How can I make my writing better?

Morning in This Broken World
Katrina Kittle
Publisher ‏ : ‎ Lake Union Publishing (September 1, 2023)

Language ‏ : ‎ English
Paperback ‏ : ‎ 283 pages
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 166251011X
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1662510113

This year there is a spate of novels dealing with the experience of the Covid lockdown, stories of loss and resilience and just getting through. Morning in This Broken World by Katrina Kittle stands out for its vivid characters, compelling dilemmas, and sensitive telling.

In the novel, a strong widow decides to leave an assisted living facility for home and invites a nursing assistant and her two children to live with her. They become an unlikely pandemic pod, forcing a deeper examination of who they are and who they can be.

Morning in This Broken World explores complex issues around family and identity with the added pressure of economic hardship, grief, illness, and a politically charged environment. Even with the challenges the characters face, Kittle manages to inject hopeful notes and showcase the full beauty of the human experience.

Kittle shares her thoughts on writing better, inspiration, character development, and persistence:

AUTHORLINK: Tell me about your apprenticeship as a creative writer. Did you have a mentor who offered advice that has stayed with you that you can share with us?

KITTLE: I will be forever grateful that I studied ballet and theatre very seriously before I came to creative writing. Ballet taught me the incredible self-discipline that serves me daily as a writer, and acting training contained some of the best writing training I’ve ever received (character development is the same whether you’re performing that character or creating it on the page). Because of being a part of those two worlds for so long, when a story took hold of me that I wanted to tell as a novel, I knew to honor my apprenticeship. I knew there was a craft to this new art form I was interested in, and I wanted to learn and study that craft. I also knew that this study would take some time and not to be in a hurry.

I was lucky to work with amazing writing teachers at places like the Antioch Writers’ Workshop. I came to Spalding University, to the Sena Jeter-Naslund – Karen Mann Graduate School of Writing in Louisville, and worked with such mentors as Crystal Wilkinson and Rachel Harper. But it was our fearless, inspiring leader Sena who gave me the best advice (and all of my own students know I repeat this all the time!): “You can make it better later. First, you have to make it exist.” Just like anything else in the world, you only get better at it by doing it. Once you have a story written—no matter how flawed—you can revise it and apply everything you learn to this draft, revising it and making it better and better. If you’re just talking about writing in the abstract, you’ve got nothing. You can’t make a blank page better.”

AUTHORLINK: James Dickey said the idea for Deliverance came to him as a vision of a man standing alone on top of a mountain. His job was to get the man off the mountain. Where did the idea for Morning in This Broken World come from?

“The image that started this novel for me was a news story about facilities combining childcare and eldercare…”

 KITTLE: The image that started this novel for me was a news story about facilities combining childcare and eldercare so that young children and elderly people were interacting and benefitting each other. I love this idea, and I adore intergenerational stories. But, I was just noodling with the basic idea until the pandemic started. Then, the idea that really jumpstarted the novel was a response to that repeated platitude “We’re all in this together” and “We’re all in the same boat.” The response was a Facebook meme that said, “We’re not all in the same boat. We’re in the same storm. Some have yachts. Some have canoes. And some are drowning.” I wanted to bring together characters in a variety of boats to weather this storm together.

AUTHORLINK: Talk about the choice to set much of the story in the midst of COVID-19. What force did the pandemic put on the narrative?   How did it help set the tone?

 KITTLE: COVID-19 became the catalyst to bring these people together. My own pandemic experience was fairly easy, but I was very aware of people for whom that was not the case. I wanted to explore the many ways different people were “drowning” during lockdown. My cast developed from those real people—people in retirement communities and nursing homes totally isolated in lockdown, people with disabilities who relied on various therapies and programs that were canceled due to COVID and who found their worlds much smaller, and essential workers risking their lives but not being fairly compensated for the important work they did. I was also interested in students suddenly at home in remote learning—the students who were happy to be free of the bullying and tension at school, and the students who desperately missed their social lives.

