Today, I have author Kathleen Kilgallon here to talk about her debut novel In Bloom, the story of a woman stuck in her unhappy past until an unexpected dinner invitation changes everything. Remember: read past the interview for my review of this touching and hilarious novel!
Author Kathleen Kilgallon
How did you come up with the idea for In Bloom? Is the story a complete invention or based on true experience?
For a long time I had this character in my head of a lonely, depressed forty-something lady. I started writing the story back in 2004, but my computer crashed and my beloved story was lost. I was completely heart broken and abandoned the whole idea. A few years back, the characters started speaking to me again, and I knew it was time to tell their story. As I wrote, idea after idea came into my head, and the story took on a life of its own. Writing it was a joy and it was great fun to create some over the top characters.
So to answer your question, yes, the story was a complete invention, but I took elements of my own life and incorporated it in to the story. I know what it’s like to experience deep pain and was able to transfer the pain onto the pages. I know what it’s like to experience overwhelming sorrow, to have a heart already burdened with pain, like Kindra, who asks, “Where to put that pain in a heart that’s already overwhelmed with sorrow?”
Your characters are all complicated people dealing with serious personal issues. Kindra suffers profound grief over the loss of her sister. Tommy lives with a permanent disability. And Tiana deals with the challenges faced by all GLBT Americans. These characters are all thrown together in a novel and end up changing each other’s lives. But who came first? And how did their differing situations evolve for you as you wrote?
Kindra came first as I stated in the previous question, and then came Tommy. When I first wrote the story, Tommy was much more mild mannered and so was his mother, but when I started it again, I just let loose with them. I figured if he was going to be a pissed-off-at- the-world wheelchair-bound man, he better act like it. As far as their differing situations, they just evolved naturally as the story progressed. I needed a strong character like Tiana to pull Kindra out of herself. Why I chose a masculine lesbian, I have no idea. She just came to me. And I loved her. Everybody needs a best friend like Tiana. She and Tommy’s mother have no filters; they say whatever comes into their heads, and it was a blast to write their dialogue.
For all the serious situations it deals with, In Bloom is a funny, funny book. Was the humor planned? A way to balance all of the drama? Or are you just a funny person?
Thank you for saying In Bloom is a funny book. I was hoping people would find it humorous. I laughed as I wrote it, even when I had to reread it as part of the editing process. But you never know if other people will get your humor.
Yes, I did use the humor as a way to balance the intensity of the story. It would be heavy reading without it. And, yeah, I think I’m a pretty funny person but I tend to be reserved when I first meet people. It’s not until I feel comfortable with them, do I let my zany side out, but it came out very naturally and easily as I wrote In Bloom.
Tommy Shannon’s mother in particular is just hysterical…Her bad brogue and worse language…is she based on anyone you know? She reminds me of Mrs. Doyle, a character in a fabulous British Comedy Father Ted. In fact, that’s how I pictured her as I read. How did you come up with Mrs. Shannon?
I really don’t know. As I wrote, the character just developed. I had no real plan to make her like that. But as I continued writing, she just evolved into this wacky character. I had the best time writing the dialogue between Tommy and his mother. It was so liberating to create these characters that were so out-of-the-box, shall we say.
Kindra had a rough childhood. She dealt with her pain and anxiety by cutting herself. Why did you choose this coping mechanism for her?
I chose it because, as a teenager, I used to cut and, like Kindra, I still have the faint scars on my wrist. I know what it feels like to be so overwhelmed with pain and anxiety, and the relief that comes with cutting. Like I say in the book during that scene, all that pain is given an avenue of escape from the body. I also know the guilt that comes with it, the shame and also feeling like a freak.
What are your future writing plans? Are you working on anything at the moment?
I plan on writing a sequel to In Bloom, tentatively calling it Planted, because this time the characters are more grounded in their lives. Tommy and Kindra are married now, and so is Rosemary, Tommy’s mother. So they are at a different stage in their lives. They’ve grown. They’ve wrestled their demons, and now it’s time for something new. They’ll still be the same wacky characters, though. Mrs. Shannon and Tiana will still be my no-filter queens. Tommy and his mother will still have their peculiar and humorous relationship, but there will be new surprises as my characters grow and develop.
I haven’t physically started writing the book yet but I certainly have in my head. I have all kinds of ideas flowing, and I can’t wait to actually sit down and let the story tell itself to me. That’s what it’s like when I write. The story tells itself to me, and I just simply put it on paper.
Keep reading for my review of In Bloom:
My copy of IN BLOOM
A woman who has spent her life emotionally cut off from those around her makes an unexpected friend and begins to venture out of her shell.
Kindra is in charge of a library in a small Massachusetts town. She lives a small, self-contained life with few friends and no real interests outside of her work. Even her apartment is small and shoddy. Kindra has no illusions about her situation, but she’s unable to rouse herself enough to do anything about it. Raised by her angry, widowed father, she’s trapped by memories of her childhood and the early death of her younger sister. Kindra feels responsible for Muriel’s drug overdose, which happened a few years after Kindra convinced her to have an abortion.
Two unrelated events change everything for Kindra. A woman approaches her at the library and convinces her to come to dinner. Rosemary Shannon has a wheelchair-bound son about Kindra’s age. He needs a social life. Tommy Shannon is a bitter, foul-mouthed ex-skier. He’s not interested in socializing with anyone other that the women on his porn websites. Needless to say, the dinner doesn’t go exactly as planned. Around the same time, a new neighbor moves into the apartment below Kindra. Tiana is a self-described dyke who pretty much forces her friendship on Kindra. Through these new relationships, Kindra is dragged out into the world and begins to deal with her traumatic past.
IN BLOOM is a funny, funny book. Rosemary Shannon’s fake Irish brogue and foul mouth had me rolling. All of the characters are engaging and full of life. Even Kindra, when she lets herself go, has a wry, amusing way of looking at the world. Of course, the humor balances the book’s darker themes. Each of the three main characters is hobbled in some way. Kindra by her past. Tommy by his accident. Tiana by her sexuality. Thrown together, they test and needle one another, forcing each other into…bloom.
The only issue I had with IN BLOOM was the pacing of the romance between Kindra and Tommy. There’s so much chemistry at their initial meeting…crazy, unusual chemistry, sure…but it’s there. But then the author suspends contact between the two characters for almost the entire book, as each deals with the personal changes ignited by their meeting. I get what the author was trying to do–Kindra and Tommy are dealing with big transformations–but the long separation makes their manner of coming back together seem a little abrupt and forced.
Even with the narrative bumps, though, IN BLOOM is a warm, funny book about sad people who decide to take a chance on life and love.