Katrina Kittle: Author, Teacher, Speakeru

Kittle coffee

Katrina Kittle uses her passion for telling stories, training in writing and teaching, and experiences in a variety of jobs to create a career path which includes published novels, life coaching classes and teaching in secondary and college institutions. No matter what she is doing, writing is always her highest priority.

In the beginning…

“I always wrote stories, but I never thought about being a writer. I always thought I would be in theater. A lot of my childhood memories are of directing and orchestrating these reenactments of stories I liked or stories I’d written”.

Katrina continued on that path as a theater major during her first three years at Ohio University. “I just wanted to be in stories”. The Theater degree required additional Liberal Arts courses and Katrina discovered she especially enjoyed studying literature. “I loved reading and writing about stories”. Her enthusiasm fueled her performance and she was asked to join the English Honors Tutorial program despite being a theater major.

Her guidance counselor suggested Katrina also take the Education courses required for a teaching certificate. Graduating with a marketable skill appealed, and she graduated in 1990 with two degrees – a Bachelor of Arts in English with a Theater minor, and a Bachelor of Science in Education.

What did Katrina do after she graduated from college?

Centerville High School, Centerville, Ohio, hired Katrina to teach English, Advanced Placement British Literature, and theater. While there, Katrina had the inspiration for her first novel, Traveling Light. “I had never taken creative writing classes…but I think it was really good training reading all those really great works”.

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Centerville High School

Katrina’s heavy workload of preparing, teaching and grading made writing a novel difficult. Books on creative writing admonish aspiring writers to write every day, but Katrina knew, “I can’t write every day. I have to grade these papers, and I have to plan this class, and I have to read Beowulf again”.

Nonetheless, Katrina’s story idea “was kind of tugging on me like a little kid pulling on your sleeve”. In response, she set a schedule. “I decided that my best and most creative time was early in the morning”. Since she couldn’t manage writing every day, “I told myself I could give myself an hour every Saturday morning. And very quickly, I realized I could squeeze in two hours”. She maintained that schedule through vacations and holidays. As a result, “I wrote the whole first draft of that novel in these little two-hour increments over the course” of a year.

The first draft was just the beginning, however. It was too long, about too many things and “I didn’t know whose story it was”. To learn the craft of fiction writing, Katrina took courses, attended the Antioch Writers Workshop (AWW) in Dayton, Ohio, and read books on creative writing. Having a first draft made all the difference. “Everything single thing you learn, you can then apply it to something that actually exists”.

What did Katrina do after she left teaching?

books-2547179_1280Katrina’s mentor at Centerville high school recognized teaching wasn’t her calling. He advised, “If you’re thinking of leaving, don’t stay longer than five years or you’ll just get stuck”. Katrina took his advice and left after five years. “I knew I really wanted to write and I knew that this was not a match for the writing life”.

Thereafter, Katrina worked in a vet clinic for a huge pay cut, but “I was rich in time and I didn’t have to take anything home to grade”. Next, she started cleaning houses, finding her clients by word of mouth. Cleaning houses was satisfying, because, unlike teaching or writing, the finished product was tangible.  Cleaning also facilitated her creativity. “All my ideas come to me when I’m doing mindless stuff with my hands; cleaning houses was perfect”.

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Town Hall Theatre

Cleaning, however, was “hard physical work”. After two or three years, she gradually switched to directing shows for the Town Hall Theatre in Centerville/Washington Township, Ohio. The pay was good enough to enable her to cut back on her cleaning schedule. Eventually, Katrina quit cleaning houses entirely, and worked as the Town Hall Theatre Education Director and in case management support at the AIDS Foundation Miami Valley, Dayton, Ohio (now Equitas).

How did Katrina get her first book published?

By 1998, Katrina had worked on her book for six years and was ready to pursue publication. “I felt I had polished it, lots of people had read it, it had been heavily revised, and I had taken it as far as I knew how to. I felt like I was ready to hear some opinions of people in the business”.

Katrina mailed a personalized query letter with a self-addressed stamped envelope to 27 agents. All 27 agents rejected the book, often with a form rejection. “Sometimes they wouldn’t even use their own letterhead. They would just handwrite on your letter, ‘Not for us. Sorry. Good luck’”. Two did ask to see the first 50 pages, and one read the entire manuscript and gave feedback. Receiving that feedback “felt like a really good, hopeful rejection”.

