Wednesday, November 28, 2012

#BookChat The Last Letter by Kathleen Shoop

She wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t found the letter... 

Katherine Arthur's dying mother arrives on her doorstep, forcing her to relive a past she wanted to forget. When Katherine was young, the Arthur family had been affluent city dwellers until shame sent them running for the prairie, into the unknown. Taking her family, including young Katherine, to live off the land was the last thing Jeanie Arthur had wanted, but she would do her best to make a go of it. For Jeanie's husband Frank it had been a world of opportunity. Dreaming, lazy Frank. But, it was a society of uncertainty—a domain of natural disasters, temptation, hatred, even death. 

Ten-year-old Katherine had loved her mother fiercely, put her trust in her completely, but when there was no other choice, and Jeanie resorted to extreme measures on the prairie to save her family, she tore Katherine’s world apart. Now, seventeen years later, and far from the homestead, Katherine has found the truth – she has discovered the last letter. After years of anger, can Katherine find it in her heart to understand why her mother made the decisions that changed them all? Can she forgive and finally begin to heal before it’s too late?

For every daughter who thinks she knows her mother’s story…

This book came to be through family letters that were written over 120 years ago. My mother’s father gave her this stack of letters my great-great grandmother wrote to her fiancé during the year of their engagement. They’re beautiful, heart-felt sentiments about all the hopeful ways the future would be theirs. But…of course things did not go as planned as the first blush of love is often veiled, with the truth about who the lovers are, being hidden until the wedding is over.  It was seeing the gorgeous, optimistic letters in contrast to another set of letters written decades later that I saw a compelling story develop. It’s what happened in between the tell-tale family letters that I created.  My great-great grandmother’s letters, the early and the late ones revealed a strong, stubborn, though probably, a little difficult to live with woman. She was very educated and intelligent and cobbled together a life when she had no materials to work with. It was this character that was compelling to me.

Also the history of the pioneering Americans, the land they lived on and worked—every day was a challenge, an obstacle to survival. The Children’s Blizzard of 1888 worked into my plot perfectly as the environment in which they lived was extraordinary. All of these elements, mother/daughter relationships, love, the land—helped me construct a story I thought was moving.

For me, relationships--the nature of them are partly revealed in times of crisis and partly revealed in reconciliation. Many readers have talked about how they could relate to Jeanie and Katherine's relationship and they were warmed by its strength. Others found it hard to understand the fracture that marked it for so many years after seeing the love they shared in younger years. But, everyone seems to really appreciate the way James and Jeanie were so close.  Many were disheartened by Frank and Jeanie's relationship--but I think that's a testament to it being realistic. For me, this story is Katherine's--hers to learn from and to finally become capable of growing past her childhood wounds.  I think that's hard for all of us sometimes!

Readers' Reactions:
I don't know when I have read a book where the heroine has stolen my heart.  I just love Jeanie Arthur.  She is strong and determined, and her journey is heartfelt. Kathleen Shoop is a marvelous talent with a fresh new twist on historical fiction. Selina MacPherson, award-winning author of Rough and Tender

Shoop's characters breathe. I’m blown away by the naturalness and authenticity of the dialogue and setting. The author is a gifted writer with a bang-on sense of atmosphere, time, place, and social class. Bev Katz Rosenbaum, author of I Was a Teenage Popsicle and Beyond Cool.

About the Author:
Kathleen Shoop, PhD is an author and educator who has taught, researched and worked with teachers for twenty years. She writes historical and women’s fiction. Her first novel, The Last Letter (Kindle bestseller), won a Gold Medal in the Independent Publishers Book Awards and her second novel, After the Fog, won Silver the next year. Kathleen has also contributed stories to Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad, and Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Cat’s Life. Her background in education came in handy in writing her latest novel—a quirky, post-college, coming of age story called Love and Other Subjects. It launches in January, 2013. Kathleen lives with her husband and two children in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. 

Read more about Kathleen at her Amazon Author Page

Books by Kathleen Shoop:

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for having me onto your site to talk about my work!