Wednesday 12 June 2019

Author Profile and Interview with Kathryn Griffin Swegart

Author Profile and Interview with Kathryn Griffin Swegart 

I recently encountered the books of Kathryn Griffin Swegart, one of her books was highlighted in a group I belong to and it caught my attention. Within 15 days I had read 3 of her four published works. Kathryn is a professed Secular Franciscan. She holds a Master’s degree from Boston College. She is devoted to her family. And she has written three amazing books for young readers. She took some time to answer some questions for the readers here at Book Reviews and More, so here in her own words, Kathryn Swegart.

1. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

In sixth grade, I wrote a story called The Mystery of the Floating Hand –inspired by a summer blitz of reading mystery stories. I was fortunate to live within walking distance of a public library and enjoyed spending hot summer days curled up with a good book. I am a firm believer that writers are readers. Reading develops the inner editor of a writer. By reading, we come to learn how good storytellers breathe life into characters and plot.

Two years ago, I retired from working in public schools. Now I can devote more time to writing. I get up early in the morning and immersed myself in writing projects. In a sense, I block out the rest of the world and dive deeply into the stories. Characters become real to me. 

I also am a regular contributor to the website In addition, I write a blog called Stories to inspire and amuse. All of this keeps me writing everyday.

I have been greatly helped by The Catholic Writer’s Guild. Through their resources and practical help, I have grown immensely as a writer. 

2. Who were some of the biggest supporters of your writing?

In the early stages of a writing project, my husband is a “friendly reader” who offers constructive criticism. My sister is a retired teacher and also helps as a friendly reader. Her input on Perilous Days was of immense help. She felt the story was too fast-paced. She recommended that I write more about Willy. Suddenly, the story was inhabited by characters that came alive and had dimension. We cared about Willy’s escape from the Nazi regime. By the way, I dedicate the book to Colin-my grandson. He is a child who has Down Syndrome. If it had not been for his presence in our family, this story would not have been written. 

3. What authors influenced your writing style and format?

Catholic writer Ethel Pochocki definitely influenced the writing of Heavenly Hosts: Eucharistic Miracles for Kids. Her book Once Upon a Time Saints was a collection of short stories that added a touch of fiction to make the characters come alive. The book also was also a perfect read-aloud. That format really worked for Heavenly Hosts, making it a best-seller on Amazon. Reviews of the book often said how parents enjoyed reading Heavenly Hosts aloud as a family. Comments like that really warm my heart.

I was inspired to write Perilous Days by a real character that appears in the book. Karl Goldmann wrote his autobiography The Shadow of his Wings. He was a seminarian drafted into Hitler’s army. He tells of many harrowing experience and miraculous escapes. I wanted to bring this incredible story to young readers. I decided to have a young soldier named Felix, shadow him throughout the war. Felix also has a loyal and funny dog that stays by his side through many near-death experiences. 

4. If you had not become a writer what do you think you would be doing with the time you use to write?

I try to have a balance in my life. For me, writing is a part-time job. I spend the rest of my time volunteering at the hospital as a Eucharistic minister and attend weekly peaceful prayer vigils at an abortion clinic. My husband and I also attend weekly adoration and Mass at a local chapel. We enjoy spending time with our grown children and their families. We also have a small farm that keeps us busy weeding and painting porches. As you can see, it is a fulfilling life. Truly, I have my dream job. I always wanted to spend more time writing. If I did not write…hmm…I guess I would read even more books than I already have on my shelf. Perhaps I would play tennis. I would probably bake more cookies. I definitely would not be knitting or sewing. I am known as a famous non-sewer by family members!

5. Your books are fictional retelling of historical events, what settled you on this structure or format for your works?

Historical fiction is the ideal format for me. After all, truth is stranger than fiction. I first became attracted to the genre in 1981 when I heard the incredible story of the sinking of the whaling ship Essex by a whale. Twenty sailors were left stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It is considered one of the greatest survival stories of all time and inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick. My first book, The Wreck of the Essex is based on that true event in Nantucket whaling history. If someone questioned the credibility of a story-line, all I have to say is-it really happened!

6. What does your writing process look like? Take us through the steps from idea to publishing?

I guess the first step is that I am fascinated by a story.  It then composts in my subconscious for some time. I let it simmer. I also pray about a project. Writing a book takes months and even years to complete. It would be a huge waste of time to take the wrong path. If the story has possibilities, I just begin writing. It is important not to worry if the writing is good, bad or indifferent. Just keep writing. The key to good writing is rewriting. Characters, plot and setting start to take shape. After the rough draft, I have my husband take a look at it. He makes suggestions and I revise. I also let the second draft sit for a few weeks and then come back to it with a fresh eye. The next step is more rewriting, adding description and details. It is kind of like baking a cake. You have the plain cake, add frosting, and details to make it fancy. Writing is a process. A finished product does not come out in that first draft. Writing takes patience and perseverance. 

