Interview with Katherine Center

photo courtesy of Katherine Center

photo courtesy of Katherine Center

I'm a raving fan of author Katherine Center. She writes amazing essays and novels; a simple sentence can make my heart stop beating for a moment. Recently, Center took time out of her own busy schedule talk to me about her work:

Angie: You first caught my attention when you posted the essay, "Nothing Worthwhile Is Ever Easy," on Blogging Authors. In the essay, you wrote, "Nothing that doesn't push you past your limits can change your life. It's true of work, it's true of parenting, and it's true-a hundred times over-of love." Much of your writing seems to urge the reader to realize that beauty is found in life's imperfections.

Katherine Center: Absolutely.  Because that's something I believe, and something I'm always trying to remind myself.  You have to look for the beauty in struggles and challenges. You have to make a choice to see the beauty there. Sometimes the hard things we do just feel hard. It's not always possible to appreciate the wisdom you're gaining in the moment that it's happening.  But later, when wisdom comes, you know where it's come from.  When you've been around long enough, you start to see the patterns.  I guess that's the upside of not being young anymore... You know from experience that the struggle always leads, in some way, to something better.

Angie: I recently read your novel, "Everyone is Beautiful," which tells the story of Lanie, a stay-at-home mom of three boys. Wearing oversized t-shirts and covered in peanut butter and jelly, Lanie yearns to reconnect with who she was, before marriage and kids. Lanie is such a mess, and at the same time, so down-to-earth and likable. Who-- or what-- inspired her character?

Center: In some ways, she's me.  Or at least, her big struggle--how to take good enough care of herself and also take good enough care of her family--is like mine.  Though everybody I know with young kids seems to be struggling with that question: How to do a good enough job with all the important things in life. 

I met a woman at a book club the other night who was so disappointed that I wasn't actually Lanie.  I like Lanie a lot, though.  I like to write about people who are real and likeable.  I like to write about people who tell their stories in that close and intimate voice we use with best friends. I love the closeness and honesty and vulnerability that come from characters who can talk that way.  All my main characters are like that--people I'd love to sit around having coffee with. They are people who will tell you honestly about the things that scare them and worry them and trouble them.  Because those moments of connection between women--when they really decide to be honest with each other about their lives--are some of the best things in life.  

Angie: I totally agree! Eventually Lanie stops longing for the person she used to be, and embraces the woman she is today. I don't want to give anything away, but what makes her transformation so powerful?

Center: Motherhood changes you.  Life changes you.  And that's not a bad thing!  We are supposed to grow up and mature and get old.  That's how it's been for all of human history. And there are real advantages to doing all of those things.  But we live in this funny culture that wants to keep us all looking (and maybe even acting) like we're 20.  There's something so exhausting about fighting the natural cycle of things.  For Lanie to just accept herself as she is, in that moment of her life, as a mom, for what that means...  I think it's something we all wish we could do, on some level.  Just relax and be ourselves.

Angie: Your first novel, "The Bright Side of Disaster," is next on my must-read list. In it, very pregnant Jenny is unexpectedly thrust into the world of single-motherhood. This excerpt from the book made me catch my breath: "When I said... this is the end, I meant, the end of the life I thought I was going to have." Most of us can recall a moment when we realize our life is no longer going according to script. It can be difficult to accept. But I've learned that sometimes, when life takes us in a different direction, it's actually doing us a favor. Do you agree?

Center: I do.  The tagline for that book is:  "Sometimes the worst thing that can happen is exactly what you've been waiting for."   

There's a great Garrison Keillor quote that runs through my head a lot:  "Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have..."  Some of the greatest ideas we have come from making do.  Life never gives you what you're expecting, and that's what keeps it interesting.  What matters most is how you respond to your heartbreaks and your disappointments and your fears.  What matters most is who you become in response to them.  

Angie: What motivates you to do the work you do?

Center: I think stories are intensely comforting.  Stories about people we can relate to and care about--well-told stories that make us laugh and sweep us into them.  It's a really powerful thing to sink into a novel and let it pull you out of your own life a little.  

Writing a novel is a lot like reading one.  The people and events appear on the page, and you follow them and see where they're going.  You hear them talking.  You have some influence over them, of course, if you're the author of the story.  But half the time, they're surprising you. 

So in some real way, I'm just motivated by pleasure.  It's just fun. I'm writing the books I'd like to read... 

Angie: And they are books I like to read, too. You can learn more about Katherine Center's work by visiting her website.

I'll leave with you a must-watch video excerpt from Center's essay, "Things To Remember Not To Forget."