During an interview for FINDING KATE, I was asked whether I felt a kinship with Kate. Had I drawn on my own experience in writing the novel?
That’s a tough question for me to answer. In some ways, I struggled with writing Kate, and even with understanding her, because we are so different. Yet, in a very profound way, we started from the same place.
Before I started writing the book, I had to face the essential question: why is Kate a shrew? My answer was simple: she was made to be one.
I completely relate to Kate’s problem at the opening of the play and the book. Kate — Kathryn at the beginning — is intelligent and educated and surrounded by people who just don’t get it. They don’t get her. She gets excited about books. She gets excited about the world. She wants to know more, more, more, always more.
The people around her think she’s crazy. Why would you work so hard if you didn’t have to? Why study? Why not focus on clothes or riches or who’s in love with whom?
Sounds like my school, from first grade on up. There were so few kids like me — thank goodness there were a few — who were bright and curious and wanted to study uncool things like astronomy or genetics or history or literature or computers… Remember, this was before technology took over our lives; before Gates and Jobs became heroes and it became cool to be a geek. Like Kate, we were teased and ridiculed and ostracized. Like Kate, we were called names.
I know I couldn’t wait to go to college and finally — hopefully — meet more people like myself. I did, and I got my happily ever after. Kate didn’t have that option. In her world, marriage was the only way out. That’s why, when Sir William says that he’s the only husband for her, he really does mean it. He knows she cannot survive — she will not survive — in her father’s house, or married to some dunderhead like Master Horton or Master Greenwood.
To my mind, there are only two responses to that kind of awful treatment when you’re young. Either you go quiet — you learn to hide who you are, to not talk too much about the Shakespeare or Tolkien you’re reading or the books you’re writing in the hope of getting published someday — or you refuse to take it. You stand up for yourself. You give ’em hell while they shower you with epithets and you build up walls and tell yourself you don’t care.
Kate went one way. I went the other way. We met in FINDING KATE.
This led to some interesting problems when I was writing. There we were, on the opposite sides of this chasm: Kate outspoken and argumentative, very sure of herself and how RIGHT she is all the time, even when she’s wrong; me, hating confrontation and arguments (odd, I know, for a former attorney), and always a little unsure of myself, even when I am right. So when Kate would get all wound up, I struggled to write her, even more because I was writing in her voice. My reaction to conflict in the story was to pacify, to resolve, to mediate; Kate’s response was always to escalate, to conflagrate, to accelerate.
We were frequently at cross-purposes, Kate and I.
An example of this is when I was writing a scene between Kate and Will where Kate is justifiably angry and upset, and she’s letting Will have it. Will is taking it like a gentleman but he’s also trying to soothe her, attempting to explain where she might, perhaps, be mistaken in some of the conclusions she has drawn that have led to her anger. In other words, he’s trying to be calm and rational. He’s speaking, in this scene, with my voice.
And, naturally, I agree with myself. So when he says something sensible, my fingers type Kate’s response in words like, “Yes, I suppose you’re right,” and the conflict begins to die down. I relax and smile and feel good about how I’ve worked this out for them. Yay, me!
But, no, wait, that’s not what should happen! Kate wouldn’t just accept what he says. *slams hard on the backspace key* Kate challenges him, Kate refuses to listen, Kate throws his words back in his face.
And so it went. Kate and me, fighting in first person every step of the way.
Who knew an author would literally fight with her main character? I had never imagined such a thing until I lived through it.