Monday, January 30, 2012

Cathy Gohlke - Interview & Giveaway

It is my pleasure once again to host Cathy Gohlke at Write Now. You might recall Cathy's other visits; she is the Christy Award winning author of William Henry is a Fine Name and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires. 

Her new book, Promise Me This is hitting the shelves as we speak. It is, in my opinion, another winner. (Click here if you missed my review in last Thursday's post.)

Cathy is always a gracious guest who offers wonderful insight on writing and life. I hope you enjoy the interview, and don't forget to check out the giveaway details below.

Karen: Welcome back to Write Now, Cathy! I’m thrilled to have you visit us again. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed your book, Promise Me This. It was wonderful!
Cathy: Thank you for having me, Karen.  I’m delighted to be here, and delighted that you enjoyed Promise Me This.  The research into Titanic and WWI carried me away, and the story unfolded in all the ways I love. 

Karen: What was your inspiration for Promise Me This?

Cathy: I’ve always been fascinated by Titanic—certainly the romance of the era and the magnificence of the ship, but especially the people who sailed, the passengers and those employed by the White Star Line.  I’ve wondered about the hopes and dreams cut short that fateful night, and about those who survived—how did they go on with their lives knowing they’d been miraculously, magnanimously saved when so many died around them?  

The first time I saw a copy of the ship’s manifest, I saw a gardener listed, Owen George Allum, third class, who’d sailed from Southampton. He reminded me of my great-grandfather, who’d emigrated from London just a few years before.  Unable to find work as the gold leaf artist he was, he became a gardener for a wealthy Buffalo family, and developed new varieties and strains of flowers.  From these two real people, the character Owen Allen was born, and I wrote a short story, “The Legacy of Owen Allen,” which eventually grew into the full length novel, Promise Me This.
Karen: I didn't realize this book grew out of a short story. Very interesting! How did you decide on the setting and the circumstances? It was great fun reading about the area in NJ where I grew up, btw. This was one reason why I was so excited about it. :)       

Cathy: The facts of Titanic’s sinking provided the perfect backdrop for a story of self-sacrifice and heroism.  Decisions were made that night—who lived and who died—and they were not all made by the officers of Titanic. In the history, and in the fictitious character of Owen Allen, I saw the perfect opportunity to paint a portrait of Christ’s love for us, of His sacrifice for the world.  In the life of Michael, the abused young man he saved, and in Owen’s younger sister, Annie, who grieved mightily for her brother, I saw pictures of our response to Christ’s unmerited gift and His command to love one another as He has loved us. 

The settings were the easiest of all to choose and the most fun to research. Titanic was built and launched in Belfast, Ireland (where my first character stows away), then sailed to Southampton, England, where she received her final outfitting.  It helped that Owen Allum, the real passenger aboard Titanic, was a gardener from London.  I walked streets and haunted cemeteries, museums and gardens in London and Southampton, snapping hundreds of photographs. I discovered so many wonderful details—the unemployment crisis caused by a coal strike, the building of Southampton’s town hall gardens, the girls’ school in which Annie could have enrolled, the name of the nursery and names of men who supplied flowers for Titanic, even the pub popular among her crew.   

All of these and more found their way into the story. And then I traced, through research, Titanic’s route to ports in Cherbourg, France and Queenstown, Ireland, where at last she bound for the western sea.  I followed the timeline of the sinking ship, the rescue of survivors by the Carpathia, and the help they received in New York. Where better for a gardener to plant his roots of Old World roses than in our own Garden State of New Jersey?   

When I toured the delightful  Leaming’s Run Gardens in Swainton I knew I’d found the perfect setting for Allen’s Run Gardens. The librarians of Cape May County Library in Cape May Court House, and the staff of Cape May County Historical Society were wonderful in helping me discover Swainton, 1912-1919, as was Somers Carston, a local historian. I realized from the timeline and settings of my story (Ireland, England, France, Germany, USA) that my characters would face the rigors of rationing and the horrors of WWI.  The story naturally bent toward France and the nightmare at Verdun.  Traipsing the hills and dales of lovely France and ferreting out the history with my husband and our son, who translated for us, was one of the great joys of my life.
Karen: It sounds like a wonderful experience. What a great way to do research! So is research, or another aspect of the writer’s life, your favorite?

