I’m super excited to have memoir writer and fellow She Writes Press author, Kelly Kittel, here today as my DECEMBER “Author Spotlight.” I met Kelly almost a year ago as our group of authors prepared for our Spring 2014 launches. Kelly’s one of those people who brings a certain energy and sunshine into a room. She reached out for some help on her blurb, and I replied. Having crafted pitches for authors before, I volunteered to take a crack at it. After it was done, she asked me if it was compelling enough to make me want to pick up the book. Me, specifically? Probably not. My answer: “I’m going to want to read it because I like you.” As a general rule, I don’t read non-fiction, but give me a good romance or paranormal and I’m there.
So, I remember downloading her book and mentally preparing myself before flipping to page one. Can I just say? I was sucked in from the first paragraph. It grabbed me and never let go, and turned out to be a much different experience than I anticipated. If I could have given it 6 stars, I would have! If anyone out there knows Oprah, please get Breathe in front of her. This book deserves its day in the sun. Truly. Even if this isn’t your gig, try it. You won’t be sorry.
What’s being said about Breathe (4.8 stars on Amazon & 91 reviews):
“People always ask me why I write about loss and grief. And I tell them that I write about loss and grief because when I do, I'm also writing about love, and hope, and family, and all the big messy glorious things in our lives. Kelly Kittel understands that. In Breathe, she bares her broken heart, and shows us all courage and hope and, mostly, love.”
—Ann Hood, author of the memoir Comfort: A Journey Through Grief and The Knitting Circle
Read my review of Breathe below… In the meantime, let's spend some time with Kelly and get the scoop on her launch experience and what is on her plate.
1) If I remember correctly, your memoir took over 7 years to write. Although the topic is intensely painful, there is a feeling of healing and triumph at the end. Now that your story is out in the world, tell us a little bit about how the book is being embraced by your readers? Is the experience everything you expected?
I wrote Breathe to tell the story of my sons and to help other people. To that end, I have a document on my computer called “Breathe Comments” that currently consists of 111 pages of comments from my readers expressing their thoughts and feelings and thanking me for writing it. In June, Breathe went on a blog tour (thanks to my friend, Liz! for the idea) that resulted in 13 amazing reviews of the book comparing the drama to John Grisham and me to Maya Angelou. Heady stuff, indeed. As one friend said, Breathe is a sad topic but not a sad story. One of the most common reactions I’ve had is from readers who admit they were a bit afraid to read it, but then read it in two days. Or overnight. More than one reader wrote something along these lines, “Breathe is the first book that has kept me up ‘til the wee hours in years.” One reviewer wrote, “Everyone, everywhere, needs to read Kelly's story. Everyone, EVERYWHERE, needs to know that this book exists.” And at least four people have written to tell me that they had stopped reading altogether for one reason or another but reading Breathe got them back into reading again. I love that!
I believe we should share our pain as much as we share our joy. Because otherwise when we find ourselves in darkness, we feel very much alone. We wonder why everyone else is having a perfect life. And we wonder what’s wrong with us. When I fell into the valley of the shadow of death, I searched for books like Breathe to help guide me out. The fact that it has been of comfort for even one reader makes those seven years of work and doubt worthwhile and equals success in my eyes. Breathe has exceeded all of my expectations. I’ve done readings from coast to coast in a variety of places where I’ve lived in the past and the very best thing about those events is that so many people from my past have come out of the woodwork to attend, making this journey of Breathe-ing like one glorious reunion of friends and family after another, some of whom I hadn’t seen in decades!
2) Can you name a couple of things you learned about memoir writing in particular that you can share with others?
After agonizing for seven years, I finally discovered that in spite of the more common mantra for memoirs, you don’t actually have to change peoples’ names. I tried. But as soon as I said that my son, Noah, was run over by his cousin—insert fictitious name—it ceased to be a story. Breathe culminates in a medical malpractice lawsuit, which is part of the public record, and because my own relatives testified against me in court, they ipso facto became a part of the public record, all of which can be disclosed legally.
3) Many new writers wonder what it would be like to launch a book. I've been amazed at the amount of events you've attended and have been a part of over the last 6 months. Can you name two of your favorites and why? Also, any advice for pursuing speaking opportunities?
When you asked me about this, I went back and counted over 30 events I’ve done to date, including book groups, conferences, radio gigs, interviews, and book store readings or other sales/signing events. My Launch Party will go down in history alongside my wedding. It was held at a local bird sanctuary and over 100 friends and family came out to celebrate, eat cake, plant a tree for my sons, and hike. One of my nieces played her ukelele and sang Just Breathe while another danced to her own choreography, making the day even more special.
One of my favorite events took place a month ago, the Annual Night of Remembrance at Women & Infants Hospital, when I was the keynote speaker to over 100 bereaved parents who had suffered miscarriage, stillbirth, or early infant death. Women & Infants is where I gave birth to my last two children following high risk pregnancies. My sixth child, Isaiah, was born a few weeks early and spent ten days in the NICU as his lungs weren’t ready so he couldn’t breathe and I spent a month in that hospital on bed rest with toxemia before delivering my seventh and last baby, Bella, six weeks early. So I am eternally indebted to Women & Infants. I’ve had thirteen pregnancies and have five living children so this type of loss is all too familiar to me. I understand the intense pain of it all and it was a privilege and an honor for me to extend myself and my words to other parents like me. I once transferred colleges to avoid taking public speaking, so I was amazed to have been so overwhelmingly praised and thanked for my speech but I honestly was not nervous. I discovered I’d rather speak to a room filled with bereaved parents than a handful of people who have never experienced disappointment.
