There is so much to say about Kathleen Rodgers. I don’t think I’ve ever met a writer who is more supportive of other writers. Kathleen takes the time to reach out and say hello, to read your blog posts and posted links. She is always there with a kind word or a rah-rah or to lend a hand or offer advice. It is my pleasure to profile Kathleen today as part of my Debut Author Q&A series.
Name of book: The Final Salute: Together We Live On
Book genre: Mainstream fiction
Date Published: October 16, 2008
Publisher: Leatherneck Publishing (went out of business May 2009)
What is your book about? The story is about the lives of USAF fighter pilots and their families around the time of the first Gulf War. In the shadow of an impending overseas conflict, Tuck Westerfield, a seasoned fighter pilot, finds himself trying to navigate his own battles at home – small and large – as he faces a difficult commander, family conflicts with his wife and daughter and crazy neighbors. The characters deal with separation anxiety, fear associated with combat, teenagers that rebel, spouses who cheat and unbounded grief. Comic relief is provided in the character of Wynonna Sandford, a Purple Passion cosmetics beauty consultant.
What was the most challenging part of the writing process? Although I’d done freelance work for magazines and newspapers in the past, writing a novel proved very difficult. For instance, I had to learn how to write good dialogue and how to engage the reader into caring about my characters, even the nasty ones. I had to learn how to say NO when my children’s school or the church called, begging for volunteers. Back when the boys were young and I’d just started working on the novel, I put a sign on my front door that announced: “I’m here but I’m writing.” I didn’t win many friends that way, but I got my work done.
Since The Final Salute was written on speculation, I had to impose my own deadlines, and I had to keep telling the ugly voices in my head to shut up. One voice kept asking, “Who are you to tell a story about fighter pilots? You’re a woman. You’re not even a pilot.” I learned to trust my storytelling abilities and my life experiences, and that combination gave me the authority I needed to complete the novel and put it through numerous revisions.
What motivates you to write? A need to get to the truth. To explore topics and subjects that people don’t like to talk about. For The Final Salute, I wrote about what happens when a plane goes down, when a hush goes over a squadron of men like a black pall because earth and sky have collided and one of their brothers isn’t coming home. I also explored the subject of sex scandals and how they are sometimes handled in the military.
Did you experience writer’s block? My biggest culprit is self-doubt, but luckily I also have this thing about follow-through and finishing what you start. At one point, I took a break from writing for five years. I went back to college, got a dog, worked as a nanny and tried to walk away from the writing life. But it was there, lurking over my shoulder. It called to me. And I listened. And I came back even stronger.
How long did it take you to write this book? The first time? Three years. The truth is, The Final Salute was a sixteen-year effort of more than one hundred revisions, that many rejections, and my bullheaded determination to find a traditional publisher.
How difficult was it to find a publisher? Extremely difficult. Finding a publisher was just as daunting as writing the novel. Many years ago I found a legitimate agent who got my manuscript to a major publishing house in NYC. Three weeks later came the rejection, along with advice from an editor telling me what I needed to do to fix the novel. I took her advice and started over from scratch. In the end, my former agent dropped all of his fiction writers and I never found another agent to take me on. I just kept revising and believing that one day I would find someone who believed in my story as much as I did. I kept hearing “all it takes is one person.” Finally, in May 2008, sixteen years after I started writing the novel, I found my “one person” in the form of Neil Levin, CEO and Founder of Leatherneck Publishing, based in Oceanside, Calif. The book came out that October. Ironically, The Final Salute was their final title. Leatherneck Publishing closed their doors May 2009.
What is the biggest misconception about writing a book? That everyone will be impressed because you’ve written a novel. Sometimes the people you thought you’d get the most support from turn out to be your biggest disappointments.
What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? Getting inside the minds of male fighter pilots. Trying to figure out what makes them tick. Opening myself up to the memory of so many fallen friends who’ve perished in jet mishaps. There were a lot of ghosts that needed a voice.
Do you plan to write another novel? Yes, I’m working on a new novel about a woman named Johnnie Kitchen. She’s a recovered bulimic with a secret past.
Oprah has famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? I don’t believe in luck, but I believe in HOPE and hard work and being open to opportunity. The first article I sold to Family Circle magazine grew out of a cover story I’d written for Military Times shortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait, Aug. 2, 1990. The original story focused on how my two young sons and I coped after my fighter pilot husband deployed to the Middle East. With the world tuned in to CNN and the Crisis in the Persian Gulf, I knew my story might appeal to a bigger market like Family Circle. Two weeks after I called them – yes, I picked up the phone and called – they offered me a contract. A year later, I started working on my novel about fighter pilots.
Stories about Kathleen Rodgers’ novel have appeared in The Associated Press, USA Today, Military Times, Family magazine, Mobile Press-Register, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and several other publications. In 2009, Army Wife Network selected The Final Salute for their July book club, and that same year the author won a Silver Medal for fiction from Military Writers Society of America (MWSA).