“COVID—especially the urgency and fear of its early days—gave the characters the desperation…”

COVID—especially the urgency and fear of its early days—gave the characters the desperation and need necessary to set the plot in motion.

AUTHORLINK: Each of your characters is so different but seems to be searching for connection. How did you come up with this cast and why do you think they worked so well together?

KITTLE: I wanted to start with these four point-of-view characters who are all—for very different reasons—already isolated before the pandemic. Each one is guarded and wearing armor they’re not even aware of. I wanted their coming together as an unlikely pandemic pack to help break through the armor or shed their shells, so to speak, like the Brood X cicadas who show up at the end of the novel. Like the cicadas, the characters emerge as their truer, more authentic selves.

 AUTHORLINK: What were the greatest challenges when writing Morning in This Broken World and how did you overcome them?

 KITTLE: Wren may have represented my greatest challenge. Wren is eleven and has cerebral palsy. I wanted to represent her as a whole person—a multi-dimensional character—not just as her medical condition, and I wanted to represent that condition authentically and responsibly. I learned a lot and discovered I had many misconceptions about CP. I worked with a dear friend who has CP, and with sensitivity readers at my publishing house. I became aware of outdated, sometimes offensive language surrounding disability that I was inadvertently using. I always want to learn and do better, and this is an ongoing journey if you want to be a good human in the world. If any of my ableist language remains after all their help, that’s on me and something I will strive to improve upon.

AUTHORLINK: You deal with illness, addiction, and socio-economic pressure with great sensitivity in the book. Did you have any fictional role models or real-world inspiration you turned to when dealing with these issues?

KITTLE: I think my books always center on social issues I deeply care about. My town of Dayton, Ohio, and the surrounding area were hit hard by the opioid addiction crisis in recent years, so, unfortunately, I have a lot of real-world inspiration to turn to. As I said, I was looking to find characters in the very real variety of “boats” in the pandemic, so these categories were all pulled from real life, but then it was my job to individualize them and make them full, layered characters.

AUTHORLINK: You teach and I’m wondering what advice you offer to apprentice writers about either craft or staying in the game.

“I have a coffee cup adorned with the quote, ‘Nevertheless, she persisted’…”

KITTLE: I have a coffee cup adorned with the quote, “Nevertheless, she persisted,” and I think that’s the motto of a writing life. I talk to my university students and my adult writing students often about how tenacity is one of the greatest tools you can have as a writer. You need to truly love words and stories, and then be prepared to hunker down and hang in there in the often discouraging publishing industry. And, while you’re persevering, never ever stop learning and polishing your craft. Always challenge yourself as a writer, keep reading, and keep putting words on the page.

AUTHORLINK: Discuss what you are working on now.

 KITTLE: I just finished major revisions on a novel currently called I Forgot to Know You. It’s the story of Harper who is trying to solve a mystery from her mother’s childhood, but her mother has dementia so she’s an unreliable source, and Harper isn’t sure if the traumatic events her mother is referencing are real or imagined. Harper and her adopted daughter Lucy set out to find the truth about Grace before their chance is lost forever. As they sift through secrets obscured by time and illness, what they learn about Grace’s past upends the way they understand the woman they thought they knew as mother and grandmother, and how they understand their own histories as well. Fingers crossed that my editor might love it as much as I do, and that it might be my next book.

Katrina Kittle is the author of four books for adults—Traveling Light, Two Truths and a Lie, The Kindness of Strangers, and The Blessings of the Animals— and one novel for tweens, Reasons to Be Happy. The Kindness of Strangers was the winner of the 2006 Great Lakes Book Award for Fiction. Katrina teaches creative writing workshops for all ages, focusing on craft and motivation (and is especially good at jumpstarting stalled writers). She teaches online and in the Dayton-Cincinnati-Columbus area through Word’s Worth Writing Connections, and is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Dayton.