I also want to say that my other favorite events in general are book group discussions. I am in two book groups, myself, and I truly love meeting with others. Breathe offers much in the way of topics for discussion and I have even Facetimed with the Not Your Mama’s Book Club in Portland, Oregon while I was visiting my daughter, Hannah, in Washington D.C.! So I’m ready for yours, wherever you are! Let’s Breathe together!
As for pursuing speaking opportunities, I keep my ear to the ground and follow what other authors are doing on social media. I throw a lot of mud on the wall and am happy when some of it actually sticks!
4) As a debut author, what has worked best for you from a marketing perspective to get your story out there and be heard?
I think I’m still working on that! Ann Lamott has a wonderful writing book called Bird by Bird and I’ve adapted that to be my debut author motto: Book by Book. That’s what marketing means for me. I haven’t had a Colbert or Oprah bump, although I’m always trying, so mostly I sell books by meeting people and by talking at all of the events I mentioned above. I’ve been reading to my children for over 25 years now and I love to read to people. To be an author means to sit in your pajamas for seven years in soltitude and I admit I was a bit nervous about getting dressed, putting on make-up, and getting out there to market my book! But I’ve discovered that I truly love doing public events. I thrive on change and I love to meet new people!
5) What has been the best thing that's happened to you because you've published this book?
Breathe is the only place that all of my children exist together and while I was writing it, I learned that it was like spending time with them. Especially the ones who aren’t here on Earth. The first time I realized this I was sitting, as usual, in my pajamas at our dining room table in Costa Rica typing away and I looked up over my cold cup of coffee and half expected to see Noah come toddling across the floor to me, arms outstretched. They say that writing your story makes it three dimensional and that listening to it read out loud adds a fourth dimension. I’m not a Physics Major, but what has also surprised me since Breathe came out is that before this book, the most defining characteristic of my sons lives was that they had died. That’s mostly what people knew about them. But when they read Breathe, they learn that they lived. They meet them for the first time and they hold them in their hearts. And it is like they have become manifest. So if that’s what is meant by the fourth dimension, then I get it. Truly. And it is an amazing thing, indeed.
6) What's next for you?
And now for something completely different, drumroll . . . my next book will be a travel memoir about living in Costa Rica. Which I’m about to begin writing. Any minute now!
7) Any advice for new or soon-to-be authors?
Never, ever give up on your dreams. My dream was to become an author and it took me 52 years, 7 of which were spent thinking of nothing else, and I am not a patient person. Just ask my husband! I sent over 200 queries and fielded over 120 rejections when pursuing an agent and publisher before I quit counting. One response that sticks in my craw is “grief doesn’t sell” and I’m still bent on proving that wrong. I have perhaps danced with death more times than many, but certainly less than others, and I’d like to know who is getting out of this life without experiencing grief? Like birth, death is a guaranteed part of life. It’s the great equalizer and it lays us low. I’m certainly not a fan. But we can’t avoid it. And the more we learn about it, even embrace it, the better off we’ll be. They say we write our stories to save our lives and I believe we also read books to inform our lives. Being informed about death and grief is of benefit to us all.
Thanks for joining us, Kelly! Happy Holidays to you and your family… Much love to you for all your support this year.
Format: Trade Paperback (5.5 x 8.5)
Publisher: She Writes Press
Published: May 14, 2014
Kelly Kittel never questioned her Mayflower Society mantra—“Family is the most important thing”—until the day her fifteen-month-old son was run over by her sixteen-year-old niece. Nine months later, Kittel’s doctor made a terrible mistake during her subsequent pregnancy and she found herself burying yet another baby. Caught up in the maelstrom of a malpractice lawsuit, Kittel and her husband battle not only the medical system, but their own relatives, in the courtroom. As their family tree begins to topple, the Kittels struggle to nourish the roots of their young family and find healing. Achingly raw and beautifully narrated, Breathe is a story of motherhood, death, and family in the face of unspeakable tragedy and, ultimately, how she learns to breathe again
RATING: 5 stars
Beautifully rendered memoir of a quintessential family struck by tragedy. From the first page, the story grips you and doesn’t let go. Steeped in family values and tradition, Kelly Kittel paints a lovely and textured landscape filled love and the lives of her young family set against the backdrop of their home in Oregon living in the midst of her husband’s controlling family, and her east coast roots in Rhode Island and Maine.
We are quickly caught up in the cadence of Kelly’s life when tragedy strikes, and her youngest son Noah dies at the hand of her troubled and unrepentant 16-year old niece. Unspeakable grief consumes them as they look forward to a ray of hope ahead—the impending birth of their next child, Jonah. When tragedy strikes mercilessly a second time, this time at the hands of a negligent physician, rather than supporting Kelly and her family in a time when they need it most, the cruel divisiveness of her sister-in-law Cody drives Kelly’s extended family to unjustly turn against her.
A unique and wonderful voice, Kelly carries us on her journey. Her children’s stories, both living and dead, are reflected through the lens of a mother’s love, taking us from the light into the darkest corners of loss and back again. Kelly and her family’s strength is inspirational beyond words as we share these tragedies as our own at Kelly’s side, at times wishing we could intervene on her behalf with the people who should have known remorse and compassion during this period of devastation grief.
An undisputed must read!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
My fellow She Writes Press author, Kelly Kittel, has spent most of her working life as a fish biologist who writes but has been undergoing metamorphosis to a writer who was formerly a fish biologist. She is married with five living children, her best work beyond compare. She currently lives with her family in Rhode Island but prefers to write in their yurt on the coast of Oregon. She has been published in several magazines and anthologies and her first book, Breathe, launched in May 2014. Find her at: www.kellykittel.com
Buy Breathe on Amazon and wherever fine books are sold.
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