Kristin Bair O’Keeffe grew up in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania. Her maternal grandfather, a Croatian immigrant, worked as a steelworker in U.S. Steel’s Clairton Works all his life. Nearly every weekend as a kid, Kristin visited her grandparents’ home in Clairton on a bluff overlooking the Monongahela River. As she played tag with her sisters, the smokestacks filled the sky with their gaseous utterances and the barges toted their haul down the river.
Kristin’s articles and essays have been published in Poets & Writers Magazine, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Baltimore Review, San Diego Family Magazine, The Gettysburg Review, and elsewhere. Her column—The Fiction Writing Workshop—appears monthly in the popular ezine Writers on the Rise. In 2008, her work was translated into Chinese and published in China’s most popular weekly news magazine, Oriental Outlook Weekly, and she is featured in the Bylines 2009 Writers’ Desk Calendar.
With a B.A. in English and journalism from Indiana University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago, Kristin has always combined her love of writing with teaching. She is a passionate writing instructor with fifteen years of workshop experience at U.S. colleges and universities, including Boston College, Endicott College, Montserrat College of Art, University of New Hampshire, and Columbia College Chicago.
Kristin lives in Shanghai, China, with her husband and daughter where she writes, teaches fiction and nonfiction writing, blogs about her adventures (and misadventures) around the world, and curates Out Loud! The Shanghai Writers Literary Salon. She heads home to Pittsburgh at least once a year to visit family and eat a few hoagies from Danny’s Pizza. Thirsty: a novel
Find out more about Kristin by visiting her websites:Book website: www.thirstythenovel.com
Kristin's blog, My Beautiful, Far-Flung Life: www.kristinbairokeeffeblog.com
Author website: www.kristinbairokeeffe.com
By Kristin Bair O'Keeffe
It is 1883, and all of Klara Bozic’s girlish dreams have come crashing down as she arrives in Thirsty, a gritty steel town carved into the slopes above the Monongahela River just outside of Pittsburgh. She has made a heartbreaking discovery. Her new husband, Drago, is as abusive as the father she left behind in Croatia.
In Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s debut novel, Klara’s life unfolds over forty years as she struggles to find her place in a new country where her survival depends on the friends who nurture her: gutsy, funny Katherine Zupanovic, who isn’t afraid of Drago’s fist; BenJo, the only black man in Thirsty to have his own shop; and strangely enough, Old Man Rupert, the town drunk.
Thirsty follows a chain of unlikely events that keep Klara’s spirit aloft: a flock of angelic butterflies descends on Thirsty; Klara gives birth to her first child in Old Man Rupert’s pumpkin patch; and BenJo gives her a talking bird. When Klara’s daughter marries a man even more brutal than Drago, Klara is forced to act. If she doesn’t finally break the cycle of violence in her family, her granddaughters will one day walk the same road, broken and bruised. As the threads that hold her family together fray and come undone, Klara must decide whether she has the courage to carve out a peaceful spot in the world for herself and her girls.
Published by Swallow Press (Oct. 2009)
Hardcover: 208 pages
ISBN: 0804011230Book Giveaway Comments Contest!
If you received our Events Newsletter, remember, we are holding a contest to win a copy of Kristin's novel, Thirsty
, to those that comment. So, grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, and enjoy the chat, and share your thoughts, and comments, at the end. We will randomly choose a winner from those who comment. Enjoy!
Interview by Jodi Webb
WOW: Kristin, I'm fascinated by the logistics of your writing career. You're the author of a book about turn of the century America but you live in China. I have so many questions about the challenges that presents. First, let's start with research. I think of Thirsty as a story about relationships, families and strength but it does take place at the turn of the century so you do have to include historical details about the time and place. I know you aren't a historian who specialized in the Pittsburgh steel industry. So you must have done some research to get the details right...so how did you do research from China?Kristin:
Actually, I wrote Thirsty in the 1990s, long before I even thought about moving to China. I wrote the first full draft during graduate school at Columbia College Chicago, and although I am definitely not a historian or a steel-making specialist, it was very important that I get the details right (fingers crossed). I did a heck of a lot of research at the Harold Washington Library Center on State Street in downtown Chicago…cool gargoyles on the building, wonderful collections, helpful librarians, close proximity to the Ravenswood El, an amazing peach-blueberry muffin around the corner…you know, all the important things.WOW: Well, Chicago isn't quite China! But you did still have the challenge of long distance research. Any advice on what sources gave you the most valuable information?Kristin:
Yes, being far from sources makes doing research more challenging, but there’s always a way. The Internet is a great place to start. After that, I love reading old newspapers…they are a great way to glean information and juicy stories. You can find out who was cooking what, who died at what age, cool names, strange happenings, etc.WOW: Tell us where research fit into your book. Did you come up with the idea/outline then do research, did you research first, did you do most of your writing first and then go back and check the accuracy of historical details later?Kristin:
I’m not an outliner. Back in high school and college when I had to follow a teacher’s instructions while developing a project, I would work myself into a wild frenzy when asked to write an outline (hair standing on end, frantic pacing, not a single word on a page until the very last moment, even a bit of frothing at the mouth). I’m a much more organic writer; I follow the story wherever it takes me. With Thirsty
, I’d write, write, write, then rewrite once I completed the necessary research (and then rewrite and rewrite and rewrite).WOW: Thanks for that vivid crazy author picture! Now I know it isn't just me. Many writers (OK, we're talking about me here) use research as an excuse to avoid writing. Any advice on how to avoid the black hole called research and just get on with the writing?Kristin:
I have two responses to research, depending on where I am in a project:
a. I love it. I get sucked in as one discovery (such as open-hearth furnaces in the steel-making process) leads to another fascinating discovery.
