Posted on 06/14/2018 at 08:53 AM by Jeffrey Bruner
We can’t resist celebrating fellow Midwesterners, and author Katie Ganshert is well worth feting.
Ganshert, who was raised in and returned to Iowa, graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and worked as a fifth-grade teacher for several years before staying home to write full time.
Her works span the young-adult, romance, and contemporary fiction genres and have even netted her a few awards.
Ganshert took some time away from her other great loves (coffee and dark chocolate FTW) to chat with us about her background and her most recent novel.
JEFFREY: The inspiration for your latest novel, No One Ever Asked, came from a news article. When you read it, what clicked in your brain that told you this would make a good story?
KATIE: I was listening to the account on an episode of This American Life called "The Problem We All Live With," and featured investigative reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones.
It was all about a forced school merger that happened in the St. Louis area, wherein an impoverished school district, comprised almost entirely of black and brown students, lost its accreditation and triggered a Missouri transfer law that allowed these students, previously locked into a failing school, the ability to transfer to a different school on the failing district’s dime.
The failing district chose a predominately white, affluent district to bus students to.
The episode interviewed a mother and daughter from the failing district, and I was absolutely gripped (and disturbed) by the pushback from the affluent community.
To hear the account of this mother and daughter—who saw this as a great opportunity—was pretty heartbreaking.
I knew that school choice was a complicated, nuanced issue with opinions on all sides.
I also am very passionate about shedding light on systemic racism in our country.
Believe it or not, education is more segregated for black and brown students today than it was in the late 1960s. I really wanted to bring this story to life.
JEFFREY: The novel, which is about a forced school merger, addresses the issues of class and race. Obviously, as a writer, there are some things you want to say about those issues. But you don’t want to alienate your readers, either. How do you navigate that fine line?
KATIE: I explore the situation from three very diverse perspectives—an affluent white woman with white children who is very involved in the schools, a middle-class white woman who recently adopted a black child, and a black first-year teacher whose father taught English at the failing district’s high school.
I made sure not to make anyone a villain. Rather, all three women have unique life experiences that shape the way they see the situation. All three women have flaws, too.
JEFFREY: You were a teacher for several years before deciding to write full time. Did your time as a teacher make it easier to write unique and diverse characters?
KATIE: My time as a teacher didn’t make it any easier to write diverse characters—I taught at a very white, rural elementary school.
My time as a teacher did help me write the teacher’s perspective, though, because I know what it’s like to be a first-year teacher.
I was able to pull from that experience to round out Anaya (she’s my African-American character).
JEFFREY: Are there any tropes or stereotypes about teachers that you would advise other writers to avoid?
KATIE: Not teachers. I don’t think there are many damaging tropes or stereotypes there.
But I definitely advise against using tropes or stereotypes for characters of color. Or any character, for that matter.
I had four different sensitivity readers (all women of color) read this manuscript during the editing stage to make sure I avoided damaging stereotypes.
JEFFREY: Lastly, you’re a hybrid writer — self-publishing some novels while writing others for Waterbrook, which is part of Penguin Random House. How do you decide which books to approach a publisher and which to publish on your own?
KATIE: As of right now, it’s all about the genre.
I’ve always self-published my young adult fiction, and I’ve always traditionally published my contemporary fiction. I’m not sure if this will change in the future.
My plan is to write whatever story is on my heart, whatever story I’m feeling most passionate to write.
Once I’m finished, I can bring that story to my agent and decide whether the book should be shopped to publishers, or whether it’d be more successful self-published.
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Categories: Author Interview