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Interview with Catherine Richmond

I read that you wrote this, your first novel, in spiral-bound notebooks with a pencil, and that it took 20 years from the idea forming to publication. How many drafts did you go through during that time?
I don't know! My attitude was "whatever it takes." As I took classes, received critiques, got feedback from contests, I revised the manuscript. Sometimes that meant changing only one element, such as removing adverbs. At one point, I had a lovely "Hanta Yo" first paragraph, with a hawk sweeping over the prairie, railroad tracks bisecting the grasslands, and other scene-setting poetry. What a wrench to give that up!

Why did you set Spring For Susannah in the Dakota Territory? Don’t you have plenty of long winters in Nebraska?
Spring for Susannah was inspired by a song that mentioned North Dakota. The Northern Pacific ran tracks from Fargo to Bismarck, then went bankrupt, plunging the country into the Panic of 1873. So for the rest of the decade, that area stayed empty. As a city girl, the wide-openness of North Dakota still amazes me.

I went to college in Michigan, so I thought I knew winter - hah! The wind out here is beyond belief. I'm guessing it's even worse in North Dakota, but I'm not brave enough to check it out in person. My research trips were made in July and September - and yes, it did snow in September in Fargo.

I understand your dog is named Dakota, too. Is that a coincidence?
I grew up with an elkhound, so this keeshond-collie mix at the Humane Society didn't intimidate me. His name was Dakota, which means "friend" or "ally" - a great fit.

Do you actually raise rabbits at your Richmond Rabbit Ranch in Nebraska, or is it just a name?
When my daughter had a pet rabbit, a friend started calling our house the "Richmond Rabbit Ranch." We thought we'd have to change the name when Dakota came to live with us, but the wild rabbits love teasing him. We have more rabbits than ever at the ranch!

Do you see yourself quitting work as an occupational therapist to become a full-time writer?
Only when publishing contracts come with health insurance! Seriously, I enjoy working as an OT. I have great colleagues, a flexible boss, and interesting patients. Plus, I need the exercise!

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
Nebraska Novelists, my critique group. The discipline of producing five to seven polished pages each week trained me to meet a deadline. Critiquing prepared me for the editorial process. The creativity of the group members fuels my inner artist. And they wouldn't let me quit!

How much of your faith and spiritual life find their way into your stories?
This crazy world has so many ways to make us feel unworthy: I'm not as pretty as Miss America, I'm not as wealthy as Warren Buffett's left foot, my dog isn't as well-behaved as Cesar Millan's. But Jesus says we are worthy - worthy of God's love, worth dying for. Spring for Susannah is the heroine's journey from worthlessness to a life of love and significance.

If your first story sprang from a song, where did you get the idea for your second one?
With only a year to write the second, I tried to make it easy on myself by choosing the same time period and my home state. The most important event in Nebraska in the 1870s was the trial of Standing Bear, where it was determined an Indian was a person. In researching the years leading up to the trial, I found one of the teachers at the Ponca Agency was a Russian woman. A woman with the same name taught French at Vassar in the 1870s. That kind of coincidence fired my imagination: What would send a teacher from the rarified atmosphere of the college to an impoverished Indian reservation? I found a way to share my experiences as a missionary to Jamaica. And I made a surprising discovery, connecting four key people from Standing Bear's trial with one Omaha church - God's people are powerful when we work together! As you can tell, I'm more than a little excited about Relying on Sophia!

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I write about ordinary people experiencing God's extraordinary love. While historical events, setting, and weather impact the plot, the culture of the time shapes the characters.

Finish this sentence. When I go back to New York City, I want to see __________.
Can I answer with what I want to eat? I'm an "eat to live", so I usually don't get excited about food. But the Cioccolato Extranoir at Grom's Gelato was amazing! Remember that scene in "When Harry Met Sally"? Now instead of a sandwich, imagine chocolate sorbet.

Any parting words?
Because it's my job to make Mary Connealy look tech-savvy, I'm going to share a hint I figured out recently. There's a program on my computer called "Stickies." When a random thought pops into my head while I'm writing, I put it on a Sticky. The sticky for my non-writing life has reminders like eyeglasses, rake around pines, take kinesiotape course. The one for my work-in-progress prompts me to make sure I haven't overused the word "gather", figure out the hero's motivation for not quitting, and put the dog in the last scene. Using Stickies keeps stray thoughts from buzzing around like mosquitos, which helps maintain focus. And saves Post-It notes for other occasions. If you want to know where to get this program or if it works on computers that aren't Macs, you'll have to ask Mary Connealy.

Thanks for sharing with us, Catherine.
It's been a joy!

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