Kathryn Smaw Amerson – The Caregivers

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

The Caregivers is my first novel. It is a work of creative non-fiction. The events are real, but the names have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty. Many issues of eldercare are revealed as the main character, having been diagnosed with dementia, is forced through the healthcare system. In her nineties, she endures nursing homes, home health care, and hospitals. The characters she encounters in each place are illustrative of the service providers in the medical field.

Tell us something about yourself.

I live in New Bern, North Carolina. The novel is set in this small Southern city, rich with Revolutionary and Antebellum activity. I have been a History professor in our local college for 15 years. Writing seems to come naturally with this profession. Though my research background is European Reformation history, modern social issues have come to the forefront in my writing.

What inspired you to write this book?

I had a great-aunt, pronounced “ont” because she insisted that she was not an insect,” with whom I was very close. I was a young wife and mother with a budding career when she was suddenly thrust into a medical nightmare. The treatment she encountered and the personalities who provided care were so entirely opposite of her own altruistic personality that my anger and frustration were magnified with each new encounter. When she died, I did not want her legacy to be the last years of her life. I wanted to capture the grace and style of her productive years and contrast them with the manner in which she was cast aside when she was presumably no longer productive. The other part of the story is that several attorneys offered to represent me in lawsuits as a result of the negligence of her care. I determined that suing might help me financially, but it probably would not effect change in eldercare. My drive to complete this book became the awareness that it could generate on many levels for social and healthcare issues.

How did you choose the title?

When I began writing the book, the title seemed more like The Caregivers from Hell. However, there were some wonderful people (and dogs) who also took caregiver roles and I did not want to discount the part they played in this story.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

This book was cathartic for me. It took six years to write. With a full teaching load, and a young family, the majority of the problem was finding quiet blocks of time. Most of the writing took place over summer breaks. Having the long lapses between writing sessions allowed a lot of time for editing in order to keep the voice the same. It also helped my healing and forgiveness processes as I poured my anger onto each page. In the end, I was able to include my great-aunt’s humor and show how brilliant and full her life had been. Getting published was another matter altogether. For nearly four years I sent out many, many queries to agents and publishers. When I spoke with the Strategic Marketing Agent on the phone after he had received my query, he said that he had just been through a similar situation with his wife. He thought this would be a timely topic for the Baby boomer generation, especially those who are now taking care of elderly parents. So, after ten years, this project is complete and is now available in paperback and on Kindle.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

My mother is a Christian writer. When I was young she read her poems and short stories to me. I admired her talent. In college, in addition to historical research, I began to write fictitious accounts of current affairs. I was studying Russian at the time and the Berlin Wall was still standing. I dreamed of being a college professor and a novelist and of making a difference in the fight against social injustice. The Caregivers, however, was not a story I ever expected to write.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I wouldn’t say that I have writing rituals so much as writing patterns. My most productive hours are after everyone has gone to bed and the dogs are sitting quietly at my feet. The days are busy with teaching responsibilities and children’s school and afterschool activities. Evenings are busy winding down the day and preparing for the next. When all the demands of the day come to a close, then I have time to be creative. When I start writing, the rest of the world is blocked out. It’s best for everyone if they are asleep!

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

A couple of folks have been amused by what they call my “Dickensian” approach to naming characters. Names are generally representative of the characters they portray. Mary, Martha, and Paul are pure souls, for example, while Dr. Stalinovich is pure evil. Sherry Stone is a cold and hard-nosed social worker while Dr. Aegis, also cold and unbendable at times, eventually shields Aunt Bette and the family in her final days. Some names and physical characteristics were designed to be unrealistic to keep the real characters from recognizing themselves. They might recognize their actions, but not their physical attributes.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

I love historical non-fiction and fiction. I have a need to know the facts in order to enlighten my students, but I also enjoy the storytelling that takes place when writers fill in the missing parts with believable fiction. Diana Gabaldon is one of my favorite modern authors. I have been to the stone circles and tromped across the European, Caribbean, and North Carolinian settings in her novels. I find her accuracy, detail, and creativity equally impressive.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

My next book is a sequel but also a prequel to The Caregivers. Though Aunt Bette has died, her reflections continue. The history of New Bern is illuminated through these accounts as she recalls the Jim Crow era, the Great Fire, the depression and war years, and the civil rights movements that greatly affected this eastern North Carolina city.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

If you love to write, then write for the love of it. Giving up and tossing your work aside because publishers reject your work is like quitting baseball because you didn’t hit a homerun. Send out queries and don’t take it personally when you are rejected. The agent or publisher is not rejecting you because he/she doesn’t know you. Publishing is a business and businesses sell products. If the product doesn’t match the client needs, keep looking until you get a match. Research the types of writing prospective agents and publishers accept and only send your work to those in your genre.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?
This novel touches so many areas that a broad spectrum of readers have emerged. People who care for or have cared for geriatric loved ones have found this novel both disturbing and comforting. Every day I receive calls or emails from folks who have indicated similarities with their situations and appear thankful to have these issues addressed. College students in Nursing, Sociology, and Social Work fields are finding this book insightful as they gain an outsider’s perspective on patient relations. Healthcare professionals and legislators who have read this novel have indicated that change has to come. And, people who enjoy Southern literature will appreciate the colloquialism and dialects found in these pages.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

The Caregivers, a brief description of the book, and my bio are available through the publisher’s website: http://www.strategicpublishinggroup.com/title/TheCaregivers.html. The Caregivers is also for sale through Amazon for Kindle and paperback; in stores and online at Barnes and Noble; and through many other online bookstore distributors.