Welcome Louisville-born Julie Kibler, whose debut novel will be available in bookstores next week!
Tell us about your book!
Calling Me Home (St. Martin’s Press, February 12, 2013) is my first published novel. It’s about a young white woman who falls in love with the black son of her family’s housekeeper in Northern Kentucky in the late 1930s. Their potential relationship isn’t just dangerous; intermarriage between blacks and whites was illegal in Kentucky until 1967 when the U.S. Supreme court overturned laws prohibiting it. Plus, there’s a sign at the edge of Isabelle’s town that warns blacks to be gone by sundown. Their forbidden relationship results in heartache and devastation that radiates far beyond the two of them, and far beyond the era in which it occurs. The story is told through the frame of a present-day road trip. Isabelle, now in her late 80s, asks Dorrie, a black single mom who is not only Isabelle’s hairstylist, but also her friend, to drive her from Texas to Cincinnati for a funeral. Along the way, they share their past and present hurts. Dorrie never imagines that Isabelle’s story might shed light on her own family’s struggles.
I started writing Calling Me Home after learning that my grandmother, born and reared in Northern Kentucky, fell in love with a black man as a young woman. It’s obvious from my family tree that the relationship didn’t work out, and we know very little beyond that. Not far into my research, I was flabbergasted to learn that my father’s Northern Kentucky hometown had a sign at the city limits warning blacks to be gone by sundown, and so did my grandma’s. In fact, it turns out this was not uncommon at all—both the signs and restrictive covenants—in towns and neighborhoods all over the country, from coast to coast, from north to south. It was not just a Kentucky thing. But nobody ever really talked about it. I took these kernels of true-life inspiration and wrote a story. The details are not my grandmother’s true story—it is mostly unknown—but still, I felt as though she sat at my shoulder while I wrote, whispering to me about what it was like to be a young woman desperately in love in a situation that made the relationship impossible. I hope I have honored her memory with it.
Where do Louisville/Southern Indiana readers know you from, outside of your books?
I was born in Louisville and lived in Brandenburg and Lexington, but eventually moved away from Kentucky as a child, so I am virtually unknown in the area! I reconnected with several residents of the area, however, after a visit a few summers ago, and these folks have been extremely enthusiastic and supportive about my book release.
Tell us about your memories of growing up in Brandenburg!
From what I’ve heard, I was born in the Kentucky Baptist Hospital after the doctor kept my mom there for nearly two days because he was afraid I’d be delivered somewhere along on the bumpy Dixie Highway if he sent her home. A few weeks later, a wild ambulance ride carried me from Brandenburg back to the emergency room in Louisville where I was diagnosed with a stuffy nose. Once, I apparently walked off the porch of my house in my baby walker and landed on my head. I was fine, it appears, except maybe that contributed to the development of my nutty writer brain.
We moved away when I was about two years old, so my Brandenburg memories are obviously mostly manufactured from family stories told again and again—events both pleasant and tragic that occurred while my father worked there. He was a seminary student in Louisville, and the pastor of a small congregation in Brandenburg at the Salem Baptist Church. Two summers ago, I had the privilege of traveling with my father and sister to attend a homecoming at the church, where my father had been invited to preach the annual service. It was both eerie and gratifying to meet these people I didn’t remember at all and to see them respond to my father with tears and laughter as they reminisced about his tenure there. It was fun to hear anecdotes about myself and my older brother from those who had known us as tiny children. My favorite story has always been the one where a young girl asked my mother if she could make my two ponytails into one when we were back for a visit. Imagine my mother’s dismay when she realized she’d given the child permission to chop off one of my ponytails, not combine them into one. I laughed as so many folks at the homecoming came up to me and said, “Oh, I’m the mother/cousin/sister of so-and-so, the girl who cut off your ponytail.” I also choked up as folks approached my dad to thank him for being there all those years ago when they lost five children in their community to a horrible train and car collision. He had been in his job less than two weeks and was very young—it was his first full-time pastoral position. He had to muster up the wisdom and maturity to help this community bear their grief. I will never forget that visit, even if I don’t have original memories of living in the area.
