling for the protagonist, Cassie Hanwell, before you know it—she's the protagonist your TBR pile needs. Like any Katherine Center book, this lovely story is packed full of humor and heart, and we think it will have a place of honor on your shelves for a long time. In fact, we're so excited that we're offering a special pre-order promotion: If you pre-order Things You Save in a Fire from us, we'll reserve a signed, personalized first edition—along with some fun swag, designed and hand-painted by the author.
Check out our exclusive Q&A with Katherine below, then head on over to our dedicated pre-order page to get your copy. And circle August 13 on your calendar! That's when we're hosting Katherine, along with Kristan Higgins, right here in the shop. It's going to be a night to remember. Read on!
Cassie Hanwell, the protagonist in Things You Save in a Fire, had a brief cameo in your previous book, How to Walk Away. What made Cassie stand out to you and demand her own story?
I’ve been longing for more heroes lately. More female heroes, specifically. There are a million different ways to be heroic, of course. But the strong women I know have a certain emotional resilience and fortitude that I wanted to try to capture on the page. We have a kind of cultural idea of bravery as being about dodging bullets and blowing things up . . . But I think there are other kinds of courage that we don’t talk about as much . . .
Cassie is physically brave and strong—no question—but what really hooked me about her is how courageous she is emotionally. I’m not poo-pooing physical bravery. But what resonates for me, and what I see so often kind of unsung and unrecognized in women’s lives, is the astonishing courage that it takes to love people anyway. To love our babies and our parents and our partners—despite everything: despite how they could leave us or betray us, or get sick . . . or die.
When our son was little, for about the first five years of his life, he managed to catch one life-threatening illness after another. Truly—at least once a year, we’d be in the hospital with him in the middle of the night, frantic and terrified. Those were the bravest moments in my life: knowing that I was going to love him with everything that I had, and stay absolutely connected and present with him, no matter what. Even if it destroyed me—I was going to stay right there with him and love him with my whole heart. As he got bigger, his immune system got stronger, and (knock on wood) he’s now healthy and strapping (and taller than me). But I still think about it a lot—the unwavering courage it takes to love other people in the face of everything. There’s a quote in Things You Save in a Fire that kind of sums it up: “Knowing everything we know about how hard life is, and choosing to love, anyway . . . That’s not weakness, that’s courage."
We know your husband Gordon is a volunteer firefighter. We bet he has some incredible stories! Did any of his experiences or expertise make it into the book?
So many!!! Gordon has a hundred amazing stories about work he’s done as a paramedic/firefighter. They range from hilarious, to heartbreaking, to totally disgusting—and he freely shared them all with me as I wrote the story. I also visited fire stations and interviewed firefighters and read memoirs—but getting to hang out in the kitchen with my cute hubby and try to get inside those stories of his? It was bliss. It was the most fun I’ve ever had doing research.
My husband is middle school teacher for his “real” job—and he’s kind of a legend. He’s hilarious, and kind-hearted, and encouraging—and just a tiny bit mischeivous. If you crossed Jimmy Stewart and Bill Murray, you’d get my husband. He’s earnest and loyal, but he’s also got a wry sense of humor and a healthy appreciation for pranks. Like most firefighters.
He was excited for me to write this book—and he kindly read draft after draft for accuracy, answering questions like, “What’s firefighter slang for vomit?” over and over. He let me wear his bunker gear around so I could feel how heavy it was. He gave me a detailed tour of the station, and he let me lift some of the equipment so I could feel what it was like in my hands (FYI: some of it was so heavy, I could barely lift it). After every draft, he’d say, “I love it! More firefighting!” And when I finally turned it in, my editor read it and said, “I love it! Less firefighting.”
Walk us through a day on the job as Katherine Center, Novelist. What does your writing process like?
It’s pretty random! If you could open up the side of my head and peek inside, you’d see a tornado blowing around in there—with a cow flying by, and maybe a grand piano. I’m not organized. I’m not one of those people who gets up and writes from 6 a.m. till noon every day without fail. I get up and make lunches for my kids and drive carpool in my robe and flip flops. I try to write while the kids are at school, but I find mom stuff (orthodontist appointments, school forms, figuring out dinner—again) often takes up a big chunk of the day.
When I really need to get writing done, I leave town. My mom has a little beach shack down on Galveston Island, and she kindly lets me stay there for days at a time when I really need to concentrate. I can do 150 pages in a flash if I’m not interrupted. I’ll just wake up in the morning, make a pot of coffee, settle down on the sofa to write—and the next thing i know, it’s midnight. I find that to really get lost in a story, I have to kind of untie myself from the dock of real life and float out into the sea of my imagination. If there’s anything to hold me at the shore, I stay there. Going to Galveston helps me float away for a little while.
Your characters all have great depth and are so easy to connect with. Do you think there are more companion books in the future, starring characters we may have already met?
YES! The main character of Things You Save in a Fire, Cassie, has a slight (but important!) connection to the characters in How to Walk Away: She’s the firefighter who rescued Maggie from the crash. Writing about Cassie was my first time to connect books like that. Now that I’ve tried it, I’m hooked! Connecting stories—even if they aren’t sequels—creates this extra depth and dimension that’s utterly thrilling to tap into.
The book I’m writing now (for summer 2020) brings back an old minor character from my book, Happiness for Beginners—one of the main characters in this new book is Duncan Carpenter, the little brother of the narrator in Happiness. In that book, Duncan really only existed to annoy his big sister. But I kind of fell in love with him in that story—so sweet and goofy. The book I’m writing now is set ten years later, and Duncan’s grown up a lot. Maybe too much. It’s been so fun to get to see him again and hang out with him—and to get to see him a totally new way.
Let’s talk movies! Can you tell us anything about the adaptation of The Lost Husband??
Hooray! I sold the movie rights to my novel The Lost Husband last summer to Six Foot Pictures—and it’s happening! They cast Josh Duhamel, Leslie Bibb, and Nora Dunn to star in it, and they shot it last fall in Texas. They also very kindly invited me to come be an extra during a scene that takes place in a farmers' market, so I spent a day with my mom and hubby and kids, pretending to shop for goat cheese. The whole thing was thrilling and fun and totally surreal. In the scene they were shooting that day, there was a kiss between the main characters, O’Connor and Libby. So there was Josh Duhamel, kissing Leslie Bibb over and over, take after take, and I was just maybe 15 feet away pretending to chat with another shopper and not even notice, but the whole time I was freaking out and thinking, “Omg. I invented that kiss!”
The movie’s all finished now, edited and everything, so the next step is to find a distributor. I think it should be out in the world sometime in the next year! Come over and join my mailing list so you’ll know the scoop as soon as I do!
What are you currently reading?
Many things all at once! I’ve got a big stack for summer! I’ve just downloaded the audiobook of Michelle Obama’s Becoming from Libro.fm (Blue Willow is my designated bookstore!). I’m also bingeing on Nora Roberts’ Dark Witch trilogy, as well as digging into an advance copy of Kristan Higgins’ newest, Life and Other Inconveniences. I’ve got a fun Julie Anne Long romance, It Started with a Scandal, lined up, as well as Mary Laura Philpott’s book of essays, I Miss You When I Blink, and Judy Goldman’s memoir of her husband’s ‘medical mishap,' Together. Can’t wait to devour Learning to See, Elise Hooper’s novel about the iconic photographer Dorothea Lange. I’m also very eager to get started on a time travel love story called The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway, and I’ve got Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date and Mary Kay Andrews’ Spring Fever on my bedside table. I recently heard Blue Willow recommending The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, and Ayesha at Last, by Uzma Jalaluddin, and got totally sold on those!