Cathy: Research.  I can get lost for months in the joy of digging up the past through travel—foreign or domestic, exploring cemeteries and diaries, old newspapers, attics and archives, rediscovering the places, insights and things that time forgot.

Karen: What part do you dislike? What steps do you take to work through this? 

Cathy: I dislike being rushed through a story.  A story, to ring true and unfold beautifully, needs to grow organically.  A too-short deadline can thwart that process. I’m still learning to work through that.  I try not to agree to deadlines I don’t believe I can meet, and I work very hard to meet those I’ve committed to.  If possible, I work ahead.  I’d rather have days off at the end than be rushed and worry that I’ve done a poor job. 

And life, as we all know, has a way of happening. I’ve also come to understand that the birth of a book is a team effort, and my needs are only part of the process.  All the other members of the team need their allotment of time, too—agent, editors of different varieties, proofreaders, design, marketing, publicists, sales team.  Because I care about them—people with lives as demanding as my own--it makes me more understanding.

Karen: I never thought about it from that angle, and I appreciate your insight. I'm sure those you work with do too! I know that Promise Me This is just being released, but are there any new stories on the horizon? If so, can you give us a hint

Cathy: Band of Sisters will release in September 2012—the story of Irish sisters who escape an abusive English landlord, only to find themselves drawn into a web of human trafficking beginning at Ellis Island (1910-1911).  Hope springs when an unlikely band of sisters and two good men ask and act upon the question we all face, “What would Jesus do?” The novel raises awareness of modern day slavery—there are more than twice as many people enslaved today as at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade—and the role we can play in abolition.

Karen: Band of Sisters sounds like a winner, too. Can't wait to read it. Thanks so much for the sneak peek, and thank you for stopping by. Wishing you much success!

Cathy: Thank you so much, Karen.  It’s been a pleasure! Promise Me This is available on-line or wherever books are sold.  I love hearing from readers and can be reached through my website

Giveaway Details
  • You must be a follower and leave a comment, with email address, on this post.
  • Gain bonus entries (+1 each) by posting this on Facebook, your blog, and/or Twitter. Please include link with your comment where applicable.
  • Open to residents of the United States.
  • Deadline to enter is midnight EST, Friday, February 3, 2012. Winner will be notified via email and will have 36 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen. Winner will be announced Monday, February 6.

Do you have any questions for Cathy? What period or event in history do you think would make a good fictional story?

Happy writing,


  1. Considering how much has been written about the Titanic, I'm sure it was research overload. Good luck with your book, Cathy!

  2. You're right, Alex! It WAS "research overload." But it was fascinating, and a great adventure.
    Thank you so much for your good wishes!

    And, thank you, Karen--it's always a pleasure to visit you at WRITE NOW!

  3. Very cool how the book came about. I'm very interested in anything to do with the Titanic too!

  4. Awesome interview. And that's a winning cover, I might add. Thanks for introducing Cathy to em.

    I gave you a Shout-Out on my blog today! :)

  5. Oh, I hope I win this book :) It looks so good! I'm not familiar w/ the author and I love reading something new.

  6. So much research! I'd love to read this, especially after getting the author's "take." Thanks for a great post.


  7. Best of luck with this novel. What a fascinating historical event. I can only imagine what an impact it must have made, looking at all the lives that were affected in that one incident.

    Great job, Karen. You're an interviewer extraordinaire.

    Rhonda (

  8. Thanks for the interview, Karen.
    Every time I think of that fateful night in the blackness of the ocean, and the Titanic sinking in to the dark, cold depths, with the violens playing, my heart sinks. What a horrendous end for so many people.

    Just visited the unsinkable Molly Brown's house in Denver last November....she survived that tragic night.

    Take care and have a great day. My e-mail is

  9. I saw this book on another blog and would love to win it! One of the most poignant movies ever made is A Night to Remember, which I believe to be more accurate than the modern Titanic film.

    Great interview! Thank you so much for your work on this book, and generosity in offering it.


    Off to retweet!

  10. Good interview. Cathy does such intense research. The book is bound to burst with interesting details.

  11. Oh this well be an amazing book...can't wait to read

  12. This book looks outstanding. And the cover is beautiful. Great interview, Karen!

    sarah at sarahforgrave dot com

  13. Alex,
    And you know what goes in to writing a good book! Thanks for coming by!

    Right back at you! Always, always a pleasure to have you along.