During that process, she attended the Antioch Writers Workshop as an AWW work fellow, exchanging work for a reduction in tuition. Her tasks included driving speakers to the airport. Diana Baroni, from Warner Books (now Grand Central Publishing), was AWW’s guest editor that year. She attended the final evening program and heard Katrina read an excerpt from her book.

The next morning, Katrina was scheduled to drive Diana to the airport at 5:30am, but a bad thunderstorm caused power outages during the night. Katrina’s alarm didn’t go off. She happened to wake up at 5:15 a.m., brushed her teeth, jammed a ball cap over her hair, jumped in her car, and arrived on time.

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Traveling Light by Katrina Kittle; originally published by Warner Books, 2000

In the car, Diana immediately said, “’I really like what you read last night. Is that book finished?’”  During the rest of the drive, Diana peppered Katrina with questions. “I thought she was just being polite”. But before she departed, Diana asked Katrina to send her the manuscript.

Several months later, Diana announced that Warner wanted to buy the book. With a book deal in hand, Katrina quickly found an agent. The agent negotiated a contract for two books and Warner Books published Traveling Light in 2000.

What did Katrina next?

Katrina had two ideas for her second book. One dealt with animal communication and addiction; the other involved child abuse. Warner Books said, “We don’t want to follow a book about AIDS with a book about child abuse; we need something… not quite so dark and controversial”.

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Two Truths and a Lie by Katrina Kittle; originally published by Warner Books, 2001

Nonetheless, Katrina felt most passionate about the child abuse book. “Totally naïve, I thought, ‘If they read it, they’ll understand it’s not that dark; it’s actually hopeful’”. Accordingly, she spent a year under contract writing The Kindness of Strangers. Once it was finished, Warner still didn’t want it.

Then, under the gun, Katrina wrote the book about animal communication and addiction, Two Truths and a Lie, which Warner published in 2001.

Following publication of Two Truths, Diana, said, “You really belong at a different publishing house. It’s not so shocking that they won’t let me publish Kindness, as it is that they ever let me publish Traveling Light”. As a result, Katrina needed a new publisher.

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The Kindness of Strangers by Katrina Kittle; published by HarperCollins, 2006

Concurrently, due to business issues, Katrina began searching for a new agent. Diana assisted by sending the Kindness manuscript to three different agents with a note that said, “This isn’t for our house, but I really love this book; this book needs a home”. All three showed interest and Katrina chose one. Her new agent placed Kindness with HarperCollins Publishers. Harper published The Kindness of Strangers in 2006 and it won the Great Lakes Book Award for Fiction.

Katrina struggled with her next book, The Blessings of the Animals, as deadlines approached. Her lengthy draft had too many plot lines. After reading the first 100 pages, her agent said, “The daughter’s story is very compelling and interesting, but she needs her own book”. In response, Katrina retained the daughter as a character, but streamlined the storyline by deleting a lot of her scenes and dialogue.

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The Blessings of the Animals by Katrina Kittle; published by HarperCollins, 2010

HarperCollins published The Blessings of the Animals in 2010.

When Katrina’s first two books went out of print, her agent helped her revert the rights into her own name. HarperCollins picked them up and rereleased them. Now Katrina’s four novels “look like they belong together”.

Katrina used the deleted material from Blessings to write Reasons to Be Happy. Sourcebooks published it as a Tween (Middle Grade) novel in 2011. When Katrina tried to follow it with a Young Adult book, she discovered the Young Adult market is quite competitive. “People think writing a children’s book will be easier, but it’s not”.

What else was Katrina doing during this period?

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The Miami Valley School

After the publication of Traveling Light, Katrina decided it was time to stop freelancing at a variety of jobs. Too often she overloaded herself with part-time work and didn’t have time to write. She needed one steady job to maintain her writing routine. Consequently, she returned to teaching, this time in middle school at The Miami Valley School, Dayton, Ohio. Since “they take it out of you while you’re here, but then none of it goes home with you”, the position was less demanding than teaching high school.