b. I get annoyed. (This usually happens when the story is flowing. I don’t want to pause to verify a detail or track down a date.)
I’m a pretty disciplined writer (some say anal retentive, but I prefer the term disciplined) so I don’t ever have a problem ordering myself away from the research and back to the writing. If you do, give yourself a deadline. Set a time limit for research (one hour) and a word count for the day (1,500 words). Then stick to them. (Or call me…I’m pretty good at moving writers forward in their work.)WOW: How does living in China affect your ability to get feedback on your writing?Kristin:
Since I wrote the first full draft of Thirsty
during grad school, I had a built-in critique group. My fellow MFA students at Columbia were terrific (and tough) when it came to critiquing the manuscript. After I graduated in 1996, I worked on Thirsty
for a few more years. I spent a good bit of time during these years on a 600,000-acre ranch in New Mexico, and since I saw more bears and elk than people, I didn’t have many readers. This was good for me; I learned a lot about editing my own work (a necessary lesson).
Even though I now live halfway around the world in Shanghai, China, I work hard to nurture a strong writing network—for feedback on my writing, as well as for marketing efforts. I have a great group of writers here that I depend on, but I’ve also built a small shrine in my office to the great god commonly known as THE INTERNET; I pray daily and give thanks for Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, blogs, and amazon.com. There are so many ways to connect with other writers today that living in the boondocks is not as isolating as it once was. You can join writing groups, take online classes, read reviews, chat live, and more. Thank goodness (now off to my shrine).WOW: Tell us how you came to sign with your publisher Swallow Press.Kristin:
I did not have an agent when I made the deal with Swallow Press. (Ironically I got an agent within weeks of the deal for another project I’m working on.) For the publication of Thirsty
, I owe a big thanks to my good friend and writing colleague Christina Katz (a.k.a. the Writer Mama). She has been one of Thirsty’s
greatest supporters since we were in grad school together at Columbia. (She was also one of Thirsty’s
In early 2008, Christina was at a writers’ conference in the U.S. As always, she was talking up Thirsty
to fiction folks, and the timing was right. Someone said, “Ooh, Kristin should send the manuscript to Swallow Press. Sounds like a good fit.” I did. And voilà! It was a perfect fit.WOW: Note to self: Convince all my writer friends to talk up my novel at the next writer's conference! Well, obviously you couldn't be at that writer's conference in person. What about marketing? Did anyone express doubts that you could participate in Thirsty's marketing campaign "in person"? How did you convince them that distance wouldn't be an issue?Kristin:
As we moved closer to the publication date (October 1), my publisher and my publicists often asked, “Are you really coming home for the launch? Do you have your flight scheduled? When will you arrive? How long will you be in the United States?” In response, I said, “Yes,” then I did what I always do: worked my arse off. It became clear very quickly that I was willing to do whatever it took to get Thirsty
noticed and read.WOW: They just have been nervous wrecks! And thrilled to death when you stepped off that plane! What types of publicity did you do on your recent U.S. visit?Kristin:
I flew home to the U.S. in late September for the launch of Thirsty
. (October 1 was the official release date.) And from the time the airplane touched down, I was the (very exhausted, but very happy) marketing maven. I did an author’s feast at the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association convention in Cleveland, a flurry of radio interviews, a webcast interview with the books editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
, and a bunch more things that have become a blur. I also read and signed books at a number of bookstores in Pittsburgh, Massachusetts, and Maine, went back to my high school to yak with students in the creative writing classes, and talked to anyone anywhere who looked like they might be a reader. (I was the one in the international terminal at the airport calling, “Hey, hey, you! Yes, you! Do you read? Have you seen my debut novel Thirsty
?”)WOW: I can see the headlines: "Debut Author Jailed for Accosting Travelers." What about local publicity? Did you do any marketing events in China or is your publicity focused solely in the U.S.?Kristin:
We have a terrific reading/writing community in Shanghai, and folks are very supportive of fellow expats. So, yes, now that I’m back in China, I’ll be doing as many Thirsty
events in Asia as possible. Right now I’m scheduled to speak to a handful of reading groups and give a talk at the most amazing Shanghai International Literary Festival (March 2010). More to come!WOW: Have you done any interviews or appearances from China for U.S. audiences that involved you getting up at 3 am? While we're on that, what is the time difference between China and the setting of your book Pittsburgh?Kristin:
Right now there is a 13-hour time difference between Shanghai and the east coast in the United States. (Your 8:00 a.m. is my 9:00 p.m.) During the months before Thirsty
