You know we like to support debut novelists here at Writer Unboxed. Today I’d like to introduce you to Kristin Bair O’Keeffe, whose debut novel, Thirsty, releases tomorrow. Kristin wrote a short essay for WU, detailing her inspiration behind the novel and giving us a teasing glimpse into the world of this book. Enjoy!
Thirsty: The Inspiration
About a week ago, I held a copy of my debut novel Thirsty in my hands for the first time.
“Whoo-ee!” I yelped, jumping up and down and at the same time, getting very still and quiet inside. Happiness, gratitude, and a big, fat sense of accomplishment all burbled and bubbled and blended into one precise moment of joy. I’d been working toward this moment—this exact moment of holding my own book in my hands—since I was eight years old.
Once I bounced back down to earth, I started thinking about inspiration and about what had led me to write Thirsty. Two things popped into mind: place and courage.
First, as a writer, place is one of those things that stirs my heart and gets my pen moving. Whether I connect with a town, a patch of dirt, or a country as big as China, I connect deeply, and inevitably that place works its way into my writing. As a kid, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house in Clairton, Pennsylvania—one of Pittsburgh’s most dynamic steel towns back when Pittsburgh was the steel-making capital of the world. My sisters and I played Blind Man’s Bluff in the shadows of the smokestacks and watched barges pull steel down the mighty Monongahela River. From an early age, I was hooked.
Of course, once I got into the research for Thirsty, I became interested in Pittsburgh steel towns way back in the 1800s, and once I decided to set the story in that time period, it didn’t take long for the town of Thirsty to take shape both in my mind’s eye and on the page. Pretty soon thereafter, Klara Bozic showed up in the story. She was a vulnerable young woman in Croatia who, like many of us at that age, was full of girlish dreams. But as it tends to do, life takes Klara down a different path than she imagined, and by the time she is seventeen, she is married to an angry, abusive man and is living as an immigrant far from home in Thirsty, Pennsylvania.
As I worked on the novel, I realized pretty quickly that the question—the BIG question— for which I was seeking an answer was “Does Klara have the courage to change her path in life?” She is caught, like many women in our world today, in a generational cycle of domestic violence. Her mother was abused; her daughter becomes promiscuous and then marries an abusive man; and she’s watching her two granddaughters grow up, wondering how long it will be before it is their turn. Klara doesn’t have many resources to turn to, but she does have friends, including Katherine Zupanovic who isn’t afraid of anything, even Klara’s husband.
As a woman who experienced domestic violence while growing up, the question of courage was an important one for me to grapple with. It demanded great tenderness and patience, and for a long time, I didn’t know the answer. I wrote a couple of different endings to the story as I got to know Klara, letting her take the lead. After a number of dry runs, I’m happy to say, I figured it out. (But you’ll have to read to discover how things turn out for the leading lady.)
Readers, you can learn more about Thirsty at the Thirsty website HERE.
Write on, all!