Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Addiction, Divorce, Blindness... Romance?
Part II of an Interview with Author Jerri Corgiat

Award-winning author Jerri Corgiat continues her conversation about her wonderful romance series, Love Finds a Home, talking about her inspiration, research and future projects. (For Part One of this interview, click here.)

What was the inspiration for these five wonderful romances?
Author Jerri Corgiat
One of my favorite childhood authors was Janet Lambert. She wrote a considerable number of Young Adult books focused on the fictional Parrish family. Hopefully I don’t get any of this wrong as I haven’t read these since I was a teen. (You know. About ten years ago. Cough.) The first book had a character named Penny Parrish. She was just entering adolescence in that book. By the time there were no longer any new books (or perhaps I’d grown up and moved on), Penny was in her forties. Ms. Lambert had written books about Penny’s siblings, about her siblings’ friends’ families, about their children…

I was an only child. I loved being part of that family, loved revisiting all those characters, particularly since I was experiencing some issues in my home life during those years.

When I started writing romance, the trilogy was the big deal. (Perhaps it still is; I don’t keep up with the trends.) Each of three books usually featured one of three sisters or three brothers. So, I thought, why not just keep writing about different family members and/or their friends over a span of decades? Take Me Home actually features the ex-husband of the heroine of Follow Me Home.

There are about fourteen years of story time between the first and fifth books, so some of the youngsters in the first book, Sing Me Home, are young adults by the fourth book, Home By Starlight.

By the way, most people like reading the books in order, but it’s not necessary. They’ll each stand on their own.

Did you struggle to keep family relationships and history straight through all five books? How did you deal with that?
The relationships weren’t hard to keep straight, no. These people are real to me. Keeping straight their ages—and grades of the children—requires feats of memory I don’t possess.…

So if I lost the detailed, handwritten chart I have for this purpose, any future for this series would be toast!

By the way, in Home at Last, I did get someone’s age confused by a year. And if  you read it carefully enough to compare it with the first two and find the error… don’t write to tell me who it is; I already know.

All the books deal in some way with a serious underlying issue: rehabilitation after drug and alcohol abuse, troubled children, divorce, an affair with a married man, midlife crises, blindness--how did you research these topics?
Addiction and divorce and blindness, oh, my! Wow, reading a list of the issues I incorporate into my stories can make them sound as if they’ll be depressing reads. So let me clarify upfront that they aren’t! They include humor and warmth and, above all, optimism. There are laugh-out-loud moments. How can there not be?  I don’t write perfect characters, and human nature is, simply, often quite funny.

Now, caveat aside… for elements in my books that are outside of my ken (be it blindness or how to weave or adoption law or how to raise chickens and donkeys), I draw on several sources. 

I read copiously, both from the internet and from the library. (Writer’s tip - I often find, for smaller topics, that children’s nonfiction books have just the right amount of information, complete with pictures.)

I call on experts. For example, a weaver educated me on her craft for my heroine’s occupation in Home By Starlight. An optometrist and ophthalmologist, as well as a friend who had experienced serious brain trauma, agreed to interviews for the same book. For Home At Last, with its sub-theme of troubled adolescence, I drew quite heavily on a book by Barbara Bartocci called My Angry Son as well as the very impressive Ozanam organization (, whose main campus is located near where I live. They opened their doors to me and shared their mission and stories.

I also rely on personal experience. I’m an alcoholic (soon to hit my 25th anniversary of sobriety) and, like so many, have also dealt with alcoholism as a codependent, so I have some insight into the disease and its effects, wisdom I’ve found in twelve-step programs I can share (without preaching), as well as an education obtained from my own rehab program and those of others. (Anonymity is an important part of those twelve-step programs, so I’ll add that all of the characters in my books are entirely fictional.)

And while I supplemented with research such topics as homophobia, bipolar disorder, abandonment, suicide, disability … caring for aging parents, recalcitrant children, divorce, midlife crises, and  death…these issues have also impacted, if not myself, many people I’m close to and even more that I’m not.  It’s not necessary to look far for insight on these issues!

Still. Even though I try to be careful, as do most authors, unintentional errors creep in, so I hope readers will forgive me any mistakes.

By the way, I like to do this research before the first draft because some small detail may spark an intriguing plot point and there’s an added bonus of meeting many interesting people as I look for experts to question. Also, it’s far easier than writing the first draft.

What I find so impressive about these stories is how well you deal with the serious background issues (mentioned above). You don’t sugarcoat them. Tell me a bit about your decision to handle them realistically.
We all bring some kind of baggage into our relationships, whether we’re young or old. Of course, this baggage is the stuff of conflict and so can form the heart of a book. It seems to me that such issues naturally meld with the story of a developing or changing relationship, be it in a romantic involvement, a friendship, or between family members.

