Tenny recently interviewed YA author and CWG member Deanna Klingel for the Charlotte NC diocesen newspaper, the Catholic News Herald.
SAPPHIRE — Author Deanna Klingel has a lot of “loves” in her life; her faith, family, gardening, her glorious dogs and, thankfully for all her readers, she loves telling stories.
Her books and short stories cover a wide range of time and space, people and places. Though the fabric of every story is different, each one is carefully stitched together with the precious threads of faith, love, redemption and the mystery and miracle of a loving God present in our lives.
CNH: Do you consider yourself a Christian writer, a young adult writer, or do you prefer not to put yourself in a category?
DK: I’m usually not the one that decides the category, it’s usually the publishing company that’s publishing that particular book. All my protagonists are going to be Christian, mostly, because that’s the only kind of character I enjoy spending time with. Writers spend a lot of time with their characters. My characters are Christians who are struggling with something, and they have to resolve those things with their own values, and their own understanding of who they are and how they can make things better.
For example, in Avery’s situation, in “Avery’s Battlefield” and “Avery’s Crossroad,” it was a matter of growing up during very difficult times, when there were a lot of different directions he could take. But he learns the right thing to do is often the most difficult. He grows up during this difficult time, the Civil War; he’s 14 at the beginning of the series and 19 at the end of the war.
CNH: You go to Civil War reenactments with your books. Were you going to the reenactments before you wrote these books?
DK: No. I had never been to a reenactment before. I go to the reenactments because that’s where I find a good audience for the Civil War books. There are a lot of middle-school aged kids there who have an interest in that time period, and a lot of homeschoolers who enjoy reading.
CNH: You dress in period costume, too, right? That must have been an interesting experience, learning how to do that.
DK: Yes. But there is a reason that I do that, too. When you go to the reenactments – in order to be where the sutlers are, what the merchants of that period were called – you have to be in period clothing. The sutlers have big tents of things that you would buy in those times, like blacksmithing tools, or ladies’ clothing, sometimes shoes, candies or soap.
CNH: Have you always been a young adult writer?
DK: I didn’t start out to write for young adults. I just started writing what I thought I would like to read. Actually, I didn’t know I was a young adult writer until editors started looking at my work. I didn’t know that much about young adult literature, because when I was growing up, they weren’t segmented that way. You could read anything you wanted. I didn’t realize that young adults had their own genre to read. When I realized all that I went to Brevard College and took Young Adult Literature classes and African American Literature classes as well.
CNH: It’s really more of a marketing tool?
DK: Yes. It’s interesting, though. The first publishing company that was interested in Avery and Gunner, the reason those books didn’t end up with them, is that they have this belief that there are things you have to do to make it marketable to young adults – the books need to be “edgy.” When I realized what those requirements were, I found them objectionable.
I was content to not ever have it published, rather than do that. It wasn’t until I met Nancy Lohr, acquisitions editor at JourneyForth (Christian books) and she said, “No, you don’t have to do that. This is exactly the kind of thing we want.” That’s how they got published. Otherwise they’d be sitting in the drawer. It was after that I learned that there was a whole world of Christian writers. I’m a Christian, I’m a writer, but I never knew that we were an entity. Then I found the Catholic Writers Guild and I write for them, too!
CNH: Speaking of Catholic books, tell me about “Bread Upon the Water” and Father Tien Duong’s story that was featured in the Dec. 7, 2012, Catholic News Herald. What was the genesis for this book?
DK: Father Tien was assigned to our parish, and he was our priest for a couple of years here in Sapphire. He didn’t share a lot, but eventually he shared enough that he got us together and told his story one night. His language skills at that point were not very good – that made it difficult to follow him – but I knew he had a story in there. Once I convinced him that he really needed to tell it to the world, I did it in a series of interviews a couple hours a week for over a year. Then they transferred him before I was finished and I had to go to his new church (St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Franklin). I’d drive over in the morning and go to Mass, then stay and visit with him for an hour or two.
CNH: Did you discuss with him about it being a young adult book?
