Kathy Leonard Czepiel is the author of A Violet Season, a historical novel set on a Hudson Valley violet farm on the eve of the twentieth century.
She is the recipient of a 2012 creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals including Cimarron Review, Indiana Review, CALYX, Confrontation, and The Pinch. Czepiel teaches in the First-Year Writing Program at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, where she lives with her husband and their two daughters.
Come and hear her talk about the history of the violet industry and listen to excerpts from her novel at New Haven’s Mitchell Library in Westville on Monday, October 29th at 6:30 p.m.
Tell us about your new book.
A Violet Season is set on a Hudson Valley violet farm operated by three brothers at the turn of the twentieth century. Ida Fletcher, who is married to the black sheep youngest brother, has taken up wet nursing to help pay the bills, and her teenage daughter, Alice, has been forced to leave school for work. The novel tells the story of the increasingly great sacrifices that Ida and Alice make for their family’s survival, and the way those sacrifices unintentionally set them against one another and affect the rest of their lives. I wrote the novel in part because I grew up in the mid-Hudson Valley, which was once known as “The Violet Capital of the World,” though there is little remaining evidence of that industry today. I wanted to bring that piece of my hometown’s history back to life. But the story is also about women’s lives at the turn of the century, their relationships with men, their work, and the start of their journey toward more independence.
If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to do?
I’m also a teacher, and I love teaching. For the past nine years I’ve taught in the First-Year Writing Program at Quinnipiac University. I don’t have aspirations of becoming a full-time writer because I think I would get really bored and lonely working independently at home all of the time. But if I weren’t a writer and a teacher, and if I were talented enough, and if such a thing still existed, I would play cello or French horn in the pit orchestra of a Broadway show. Or I might be a landscape designer and work outdoors all of the time, except in the dead of winter, when I would go cross-country skiing and read lots of books.
What’s your favorite, and least favorite, part of the writing process? One writer describes the “sticky phase,” when everything you see and hear seems destined to slip into your novel somehow. Does that happen to you? Do you love the first draft, or prefer the last revision?
My favorite part is the inbetween, which is where I am right now with my second novel. No one has imposed a deadline on me yet, but I have a full draft, so I have something to work with. I’m rocking back and forth between research and writing, so there’s some variety, and the work isn’t linear. I can dip into any part of the manuscript and work on it, now that I can see the big picture. I find first drafts terrifying because it’s just me and a blank page, and what comes out on that page is mostly garbage, and I know I just have to keep going to make something. Final revisions are kind of a drag, the point at which I’m studying every single conjunction and semicolon.
Do you procrastinate? What’s your favorite mode of procrastination when you’re supposed to be writing?
Making a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie. My husband often mixes a big batch of cookie dough and leaves it in the fridge—very dangerous.
What about being a writer has made you truly happy?
I’m so lucky to be living my childhood dreams. So many of us leave those behind, and for a long time I did, too. When I think of my ten-year-old self writing stories after school and submitting them to Cricket magazine and telling people she wanted to be a writer when she grew up, I’m really happy because I’ve made that kid’s dreams come true!
How do you get yourself to write when you don’t feel inspired? Is there anything that can bring that mood, or voice, back to you?
I treat writing like a job, because it is. There are days when it feels a lot like work. When you have a “real” job, with a boss and colleagues and a location not inside your house, you might wake up in the morning and say, “I just don’t feel inspired to work today,” but you get up and go to work anyway. Writing is no different.
What do you tell people who want to be writers, too?
That depends on what kind of writer they want to be. Lots of people are happy writing for themselves, or for their close friends and family. To them, I say: do it! Maybe take a class which will teach you to do it a little better. And don’t let anyone else tell you what you should be writing; write what you feel strongly about.
To the people who have aspirations of wider publication, my advice would be a bit different. Those writers have to take classes—lots of them, whether in a school setting or in professional conferences and workshops. They can’t compete in the marketplace without treating their craft seriously, as something that must be learned and practiced. And then, they must be extremely persistent. They must keep showing up, keep studying and reading and writing and sending their work out there despite all the rejection and discouragement. There’s no denying that luck also plays a role in becoming a published writer, but the persistent writers will be there when luck turns up.