Kath Russell enjoyed over thirty-five years in marketing and communications management in the biotechnology industry. She was an executive with one of the first genetic engineering companies. Russell also was president of Russell-Welsh Strategic Life Science Communications, Inc., and founder and chief executive officer of an ecommerce company offering services for mature companion animals and veterinarians. Russell received her bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University, her master’s degree in journalism from Boston University, her master’s of business administration from the Kellogg School of Management, and earned her certificate in creative writing from the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.
If you have describe yourself with one word, what would it be?Persistent
What is the main source of inspiration for your writing?I like to work with themes. For example, in DEED SO, what makes a community or a family endure? What values or spiritual resources help it survive? Same thing with people. There are some characters in the first part of the book who seem as mighty as oak trees, yet they experience a literal or metaphorical fall.
I also am drawn to writing about reluctant heroes, people who are thrust into the middle of a difficult situation that is not of their own making, and they have to solve the dilemma before they can get back on track toward achieving their own personal desires. Haddie is such a person, and her observations and experiences change her, even change her most cherished goals by the end of the book. The reluctant hero, of course, is an idea as old as storytelling itself. That's why Ulysses still enchants us.
Is there a place you go for inspiration to write?I guess I have taken a page from Faulkner's playbook. I have created the fictional Wicomico Corners, a town that resembles the place where I grew up, but is not that place, and filled it with a cast of characters. The place is like Shangri-La in that nobody has to age, and if anything changes, it is I who control the changing. In that sense, it is a three-dimensional chessboard, but it is not like creating a fantasy or science fiction world. I have to obey history, I have to render the past with fidelity. DEED SO is set in 1962, so my story arch has to happen within the bounds of what was possible then. My undergraduate degree was in history, so I suppose it is not surprising my little town is an American time capsule.
What type of research goes into your books?Although, in DEED SO, I am writing about a period I actually experienced, your mind can play tricks on you, so I did a certain amount of research to re-immerse myself in the early Sixties. It was fun, rediscovering all the music, the cars, the clothing. Revisiting the politics of the time wasn't fun, but it reminded me of how breathtaking our progress has been. I did my heaviest research on the Vietnam conflict and particularly the battle of Ap Bac, which plays an important role in the plot. I place my character Gideon Albright in that horrific setting to bring alive those experiences and their aftermath for readers of anew generation.
What are you working on right now?In fiction, I am working on the second book in my Pointer Mystery series, and also a collection of regional short stories and poetry. I also am outlining a non-fiction book on science literacy for women. Progress for women is a major theme in DEED SO. Back then, the problem was access to better careers and the corridors of power. Today, our problem is what the experts call S.T.E.M. illiteracy (science, technology, engineering and math). The best jobs in the modern workplace involve STEM, and if you can't 'speak' STEM, you are not going to make the big bucks. Problem is girls are being turned away from or encouraged to avoid science courses very early in their educational lives. This starts happening around the age of nine! If you don't get a good foundation in STEM, you'll never be able to catch up. This is a tragedy for women and for the nation. Did I mention I'm kind of passionate about this? At the end of DEED SO, Haddie discusses her career choices. I'm not going to spoil it for readers, but suffice it to say, she does not chose to be a housewife.
Do you have any other special talents besides writing?I like to paint. I dabble in acrylic, oil, watercolor and pastel, depending on my mood. Often, when I get stuck in my writing, I turn to painting, as it energizes a different part of the brain.
Are you reading anything right now?The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly. After I finish that, I'll probably start Family Claims by Twist Phelan. I had dinner with her and some other novelist colleagues at the Left Coast Crime conference last month in Santa Fe, and was reminded I had not read one of her books, so I downloaded a couple.
I also want to call everyone's attention to Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology. The Gups (Great Unpublished) writers are a sub-chapter of Sisters in Crime, the organization Sara Paretsky founded twenty-five years ago to demand equal treatment for women writers from the publishing industry. Reading work by the Guppies is a great way to discover exciting new writers before everyone else does.
What is one food item that you can’t live without?Crab cakes. Can't help it. You can take a Marylander out of Maryland, but you can't take Maryland out of the Marylander. It has to be blue crab though, and you must treat it gently.
What is something about you that not many people know?Most people know me or think of me as an only child. I have all the only child attributes, having been showered with the love and undivided attention of two very devoted parents. However, for a very brief time I had an older brother. Frank Edwin Russell was a blue baby. He died at the Corpus Christi Naval Hospital during the war. The hospital only had one incubator. I think about him from time to time, and wonder how different my life would have been if he had lived. Then I think I would have had to share my parents. Then I feel guilty. I hold him in my memory, this brother I never knew.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the literary world?Be not afraid. It is a wild and crazy time in publishing right now. Nobody knows how all this is going to work itself out, but change breeds opportunity. I spent a good part of my career working in entrepreneurial companies, and I tend to see the glass as half full. I think that more mid-list authors are going to make a decent living from their writing than ever before. You are going to have to work hard and be your own best publicist, but you can do this!
How can your readers contact you?My blog is http://www.russellwrites.blogspot.com/, and my e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Just be nice and don't interrupt cocktail hour.
Thank you so much to Katharine Russell for taking the time to answer my interview questions!
© 2011, Cheryl of Black Diamond's Book Reviews.