Concurrently, Katrina got her Masters in Fine Arts in Writing (MFA) from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky. Spalding offered a low residency program so she could teach fulltime. “I think it improved me as a writer; improved me as a teacher”. Subsequently, the MFA also enabled her to land adjunct teaching positions at Wright State University and Sinclair Community College in Dayton.

While Katrina was teaching, HarperCollins published Kindness of Strangers. Publication required promotional activities. At times “I’d be doing a radio show in a conference room at school and then, the minute it ends, I’m going back to my classroom where some other teacher was covering for me”.

What did Katrina do after she left teaching?

Katrina felt torn between the publishing obligations and her teaching responsibilities. “I was in danger of not doing either of these jobs very well”. In 2008 Katrina decided to take the risk of writing full-time. By then she was divorced and on her own, which gave her the freedom to experiment. “If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work and I’ll find some other job.”.

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Reasons to Be Happy by Katrina Kittle; published by Sourcebooks, 2011

Katrina traveled during her “Year of the Gypsy”, house sitting or pet sitting for friends around the country. During that year, she finished Blessings of the Animals and wrote Reasons to be Happy. At the end, she returned to Dayton and bought her house. Then things changed. “I got my first round of cancer”.

What was the impact of Katrina’s first bout with cancer?

Fighting breast cancer made writing fulltime difficult. Although Katrina had health insurance, her deductible quickly depleted her savings. In order to rebuild, she found a part-time job at the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, Dayton, Ohio, (MVFHC) writing inspection reports.

Katrina also began developing her own freelance gigs. She offered creative writing classes through Word’s Worth Writing Center, Dayton, Ohio. Positive feedback from her speech at LexisNexis in 2014, encouraged her to create her class, Leap and the Net Will Appear, which she presented in different venues around Dayton. An encore speech at LexisNexis in 2016 used material from Reasons to Be Happy. Subsequently, she created another class focused on happiness.

Once again, as Katrina expanded her freelance activities, she had less writing time.  By 2016 Katrina had rebuilt her savings and was “feeling a little spread too thin”. She left

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Miami Valley Fair Housing Center

MVFHC so she could “get back to the ideal writing day”. Then she learned the breast cancer was back.

What happened following Katrina’s second bout with cancer?

Again, cancer was expensive. As Katrina recovered from surgery, she worked to rebuild her savings. She taught creative writing for Word’s Worth, presented the Happy class around the region, and offered her Leap class to a variety of audiences.

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The University of Dayton

What’s next?

Recently Katrina decided the “constant hustle of self-employment” was exhausting and was diminishing her writing time. She will continue to offer select writing courses for Word’s Worth, including The Writer’s 12-step Program: Write Your Novel in a Year, which begins September 11, 2018. In Fall 2018, she will also join the University of Dayton English Department to teach creative writing. This will allow her to teach the subject she loves, interact with respected colleagues, and maintain a reliable writing schedule.

Katrina’s observations:

  • First, make the writing exist. Once you make it exist, then it’s much easier to make it better.
  • Big chunks of time aren’t going to magically appear. Just start putting words on the page.
  • Give yourself your best, most creative time. You’ll get the other stuff done regardless.
  • Garner experiences and connect with people. If you just sit in a room and write, eventually you will have nothing to write about.
  • Stay open to other means of income. It’s all material.
  • Writing is not the way to get rich or famous. If your goal is to be rich, there are better ways to do it that are faster. Very few creative writers make a living just writing.

“Lots has happened in my personal life since 2011. I got cancer twice; my mom got dementia; my sister and I were completely in charge of finding (my parents) a home, moving them, getting their house ready for sale and selling their house; and also, I combined my household with (my partner) Jason and sold my own house…I’m really proud of the fact that I continued writing during all of that”.

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Joey, Katrina’s cat, regularly oversees her writing

Books by Katrina Kittle:

  • Traveling Light, originally published by Warner Books, 2000
  • Two Truths and a Lie, originally published by Warner Books, 2001
  • Kindness of Strangers, published by HarperCollins, 2006
  • Blessings of the Animals, published by HarperCollins, 2010
  • Reasons to Be Happy, published by Sourcebooks, 2011