[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his spring was an eventful one for alumna Katrina Anne Willis, as it marked the release of the essayist and award-winning blogger’s debut novel.
The Greenfield, Indiana, native’s book, “Parting Gifts,” explores one family’s struggles through the perspectives of three adult sisters. Its April release coincided with an appearance at an author’s luncheon that raises scholarship money for Indianapolis youths and has previously featured notables such as John Grisham and Mary Higgins-Clark.
Now a married mother of four living in northwest Ohio, Willis, ’92, spoke to Ball State Magazine about her book, as well as her career and undergraduate years at Ball State.
Your book depicts the lives of these sisters who are struggling with dysfunction, sickness and loss of family and self — searching for meaning and worth. Why did you choose these themes?
It’s not an easy novel. There’s quite a bit of tragedy that occurs with these sisters and the family. And yet, we all have some type of loss in our lives. We choose how resilient we are and who we become after the loss. I hope that people have a “me, too” moment and feel a sense of empathy. Introspection and examination in life are necessary, but if we don’t do that, I think life is harder.
When do you typically do your writing? Is it a daily routine or when you’re inspired?
I think the most important thing is to sit down and do it every day. If I had to wait for inspiration, I would probably never finish anything. Of course, there are times at 3 in the morning I’m at my desk because I have to get it out. I always have something on me, a notebook or voice recorder, in case inspiration hits me.
As a writer, wife and mother to four teenagers, how do you prioritize your writing in your busy life?
When the children were younger, blogging was a good form of writing because it was quick. Now, I’m able to spend good chunks of the day on my writing when the kids are at school. At times, I’ll get away for a weekend or spend a weekend day at a coffee shop.
What has your writing path been, from graduating from Ball State to now?
It’s never a straight, easy path. I knew I needed a platform, and they say the No. 1 way is to start a blog. I gained many followers and saw that my personal stories about parenting resonated with my readers. My blogs were published in magazines, and I began to write essays. Five years ago, I started writing “Parting Gifts.” Although I have many starts to many novels, this one has been my focus.
You spoke about “Parting Gifts” this spring at the Christamore House Guild Book & Author Benefit Luncheon. How did you become familiar with the event, and why was this significant?
Twelve years ago, my cousins invited me to this author luncheon. I sat there and listened to the authors and said, “I intend to be one of the authors on that stage someday.” I’ve gone to the event throughout the years. So, the day my publicist called with the news that I’d been chosen, it was surreal. I think I cried the whole day. I’m a Hoosier at heart, and so to come home and have my book debut in Indianapolis was humbling. Half of the thrill for me was to meet the other authors.
How did your Ball State experience shape you to become the author you are?
The Honors College opened many doors, giving me the opportunity to connect one-on-one with professors to hone my writing skills. The late Fran Rippy (an English professor) and Marjorie Smeltsor (a former dean of the College of Sciences and Humanities and English professor) were influential. Dr. Smelstor was my faculty adviser for the book I wrote for my Honors thesis. As an English major, I studied British and American literature in my Honors humanities courses. As they say, “writers read,” so these classes were also influential.