This is an interview with Geauga County author Catherine Pomeroy, whose first novel, The Gulch Jumpers, was recently published by S & H Publishing, Inc. Catherine will be selling and signing books at Indie Author Day at our Chardon Branch on Sat., Oct. 13, 1 – 3 p.m. Also, look for a writing program from her at our Chardon Branch this winter/spring!
Geauga County Public Library: Tell us a little bit about your background as a writer. When did you start writing? Which writers have influenced you?
Catherine Pomeroy: I grew up in a household filled with books and have always been surrounded by books, so I think becoming a writer was a natural progression. My mother loved going to the library and typically would have 60-80 books checked out at any given time (this is not an exaggeration!) Mom volunteered delivering library books to shut-in elderly readers, and I often tagged along. In high school I worked part-time at our local library, and snuck in a fair amount of reading in between shelving. The gift of unstructured time, lazy summers and an idyllic childhood set the stage to experiment with essays and short stories. I realize now how the absence of electronic devices, social media, cable TV and the internet made reading and writing more of a likely pastime. Sometimes boredom and a slower pace gives us just the space we need to create.
As an attorney, I write legal briefs and pleadings every day, often under tremendous time pressure. This is a more technical and concrete form of writing. Getting back to creating fiction required jump-starting my rusty imagination, which honestly, has felt good. I love a good story that is well-told, and appreciate fiction and non-fiction that touch on issues of social justice. I also love a little humor. Some of my favorite writers include Philip Roth, Charles Frazier, Homer Hickam, Jr., Toni Morrison, Dave Eggers, Liane Moriarty, and Maeve Binchy.
GCPL: How did you conceive of The Gulch Jumpers? How long did it take you to write the book?
CP: I had an opportunity to tour a homeless shelter in 2013 and was intrigued with how donations were unloaded, cleaned with handheld laundry steamers and arranged in the shelter “shop” where residents could browse with dignity. What if something unusual got accidentally mixed in with the donated clothing, say, a box of poetry? What if that poetry was really song lyrics? And what if the elderly homeless resident working in the shop that day was the very person who penned those song lyrics fifty years ago? Once the reader gets past this little suspension of disbelief plot point, I tried to tap the comradery of musicians and bandmates (my favorite line from The Blues Brothers: “We’re getting the band back together!”) with the mystique of the all-American road trip story.
I drew upon my family heritage in the Appalachian regions of southern Ohio, listened to lots of bluegrass music and traveled while writing the story. I love music, play the violin with a local orchestra, and come from a musical family, so weaving in the musical references and writing the song lyrics that appear in the book was fun. I also drew upon my experiences as a child welfare attorney to tackle the complexity and heartbreak of opiate addiction and incorporate legal issues such as adoption law.
I wrote while sitting on the beaches of North Carolina and along beautiful Black Lake in northern Michigan. I wrote on airplanes. I got up at 5 AM and wrote before going to work. I wrote on the weekends. The first draft took eleven months to complete.
GCPL: Can you give us a brief description of the book?
CP: The Gulch Jumpers is the tale of an unlikely friendship, an unusual road trip, and the quest for a musical miracle.
In the mid-1960’s, West Virginia bluegrass trio The Gulch Jumpers was on the verge of musical success, when tragedy struck. Fifty years later, surviving bandmate Ray Jones is broken and homeless. All that changes when Ellie Sanders, attorney at law, discovers a battered box of song lyrics in the back of her bedroom closet that leads her to Ray. As Ellie and Ray strike up a friendship, Ellie is shocked to discover her old college party buddy Brandy is staying at the same shelter but has slipped into heroin addiction. When Ray asks Ellie for help, the friends head south on a desperate search. As the three travel from Cleveland into West Virginia, and then Tennessee, they encounter memorable characters (Dottie, Wrong Sally, Alligator Joe) and Canterbury-Tale-like moral vignettes infused with bluegrass, blues and roots music which work their magic to lead each character to transformation. Racial prejudice, legal hurdles, grief over lost children and drug addiction converge as Ellie, Ray and Brandy discover the power of music, friendship and hope.
GCPL: How did you get published? What was that process like?
CP: I think getting published is a combination of tenaciousness and luck, fueled by illusions (delusions?) of grandeur. When I completed the first draft I hired an editor to work on the manuscript and started querying literary agents. All these attempts were met with rejections. I attended writing conferences and someone suggested I try approaching smaller publishers directly. An indie publisher in Virginia specializing in women’s fiction showed interest, and actually assigned editors to work with me on the manuscript even before we were under contract. Signing the contract, getting my first glimpse of the cover design, then finally holding my first book in hand has been an overwhelmingly emotional, indescribable experience. Even better has been connecting with readers who are enjoying reading The Gulch Jumpers.
GCPL: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
CP: One thing I intentionally did, from the moment I had the idea for the book, was to tell friends, family and acquaintances that I was writing a book. Writing is a solitary pursuit. It’s easy to get discouraged. Other people asking how your book is progressing gives you accountability. (ed. Or join the Club Ink Writing Workshop 🙂
GCPL: What are you working on now?
CP: I’m about 28,000 words deep in my second novel. It’s about a single mother in the 1970’s trying to juggle raising two teenage sons and withstand the scrutiny of her small town after her oldest son, joyriding in a friend’s truck, accidentally hits and kills the mayor’s husband. Of course, things will not be as they seem. The story explores the juvenile delinquency system, whether a minor is tried as a juvenile or an adult, mental health struggles, and how far people will go to protect the ones they love. I’m also working in a bicycling plot-subline, inspired by my own cycling adventures.
Book currently on Catherine’s nightstand: Rabbit, Run, by John Updike. She recently finished Line by Line by local author Barbara Hacha, and also enjoyed Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. In the queue to read next is Run Hide Repeat by Pauline Dakin and Unless by Carol Shields.