Once I have a polished product, I send it to an editor whom I trust and she finds typos and structure problems. I now send it to a second editor who looks for those devilish typos that lurk in the manuscript. Once it is super-polished, the editor formats it. I upload it to kdp select publishing and it appears on the Amazon product page. I also work with a fine artist named John Folley who creates eye-catching images for the cover.

7. What current projects are you working on or are in the back burner in some stage of development?

I am working on the third book in the Brave Hearts series. Brave Hearts is historical fiction for ages 10-14. I choose Catholic heroes and write about them in a fast-paced style, filled with compelling characters that readers will care about. It is not enough to have only action. I am currently working on Lucia of Fatima, telling the story of Fatima from Lucia’s viewpoint. 

8. Do you use a playlist when writing? Are certain books written while predominately listening to the same music?

I do not use a playlist while writing. It has to be completely silent while I work.

9. You have written one book about a Franciscan, one about a Jesuit, do you plan on writing books about members of other orders? If so, who are you thinking about writing on? Perhaps a Dominican or a member of Opus Dei?

Lucia Santos of Fatima was a Carmelite. I don’t consciously choose religious orders as subjects. I am a professed member of the Secular Franciscan order, so perhaps I lean toward Franciscans. Two Franciscans appear is Heavenly Hosts. Karl Goldmann is a Franciscan seminarian in Perilous Days.

10. What is the strangest idea you have had for a story?

I once wrote a story about a basset hound that landed on the moon. Fortunately, that story has been lost in space.

11. Of the three Catholic books published to date, which is your favorite and why?

I really do enjoy Perilous Days. Recently, it was made into an audiobook. I would take walks listening to this story come to life in the voice of a talented narrator. There is a touch of humor, thanks to the dog Rolf who thought life was always an exciting game, despite bombs bursting overhead. I also like the surprise ending.

12. Do you have any plans for publishing your books in translations? I could see all of them doing well in the Spanish market?

Heavenly Hosts has a Spanish version. I actually haven’t figured out how to find that audience. Any ideas are welcome.

13. All of your books are available in electronic formats but with that comes bootleg distribution. What are your impressions of eBooks and the distribution of them through torrents and other illegal means?

I don’t know too much about torrent sites or bootlegging. Maybe I should learn more about that.

14. Some authors monitor torrent sites and contact them to remove their content. Do you do so or have someone do it for you?

Once again, I should learn more about this. Any suggestions are welcome.

15. What were your favorite books and authors when you were younger?

As a child, I loved being immersed in a book. My father recommended Lad: A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune. I still remember secretly reading it in fifth grade during arithmetic class. Suddenly, I realized that my teacher was standing over me with her hands on her hips. She was not pleased. I read all the books written by Terhune and also Lassie Come Home. You can see why I included a heroic dog in Perilous Days. 

16. What were some of your favorite authors in your teens years who helped shape you?

As a teen, I remember being totally enthralled by Gone with the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird. 

17. What are some of your favorite books and authors now?

This winter, I read the thousand word epic Kristen Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset. I also enjoy Michael D. O’Brien, especially Father Elijah. I really enjoy the Pulitzer- Prize winning author David McCullough, especially The Wright Brothers and Harry Truman. He has refined the art of making real people come to life by using details of appearances, personality, and setting.

18. I once had a university professor state that the true goal of a university education should be to teach one to learn to think. What would you state should be the goal of higher education and why?

I do agree with the need for critical thinking skills. There is so little civil discourse and sharing of ideas in a reasonable fashion. That results in polarization. Can’t we all just be courteous to each other, even if we disagree? Of course, all this is fueled by social media and the main stream media.

19. If you were stuck on a desert island and could have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want to read?

My top ten books: 
     1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B White
     2. Anne of Green Gables
     3. The Bible (of course)
     4. The Imitation of Christ (I keep that on my  bed stand.)
     5. The Story of a Soul 
     6. The Hobbit
     7. The Father Brown series
     8. The Oxford Book of American Verse
     9. The Seven Storey Mountain
     10. Beautifully illustrated picture books by 
          Barbara Cooney and Beatrix Potter

20. What advice would you give to young authors and artists?

I would advise young authors and artists to absorb themselves in creative works that are beautiful and lift the heart to all that is good, true, and holy. Read inspiring books. Listen to classical music. Visit art museums and study works of the great painters. Feed your soul. Limit time on the computer-it kills time and imagination.

Thank you again Kathryn for thaking time to answer our 20 Questions. I look forward to reading more books as they become available. And I encourage my readers to give your books a try I am sure they will be as inspired and my children and I were.

Books by Kathryn Griffin Swegart:
Brave Hearts Series:
Perilous Days
Lucia of Fatima

Catholic Stories for Kids Series:
Heavenly Hosts: Eucharistic Miracles for Kids
Miraculous! Catholic Mysteries for Kids
Rescued! True Stories for Catholic Kids
Other Books:
The Wreck of the Essex: The Story of Thomas Nickerson

Author profile and interview with Kathryn Griffin Swegart.

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