was published, I stayed up until all hours of the night talking to my publicists and to events coordinators at bookstores. To keep myself alert and peppy before a 1:00 a.m. call (which was noon back in the U.S.), I’d hop up and down just before dialing and bite a slice of lemon. Most nights, it worked.WOW: Actually, double wow! With that in mind I'd like to point out that when readers comment at a blog during one of your visits to check for your replies the next day. Remember, not only is this lady a budding author but she also has a little girl who can't have her mama up every night eating lemons at 1 a.m.! So be patient readers, Kristin is worth the wait.How does your blog My Beautiful, Far-Flung Life fit into things? Did it start as a personal blog or as a platform for your novel?Kristin:
Writing and life are one for me. I don’t know how to write about writing without writing about my life. At “My Beautiful, Far-Flung Life,” I talk about everything: being a mom, being an adoptive mom, how to market a novel from halfway around the world, life with an Irishman, writing process, bizarre things that happen to me in Shanghai (of which there are many), etc.WOW: When and why did you become involved with Writers on the Rise?Kristin:
I’ve been writing for Writers on the Rise (WOTR) since the beginning (which, I believe, was 2006). As I mentioned, publisher Christina Katz is a longtime friend and writing colleague. When she started up WOTR, she said something along the lines of, “Okay, so what is your column going to be about?” Right now, it’s about writing fiction. I’ve also written about writing essays. Stay tuned to find out what next year will bring.WOW: Speaking of next year…what's coming up?Kristin:
I’ve got two big projects on my plate right now:
a. a memoir about falling in love with an Irishman, marrying him (um, rather quickly), moving to China, and becoming a mom
b. a second novel...which interestingly enough is very different than Thirsty
…that’s all I can say for now
Check into My Beautiful, Far-Flung Life
to find out more.WOW: We certainly will! Thanks, Kristin, for taking time to chat with us today. It's been such a pleasure!
Want to join Kristin on her blog tour? Check out these dates and mark your calendar! You can also snag a copy of WOW's Events Calendar HERE
.Blog Tour Dates: Come and join the fun!November 2, 2009 Monday
Kristin will be chatting with WOW!
Women On Writing at The Muffin. Stop by and share your comments! One lucky commenter will win copy of Kristin's novel!http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/blog.htmlNovember 10, 2009 Tuesday
Stop by Beth Morrissey’s blog, Hell Or High Water, to learn why novelist Kristin Bair O’Keeffe is a “writerhead” and find out if you’re one too!
November 11, 2009 Wednesday
What does an American expat in China do with her spare time? She writes a novel that takes place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania! Stop by WordHustler's blog today to learn more about novelist Kristin Bair O'Keeffe in a fabulous interview conducted by Anne Walls.
http://wordhustlerink.wordhustler.com/November 13, 2009 Friday
Novelist Kristin Bair O'Keeffe shares the Five Novels that Changed Her Life. Which have changed yours? Stop by Joanne DeMaio's blog, Whole Latte Life, and join in on the inspiring conversation.
http://joannedemaio.blogspot.com/November 16, 2009 Monday
Stop by Readaholic today and visit with Kristin and find out more about her novel, Thirsty.
http://bridget3420.blogspot.comNovember 18, 2009 Wednesday
Don't miss this visit from Kristin Bair O'Keeffe, novelist and expat, at Merl Evan's blog. Comment for a chance to win a copy of Kristin's novel Thirsty!
November 20, 2009 Friday
Talk about tough acts! Kristin shares her experiences marketing her first novel--from China!
http://bleedingespresso.comDecember 1, 2009 Tuesday
Mary Jo Campbell has been waiting months for Kristin to finish her novel Thirsty! Stop by Writers Inspired today for a great interview and join in on the conversation!
http://writerinspired.wordpress.com/December 3, 2009 Thursday
Today's post is coming all the way from China where novelist Kristin Bair O'Keeffe lives! Learn more about Thirsty and enter to win a free copy.
http://www.featuredposts.blogalogues.comDecember 7, 2009 Monday
Stop by Ramblings of a Texas Housewife today for an interview with author Kristin Bair O'Keeffe!
http://www.texashousewife.comDecember 10, 2009 Thursday
Today, Kristin will be on Beth Fish's Literary Road Trip that spotlights PA authors. Kristin will reveal how she created the memorable Pennsylvania setting in her novel Thirsty while living half way around the world in China. Not to miss!
http://bfishreads.blogspot.com/ We may have many more dates to come, so be sure to check out our Events Calendar HERE.Get involved!
We hope you are as excited about the tour as we are! Mark your calendar, save these dates, and join us for this truly unique and fascinating author blog tour.
If you have a blog or website and would like to host one of our touring authors, or schedule a tour of your own, please email Angela and Jodi at: firstname.lastname@example.org
** Please feel free to copy any portion of this post.Be sure to comment on this post to enter in a drawing
for a copy of Kristin's novel, Thirsty
. And check back in a couple of days in the comments section to see if you won!