Q&A: Catherine Brunelle | SELF-esteem

Catherine Brunelle

Photo courtesy of the author

In Claire Never Ending, SELF-e author Catherine Brunelle traces a family though generations of captivating women, all of whom share the middle name Claire. Each vignette gives a snapshot of a life in progress—from a hot air balloonist to those with connections to witchcraft to the first-generation Claire sailing to her new life. Here, Brunelle talks about ancestry, pregnancy, and her favorite reads.

Claire Never Ending is your first novel. What was your path to authorship?
I’ve always enjoyed writing, though would have never called myself a writer. While in England, I decided to enroll for a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Southampton. My husband was completing a PhD in Physics there at the time, and he encouraged me to be brave and chase my urge to write. That was a wonderful experience for gaining confidence in sharing my writing and sharpening my skills. After graduating from the program, I wrote my first Claire story. It was fun and different, and I knew it was something I needed to develop. I guess my path has been about taking chances and gut instinct.

You’ve crafted such a vibrant familial line of women when many just see people in history as names on a page. Were you looking to make readers think more deeply about their ancestors?
Actually, I was simply curious about my own connections. There is this black tin my father passed to me, and it contains postcards from my great-great-grandmother. The handwritten messages are brief—just small snippets from her life—but she became more than an ancestor as I read those cards. She was this person with a rich life, and some parts of her lived on in me. But which parts? Since I couldn’t ask her, I simply imagined it. Fiction has this magical property that lets it be completely fabricated from thin air, and yet substantial with meaning. That’s how the Claires developed, and in a way they became another sort of family to me. If readers are triggered to consider their roots too, then that is great. It’s as important to look back as it is forward.

What inspired you to have pregnancy be such an important link for your characters?
The novel began at a time when I wanted to become pregnant, but was terrified at the prospect. I took comfort from knowing that my mother, and her mother, and her mother’s mother had all been through that journey. The plan was to start the novel at conception and, as I became pregnant in the real world, experiences and emotions could be explored month-by-month in a fictional project. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for me. Right before we planned to start trying, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Ever since, my husband and I have been living with that reality and it has blocked our pregnancy hopes.

But pregnancy remained a link in the story for many reasons. Writing [this book] helped me realized that even without having my own children, I am connected to a web of legacies. Parts of us (my husband and I) will be passed forward, even if not directly. We’re all connected, and I want my readers to feel that too.

And of course, the pregnancies are a great tie to ensure Claire Never Ending is a novel rather than a collection of short stories. The strings that connect the women are essential for crafting an overall narrative.

cover front claire never endingDo you have a favorite Claire? Was there one who was especially difficult to write?
I’m not certain I have a favorite Claire. I really love the stories that focus on relationships, so Dorothy and Lulu, for instance, and their burgeoning friendship. The hardest to write was Anna because I had to leave her in this desperate situation and, as a writer, I want to save all my characters. Actually, the same goes for Ruby. I would have loved to save them from themselves, but it didn’t feel right. Sometimes a character has to lead its own life, funny as that sounds.

Why did you decide to be an indie author?
After the breast cancer went metastatic, I felt the clock ticking. Instead of continuing to look for an agent, I decided to take matters into my own hands and self-publish the book. It’s a challenging choice because all promotion must come from my own efforts, and I’m far more of a writer than a sales person. But I want it to be read, and self-publishing has been a useful means to an end.

Which three books would you recommend everyone put on their reading lists?
There are so many good ones! In this moment, I’ll say The Princess Bride by William Goldman for its whimsy and humor; everything Discworld by Terry Pratchett—my favorites [of his] characters being the witches and the guards; and, because we’re discussing self-publishing, I have to recommend Kevin T. Johns. He’s a brilliant novelist of YA books and he self-publishes. His “Page Turners” series reminds me of shows like Stranger Things, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Freaks and Geeks. It’s about these small-town misfits who come upon a book of magic that turns fictional evil characters to life, and of course, all heck breaks loose.

Do you have any plans for another novel?
I have some manuscripts to finish. One of them takes place within a fast-food restaurant that gets sucked into a tornado and thrown across space. It’s modeled after [L. Frank Baum’s] The Wizard of Oz and is completely different from Claire Never Ending (but great fun)!

I also have a small novella on Amazon called The Beaver Dam. It was my MA Creative Writing thesis story. And then, I’m always writing about life in general at my blog, Bumpyboobs.

Kate DiGirolomo About Kate DiGirolomo

Kate DiGirolomo is the SELF-e Community Coordinator at Library Journal. She received her Master's degree in Library and Information Science at Pratt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @KateDiGirolomo.

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