    I know, events like these interest me too. So many stories there, you know?

    Thanks so much! I have to agree, the cover is great! Thanks for sharing this!

    She is a wonderful author! You might want to check out her other books too. :)

    I know, the interview really opens things up more, doesn't it? Wait till you read it! :)

    You know, you make me blush, friend. :) Got you on the list!

    I've thought along those lines too. So sad, I can't even imagine!

    I will have to check out that film, thanks for mentioning it. Thanks for sharing this!

    Thank you! You are correct, and I like the way you said it. It does burst with details!

    I think it is an amazing book. Hope you get the chance to read it!

    I know, the cover is great, isn't it? :) It's better in person, too. :)

    Blessings all,

  14. Hmm, I so want to read this book!:O

  15. Sounds like an amazing and interesting book. Found this blog through Tyndale on Facebook.


  16. Hi, I've been researching my family history and was surprised to find members of our family were on the Titanic! The whole family was lost; the eldest daughter had gotten into one of the life rafts but got out when there was no room for other family members. I can't help but wonder what they went through.
    I'm disabled with RSD and books are a great part of my life. It's great to get "away" from my life and into someone elses in a good book. I'd definitely love to read this book!
    Thanks for this opportunity. Blessings to you.

  17. I also really enjoy the research, although I often get "itchy" wanting to start the writing up.
    Nice to meet you Cathy!

  18. Google Friends Connect - following you publicly as (Louis)
    Thank you for hosting this giveaway

    pumuckler {at} gmail {dot} com

  19. Great interview, Karen, and what a fantastic-sounding story, Cathy. Enjoyed reading your insights, about the inspiration for the story, and about all the research opportunities you took advantage of. Wishing your book much success!

  20. How wonderful to connect--I love meeting enthusiastic historical fiction readers! It's amazing to hear of so many connections to Titanic and history, too. Thank you!

  21. Karen, sounds like a great book (good job, Cathy). Sounds like Cheryl and I would both enjoy this one. bald (at) pld (dot) com.

    A time in history for a good story?
    Doesn't seem like much in done during WW1. Also, I think this would be a great subject for a novel: a sympathetic treatment of a German couple during WW2 trying to maintain a marriage and family. The husband is a soldier fighting on the eastern front, though he is not a Nazi sympathizer. He wants the war to end but has no say in the matter. Meanwhile, his family back home faces an invading army.

    This was TRUE scenario for millions of German soldiers in WW2, and has received very little attention (that I know of) in historical fiction. Not all of the Germans were bad, but they are all classed that way.

    I am actually writing something about this now, but it will be an essay for a historical journal. A novel on this would be great, I think.

    You up for that, Karen? I can send you the essay when it is done to give you some ideas.


  22. QianWen,
    Thanks for stopping by! I enjoyed it so much. Hope you get the opportunity to read it too! :)

    Nice to hear how you found my blog, thanks for coming over! It is a wonderful read! :)

    Oh my - I imagine many of us have relatives connected to the Titanic just like you. It does make you think! So glad Cathy offered the giveaway. Got you on the list. :)

    I know, I like research but always want to get going on the writing part too!

    You are welcome. Cathy is very generous in offering a copy of the book! Thanks for coming by.

    I know, I loved her insights too! Cathy liberally shares her whole experience - it helps me a lot as a writer and I am grateful for that!

    I think you both might too! About WW 1 - I think you are correct, or at least I've not come across many. Yes, I am thinking that would be a good storyline! Sure, I'm game, send me the essay when you are through!

    Blessings all,

  23. Wonderful interview ladies, thanks for sharing your insights with us.

  24. Nice interview with Cathy. Thanks Karen.

  25. Wonderful interview. It's always so fun to get a glimpse into the process for other writers.

  26. Marja,
    Thank you! Cathy is such a great author to interview! :)

    You are welcome. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    I know, I agree! Always love Cathy's insight.


  27. Oooh, love the cover! I adored I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires. It was such a GOOD book. I'll keep an eye out for this one, and my hat's off to Cathy for the amazing research she does! WOW.

    Thanks for the interview Karen!

  28. Lovely interview--so much fascinating information. Congrats to your success!

  29. Jessica,
    I know, Cathy's other books were fantastic too. :) She is a rather amazing writer!

    Cathy is a treasure trove of info! :) Thanks for coming by.



Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Have a blessed day!