That’s hilarious. I bet your mother was horrified! Pastoring is definitely not for the faint of heart, is it?
Who are your favorite writers from the local area?
I was a Barbara Kingsolver fan long before I ever seriously considered becoming a writer myself. The Poisonwood Bible is on my short list of “books that changed my worldview,” and I’ve been an evangelist for it since. Kentucky native Bobbie Ann Mason’s Feather Crowns that completely slayed me; certain scenes from this story will haunt me forever. I really enjoyed Beth Hoffman’s Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. Beth is a serious advocate for other writers, and I’m looking forward to her soon-to-be-released novel, Looking for Me. Last but not least, one of my very best friends and critique partners is a fellow novelist from Kentucky—Susan Ishmael-Poulos. She has written an incredible story about Kentucky, and I expect to see her name in a Publisher’s Marketplace announcement any day.
Tell us about some of your favorite Kentucky spots.
Again, memory and my years away limit me, but there are places I must always return to when I visit Kentucky. One is Buskin’s Bakery across the river in Cincinnati—my aunt worked there when I was a kid and always brought us decorated cookies when we visited my grandmother. They are the flavor of my childhood. One of my favorite places as a child in Lexington was Taco Tico on New Circle Road. It wasn’t necessarily the tacos that drew me, but the juke box my brother and I fed constantly in order to hear the same songs again and again. I was partial to “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree,” and my brother obsessed over a song called “Frankenstein.” That probably gives away my age. My dad insists we visit Dixie Chili when we’re in the Northern Kentucky area. I always order a modified Cincinnati four-way—chili, cheese, spaghetti, and beans, hold the onions. When we visited Louisville a few summers ago, we really enjoyed eating at Ditto’s Grill in Louisville. Their Dominic’s Favorite Raspberry Chicken Salad was heavenly! I think I’d spend a lot of time and money eating that dish if I lived nearby.
What is your writing environment like?
My writing environments are simple. During the day, I take care of the business of writing (blog posts, social networking, editing, and so on) at my kitchen table, sitting on a battered office chair. I do most of my drafting late at night and into the wee hours of the morning, comfortable on my family room sofa with nothing but the sound of my sleeping house and my dogs snoring near my feet as a soundtrack. Occasionally, I venture out to work in a coffee shop in nearby Mansfield, TX—America’s Best Coffee—where the jarring sound and strong smell of the coffee grinders near the end of the day startle me out of the trance working in such an environment can create. I also like to meet my writer friend Susan at little place called La Madeleine, where we brainstorm and talk shop for hours over quiche, fruit tarts, and bottomless coffee or tea.
What’s next on the writing slate for you?
I’m working on a story set in Fort Worth, Texas, near my current home. I’m afraid to say much about it as it seems every time I talk about a new idea, I lose interest or it stops working or both—at least until I’m extremely grounded in the story and there’s no turning back. Everything I write these days, however, seems to involve bits of nostalgia, characters from other eras, locales not often seen in fiction, and issues of family and what connects us as human beings.
Julie, thanks so much for stopping by LouisvilleKY.com to share the news about your book. Wishing you all the luck and pleasure imaginable on your writing journey!
Readers, if you know an author who deserves to shine in the Local Author Spotlight, please get in touch. Either side of the river is fine–we speak Southern Indianaese, too! Books about relevant local subject matter are encouraged, as well. Email RedTashBooks@gmail.com and please put “LouisvilleKY.com Author Spotlight” in your email subject. Thanks!
Stay tuned for more local author news. I hope you’re discovering some fantastic new reads, from names new and old on the literary scene.
Leslea Tash is a Southern Indiana journalist-turned-novelist. Formerly known for a weekly national column on parenting and family life, she now writes dark fantasy like the 5 Star Amazon hit Troll Or Derby and The Wizard Tales under the pen name Red Tash. She always welcomes your feedback on this column on the LouisvilleKY.com site, on Facebook, on her websites or twitter.