IN THE BEGINNING

I first came across author / pastor / mother / wife Katherine Willis Pershey on the Innocence Mission’s Facebook page at the end of February, shortly before my first of two Lenten essays about the band were published via IMAGE Journal‘s “Good Letters” blog. 

It’s hard not to notice someone who wears so many hats.

What really piqued my curiosity, however, was the fact that Katherine had named her book after one of my favorite Innocence Mission songs (“Beautiful Change”). I figured she was probably someone I needed to know.

I was right.

I have since read and reviewed her Chalice Press debut, Any Day a Beautiful Change, and received a live Innocence Mission bootleg from her via snail mail. It is exchanges like this that make social media irresistible for me.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Katherine, and I hope the resulting dialog will draw my readers (all seven of you) to her work. To buy the book, click on the Amazon link below the interview.

The Book Giveaway

Of course, I figure you are probably reading this because of the book giveaway mention. Chalice Press has been kind enough to offer an eBook to one commenter on this post. If you want to win Katherine’s beautiful book, comment on this post, and tell us why you think you should win the book. The person who makes the most compelling case, as judged by the author herself, will win the book. Entries will be accepted through July 1, 2012.

The Interview 

What was the genesis of Any Day a Beautiful Change? Was it your husband Ben telling you to “write about us,” as you mention early on in the book?

I wrote an essay for an anthology project that fell through. I loved the piece, and was sad that it didn’t have a home. I joked that I would just have to write the rest of the book. But when Chalice Press approached The Young Clergy Women Project with the idea of establishing an imprint and essentially asked for book proposals, I thought … why not? I originally conceived of the book as being almost entirely about motherhood and ministry, but marriage absolutely had to be part of it. I wouldn’t have written about us without Ben’s blessing.

What was the writing process like for the book? That is, when did you begin work on it, when did you finish your manuscript, and what kind of routine (if any) did you maintain as you worked on it?

Hmm. The details about this are a little fuzzy. I signed the contract in late 2009, and wrote most of the book in 2010. I submitted it in early 2011 and didn’t even open the manuscript file again until summertime, when the editorial process was ramping up. I did some rewriting while I was on maternity leave, and finished up final revisions earlier this year. Which is all to say this was a l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g process! I didn’t really have a routine; our life has been a moving target—we moved across the country in 2010, from California to Illinois—so I worked when and where I could.

You mention in Any Day a Beautiful Change that you wrote a manuscript-length volume of poetry. When do you plan to release this? Or is it more like my poetry in the sense that I have enough for a book, but I also happen to think I could fuel a pretty decent bonfire with it if only I chose (wisely, I might add) to burn it?

On a related note—since you write of Ben being a poet in the book—when will the world see a book of spontaneous poetry from Ben?

A few years ago I gleaned the better poems and have enough for a chapbook, which I occasionally dust up and send off to a small press. No takers yet. I wish Ben would start writing more; he’s truly a wonderful poet and I cherish everything he’s written.

Did you have to secure permission from the Innocence Mission in order to use the title? If so, what was that like?

I did. They were incredibly gracious. I sent them a copy of the book to thank them, and had to snap a photo of the package I was so giddy about it.

What does your writing work-space look/feel like? Can you provide pictures? Also, please also describe your ideal writing environment, including people, pets, beverages, foods, smells, etc. 

My favorite place to write is at the Collegeville Institute, which is on the campus of St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. I attended two weeklong workshops there during the time I was writing the book, and I can feel the difference in the writing that was done there. The Institute practices Benedictine hospitality; they make sure you have everything you need to just write, write, write. But I love my study at church, too. My window overlooks the courtyard, so sometimes I even see my daughter’s preschool class playing in the grass.

How have your former and current congregations reacted to your book?

I don’t know what my former congregation thinks; I hope they find that I honored their confidentiality and faithfully represented our time together. In my current congregation, I have heard especially great feedback from the mothers of young children. They love it. The recurring theme is gratitude that I had the courage to write about these things so honestly; this is so humbling.

Do you plan to write other books, or are you going to pull a Harper Lee on us and only kill one mockingbird? If you are going to write others, what kinds of works do you see yourself writing?

With two young children and significant responsibilities at church, I’m planning to focus on writing shorter pieces for publication for the next couple years. Perhaps when Genevieve begins school another book project will seem plausible. I do have a few ideas. And, though it seems a million times harder than nonfiction, I daydream about writing fiction.

Since your second child Genevieve is mentioned in the book, but not discussed in detail, I can only guess that she was still your “womb-mate” at the time of your manuscript’s submission. Care to talk about her now? How does she compare to Juliette? What makes her distinctly her?

She was with me for a large portion of the book writing. She’s a lovely baby, very mellow and sweet, but also a thrill-seeker—she loves to be tossed in the air! Neither of our children sleep well, but that’s the breaks.

(Editor’s Note: Doesn’t she mean “them’s the breaks”?)

What does a day in the life of a wife/mother/pastor/author look like? How do you have time to squeeze in serendipitous, beautiful changes into your days? 

Keep in mind that I am wildly imperfect at all of these things, and I live by grace. Ben stays home with the girls, which is wonderful and invaluable. Juliette goes to preschool at church, and we live less than half a mile away, so we’re basically popping back and forth throughout the day so I can feed the baby and such. I am completely dependent upon the Daily Docket, an organizing tool that Tsh Oxenreider shares on SimpleMom.net. And I am a wreck if I don’t get enough exercise, so I’m currently training for my first triathlon. As much as possible, I just try to pay attention to whatever I’m doing at the moment—and pay attention to the beautiful changes as they transpire.

Please. Tell a funny story about one or both of your children. Something that’s not in the book. Something exclusive. Something that will make my readers chortle. Because my readers have the unique ability to chortle. This is what makes them distinct from everyone else. 

This is not totally exclusive, as I did blog about this; I’m in danger of forgetting anything I don’t document. This was one of my all-time favorite Juliette moments—I could not stop laughing! After the worship service at a harvest festival, we were eating lunch with some of the folks from another church. Juliette says to the woman across from us, “I like your ‘hand toenails.'” Oh my goodness—I just started giggling again. The woman did have very pretty polish on her “hand toenails,” otherwise known as fingernails. I think I just pulled my spleen.

Thank you for your time, Katherine. To everyone else, enter the contest and/or buy her book!