Q. In one sentence, who is Kathleen Rodgers?
A. I am a seeker of truth, and I use storytelling to try and find it.
Q. What do you wish people knew about you?
A. I am empathetic to those who struggle. Because I’ve overcome many obstacles in life, I try and encourage others not to give up. I joke that “HOPE” is my middle name. I try and offer hope in my stories.
Q. In writing Johnnie Come Lately you use grim themes about bulimia, addiction, and betrayal. Talk about how the complex story line developed?
A. My protagonist, Johnnie Kitchen, came to me many years ago while I was working on my first novel. At the time, I knew she was a woman who had overcome eating issues that developed from neglect she suffered as a child. Raised by loving grandparents who lost a son in a tragedy that stunned them to silence, Johnnie must find her way in the world while also dealing with an absentee mother. As a young wife, she carried these issues of abandonment and neglect into her early marriage, and years later her loyal and hardworking husband learns about an old betrayal. I also address the issue of military service during a time when our nation is at war. My challenge was to write about how the trauma of war can affect generation after generation. I’m continuing this theme in the sequel, Seven Wings to Glory.
Q. Your characters are down-to-earth. You don’t take the easy way and make some inherently good and others identifiably bad. Where did you get the inspiration for these very relatable people?
A. Nobody is all bad or all good. Every human being is flawed, and I work hard to remember that when I create characters. In all of my fiction, my characters are sometimes composites of real people and other times they come fully formed in my imagination. For instance, Aunt Beryl in Johnnie Come Lately might be considered an antagonist. She’s a bossy busybody, and yet, she is also the truthsayer and the person in Johnnie’s life who finally tells the truth about who her father was. I also think about Johnnie’s husband, Dale. Dale is tasked with the job of trying to figure out how to forgive his wife. The fact that Dale initially withholds forgiveness from Johnnie makes him human. This character flaw intrigued me and helped propel the story forward. Even Granny Opal and Grandpa Grubb, as good as they were, had their own flaws and secrets, and Johnnie suffered because of it.
Q. This family has some obstacles to overcome. Without giving away the plot, talk about your journey to get from the telling moment of betrayal to resolution.
A. As I stated in the last question, Dale is such a good man. But even good men can hold grudges. The challenge for both Johnnie and Dale is how to move forward in their marriage and heal a hurt that cuts deep and affects every member of the family, even Brother Dog. And Dale, despite being a hard worker, has been holding Johnnie back from wanting to return to college. He uses money or lack of money as an excuse for his wife to pursue her dreams. There’s a scene in a restaurant when Johnnie discovers the truth about why Dale resists the idea of her going back to college. I cried when I wrote this scene because I hurt for Dale and the pain that followed him through life, no matter how successful he became. That’s a theme I write about a lot, how our past still affects our present and our future.
Q. Who do you identify most with in the story?
A. Johnnie’s two sons, D.J. and Cade. One is an artist and pacifist and the other is hell-bent on joining the military and going to war. (I continue this theme in the sequel.) Brother Dog, the family pet, is the glue that keeps this family together, and I relied on him to guide me through the story. And then there’s Mr. Marvel, the portly airline pilot who is Johnnie’s mysterious neighbor. I identify with Mr. Marvel because no matter how successful he became professionally, he still suffers from a childhood tragedy and the guilt that follows him. Mr. Marvel is every misunderstood person that gets marginalized or profiled or labeled. I have a deep abiding love and respect for this character. He taught Johnnie many lessons, and he lives on in both of our hearts. (And yes, I think of Johnnie as a real person.)
Q. You use journaling and writing letters to people you want to “speak to” but, for various reasons can’t. How does this method advance your story?
A. I have always loved the letter form. I used a series of letters in my first novel, The Final Salute, to cover a period when some of my characters went off to war and others stayed home. Letters and journal entries in fiction have the opportunity to pull readers deep into the story because they feel a personal and emotional investment with the characters. Because I received so much positive feedback from readers who loved that section of the novel, I decided to make Johnnie Kitchen a “closet writer” in Johnnie Come Lately. When she can’t share her deepest thoughts with the living and the dead, she turns to her journal and pours her heart out on paper. The reader discovers many secrets about beloved family members, old lovers, and Johnnie’s deepest fears and dreams for her future and that of her family. By parceling out tidbits of information here and there in the journal entries and in class papers Johnnie writes when she returns to college, we are able to piece together the missing pieces of the puzzle that makes up Johnnie’s life and the lives of the other story people (both the living and the dead).
Q. You’ve done quite a lot of writing and been published in various magazines. What challenges you about writing fiction?
A. I reached a point as a freelance writer when the subject matter stopped feeding my soul. Plus, I was limited by the confines of nonfiction and I wanted to explore so many more themes and subjects. And the only way to do that was to turn to fiction.
Q. How is writing fiction different from writing nonfiction?
A. With fiction, I can “write outside the lines.” I can use real life experiences and give them to my characters without letting actual events dictate how the story is told. My stories are full of emotional truths and themes that are dear to my heart, and my characters take on the issues and themes that I might not feel comfortable writing about in a nonfiction book or magazine article. Plus, I love to incorporate a touch of magical realism into my stories, and I’m not brave enough to deal with that in nonfiction. Writing fiction teaches me to be brave. I find courage by exploring deep and serious issues through my story people.
Q. What do you hope people get from reading Johnnie Come Lately, which by the way I thought was a wonderful story from beginning to end?
A. Thank you, Sharon. I hope my readers are able to apply some of the story lessons from the novel and apply them to their own lives. Most of all, I hope they are entertained and finish the book feeling hopeful for their own lives and the lives of their families.
In any of my novels, I want my readers to laugh and cry with my characters. I want fiction and reality to blend into a seamless dimension where my characters know they are real people and my readers think they are my characters.
Current news about Kathleen
Kathleen is working on Seven Wings to Glory, the sequel to Johnnie Come Lately.
Sequel concept: After sending her youngest son to war in Afghanistan in 2009, Johnnie Kitchen finds herself battling a war of racial injustice in her small hometown of Portion, Texas. Will she back down after being threatened for speaking out? Or will she do the right thing and pursue justice? And will her Army son, who took an oath to protect ALL Americans, return home safely to Portion?
Click here to read Kathleen’s blog.
More about Kathleen from her website: Texas based author Kathleen M. Rodgers is a former frequent contributor to Family Circle Magazine and Military Times. Her work has also appeared in anthologies published by McGraw-Hill, University of Nebraska Press/Potomac Books, Health Communications, Inc., AMG Publishers, and Press 53. In 2014, Kathleen was named a Distinguished Alumna from Tarrant County College/NE Campus. Three of her aviation poems were featured in a new exhibit at the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, NY. More…