Of equal importance, I like to capture a character’s growth at moments of adversity. It’s interesting to me how people change—and how many people rise to challenges—when faced with events outside their control. (Sometimes I wonder if any of us make major changes without a precipitating event. We get comfortable in our ruts!)

No, I don’t sugarcoat, and as noted above, I try to be accurate—for one main reason. Many readers, including myself, deal or have dealt with some or many of these very real and often life-shattering challenges. I feel an obligation to be as sensitive and accurate to those situations as I can. I am always fearful of trivializing someone’s pain by fictionalizing it.

I do write Happily Ever After books, though, so sometimes I’m resolving issues much more simply and quickly than happens in messy reality.

You live in Kansas but your books are set in Missouri. The descriptions make you want to run out and book a trip to the Ozarks. Did you grow up there? Tell us about your reason for setting the stories there.
I wish there was a place like Cordelia, Missouri, because I’d move there in a heartbeat! The Missouri Ozarks hold a special place in my heart as I spent most of my summers there from the age of ten to college, and then—after our tiny homestead (I’m talking tiny --think of the pink trailer in Follow Me Home!) became mine—the bulk of my son’s summers, as well. The poor abode finally fell apart a few seasons ago, which was actually serendipitous because the course my life has taken since then means I can’t be there as I once was. And, yes, I miss it.

Or rather, I miss what it once was. The lake in the books, Kesibwi, is reminiscent of the Lake of the Ozarks when I first knew it, back when most of the shoreline was undeveloped and fishing resorts held sway; the resorts and large homes and huge boats were the exception, not the norm.

Like Kesibwi is an idealized version of the Lake, Cordelia is an idealized version of a small town in the Ozarks—actually, in a larger sense, of any small town life. As a child, I visited extended family in the small town of Oakland, Nebraska. The fictional settings I created for these books sprang from fond childhood memories of these small towns, unblemished by that later loss of innocence we all experience. 

The books were initially published in paperback by Penguin’s Signet line. You must have been overjoyed when you got word from your agent about the first book’s sale. Tell me about that.
I was stunned. Simply stunned. I remembered sitting down hard in a chair at the kitchen table and finally saying, “Tell me what questions I should be asking, because I can’t remember a one of them.” I’d peddled Sing Me Home for over two years, trying to find an agent. Once my agent (I still have her) raised her hand, she sold it in a matter of weeks. I hadn’t expected a sale that fast, if at all!

Are you working on anything right now? If so, would you mind telling us a little about it?
Sure! I’m once again experimenting with a blending of ideas that grew out of my love affair with the Gothic novels of Victoria Holt and her peers long ago. It’s a little bit family saga, a little bit mystery, a little bit romance, and, as it’s set in the 1920s-1940s, it’s also historical.  One of those family-secrets-revealed books. I’m excited about it. My agent would be, too, if I’d only get the danged thing done.

I also have some ideas for future books in the Love Finds a Home series but hesitate to commit the time until I’ve finished my current project. Perhaps audience demand will change my mind. I’m hoping readers will let me know what they think and tell me if they’d like to read more.

And, dipping into a whole ‘nother kettle of fish, I’m also contemplating a creative format for a nonfiction book on alcoholism, codependency and recovery. The trick there is finding something that hasn’t already been done—and done well—umpteen times before me.

The Love Finds a Home series by Jerri Corgiat follows the extended O'Malley clan in Cordelia, Missouri as they confront both life and love challenges. Books in the series include:

  • Sing Me Home-- Lil O'Malley falls for the children of rehabilitated country star Jonathan Van Castle before he has a chance to try to steal her heart.
  • Follow Me Home -- When Alcea O'Malley Addams's husband betrays her, luxury and self-worth go out the window...until an old flame comes into town, leading her to reevaluate her past, her value and her future.
  • Home at Last -- Marigold (Mari) O'Malley returns home to lick her wounds after a big-city career sinks under the weight of a relationship with her boss. Her broken heart begins to mend when she reconnects with a bad boy from her past who teaches her how to trust and take chances at the same time.
  • Home by Starlight -- Widow Patsy O'Malley remains fiercely independent until a broken ankle  and an itinerant musician (from Jonathan Van Castle's band) both knock her off her feet.
  • Take Me Home -- Florida Jones thinks she has the perfect fiance and the perfect life planned until a car accident results in injuries that threaten her sight. An unlikely helpmate guides her to recovery, where she ultimately "sees" the love that is most important in her life.
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