DK: Yes, I told him I wanted it for young people so they could understand what actually happened during that time, and how many people lost their lives in order to get to this country. And for the young Vietnamese who are now being born here, who don’t know what their grandparents went through. It was hard. It’s a bad memory. He agreed that that would be OK. He has not read the book, however.
CNH: Really? Why not?
DK: I asked him to read the final edit before I turned it in, and I let him have it for a few weeks and couldn’t wait any longer, but he never read it. He still hasn’t. I’ll tell you a funny thing that happened: When I was at the Eucharistic Congress in Charlotte, the very first morning I saw him. He showed up with his brother Duc (Father Duc Duong), who is the only sibling I had not met before. His brother stood there looking at the book cover, and finally he said, “That is me. That is me with my hand there.” He looked surprised. And I said, “Yes, yes it is.” Father Tien started giggling, and he covered his face. And then he told me, “I haven’t told my family about this.”
Father Tien is a very humble man, and being famous was never part of his agenda. I think he finds it awkward to be exposed in any way. Thousands of people went through what he went through. I understand that, and I make that point in my author’s notes in the book, that he was not alone.
There were thousands who didn’t make it. I tried to explain to him that it’s not that you’re special, different than anyone else who made those journeys. I assured him, “You can still be your same humble self, but I need to hear your story in order to tell it from that point of view.” He got that and said OK. He’s totally dedicated to his calling, and he doesn’t get sidetracked with other things.
Father Tien actually had two escapes. His first escape attempt was with Duc. When he finally made it, he was with a very shy brother, Koi. Tien and Koi were in the resettlement camps in Indonesia. They didn’t even know until they were ready to leave, that their family was already on their way to North Carolina, and had no idea where it was or what it was. But they were going. They all met up in Charlotte. True faith and courage.
CNH: Tell me a bit about your latest book, “Cracks In the Ice”?
DK: “Cracks in the Ice” is also about faith, but it deals with a loss of faith first. This is the story of Gina, the niece of a mafia don. As a very young girl, Gina has a dream of Olympic ice skating glory. She has both the talent and the drive, and everything it takes. She’s totally committed and dedicated to getting there, and it seems that she will. Then disaster strikes. She has no coping skills, no support group. She spirals into depression. Bad decision upon bad decision, Gina ends up an alcoholic. It takes the love of two people who never gave up on her, to return her to the church of her childhood. They help her see that she is still, even though she’s not on the ice, which is the only place she thought she was loved – God still loves her. It’s important for our young people, whether it’s alcoholism or depression or whatever it is, to see how important a support system is. They need good friends, they need a strong and loving family, and they need their faith.
CNH: You have a non-fiction book called “Just For the Moment: The Remarkable Gift of the Therapy Dog.” You’ve trained your own dogs – what is “Just For the Moment” about?
DK: It’s about my dogs’ experiences. It’s about the moments that the dogs made a difference in other people’s lives. It’s about moments that they were working as therapy dogs in nursing homes and hospitals, children’s centers, cancer treatment and hospice. It’s more of a short story collection – stories of moments.
Dogs live in the moment and they teach us to do the same thing. So when I sign these books, I write in the front, “Our lives are measured in years, but lived in moments.”
Dogs have taught me to live in the moment. Just stop worrying about what might happen later on, and don’t be worried about what happened yesterday. You can’t do anything about it anyway. Breathe and live in this precise moment.
CNH: Like the quote in the Bible where Jesus is talking to Peter… Peter’s coat has been stolen, and basically he says to Peter that same thing.
DK: “Why are you worried?” Exactly. Dogs live from meal to meal and from walk to walk. They don’t worry about what might happen tomorrow. They just want to enjoy every moment, and that’s a good lesson for everyone.
Klingel is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild, the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, the North Carolina Writers’ Network and the American Christian Fiction Writers. Her books “Avery’s Battlefield” and “Avery’s Crossroad” have been awarded bronze medals by Branson Stars and Flags Book Awards. “Just for the Moment” and “Bread Upon the Water” have received the Seal of Approval from the Catholic Writers Guild.
Her books are available on Amazon and on her website, www.booksbydeanna.com (most are available on Kindle). She is also available to speak to youth and school groups about her dog therapy ministry and her writing.
— Annette Tenny, correspondent