Paying homage to WWII women; St. Ansgar author talks about her inspiration, craft at ArtWorks event

Published 8:08 am Thursday, August 24, 2017

Gail Kittleson recalled how she was upstairs at the Blue Belle Inn in St. Ansgar, Iowa, helping the bed and breakfast owner with some preparations for incoming guests.

Suddenly she stopped.

“I was upstairs, doing what I had to do, and Dottie just appeared in my head,” she said, her voice still tinged with a bit of wonder. “And today, Dottie is just as real to me as my neighbor across the street.”

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Dottie Kyle is the main character in Kittleson’s book, “In This Together,” the first of three books set during, or right after, World War II.

“Of course, Dottie would not have worked in a B & B during World War II, but in a boarding house,” Kittleson told a group who came to hear her speak Tuesday at Sweet Reads in Austin, one of several events held during the Austin ArtWorks Festival Week.

Dottie, as it turned out, was the key that unlocked Kittleson’s foray into writing fiction.

Dottie — who does work in a boarding house in the novel — is a Gold Star mother and a widow, who fights loneliness and the shrew who owns the boarding house.

She finds, however, “that second chances can be just around the corner,” Kittleson said.

Dottie’s story is also Kittleson’s homage to the women of the era, and was inspired by her mother. Kittleson grew up on a farm in Aredale, Iowa, near Hampton.

Drawing from her own family’s history and from her own deepening research, she found herself increasingly impressed by the people of that time.

“I work hard on research, because it is historical fiction — you need to get it right,” she said. She often relies on help from her husband, Lance, a St. Ansgar pastor, for explanations of military strategy or practices. Lance Kittleson also served as an Army chaplain in two tours during the Iraq War. His father, the late Galen Kittleson, was a war hero, a member of the Alamo Scout reconnaissance group who helped free more than 500 prisoners of war in the Philippines, many of whom had survived the Bataan Death March, during World War II.

Kittleson is a self-admitted addict — to writing, she said with a grin.

A college instructor of expository writing and English as a second language, she was initially drawn to writing poetry, enjoying its essential nature that allows the writer to edit work to “almost to nothing and still get your point across.” She was also a fan of essay writing.

“I was quite happy writing non-fiction,” she said, noting her first book was a self-exploration piece called “Catching Up with Daylight: A Journey to Wholeness.”

She was “just as surprised as anyone else” when she picked up her pen to write about Dottie and The Greatest Generation.

Since then, she has written two more novels — “In Times Like These,” and her newest offering, “With Each New Dawn” — both set against the war years. The women in all her novels are those who find their strength in battles both home and abroad. In “In Times Like These,” the heroine faces an abusive husband; in “With Each New Dawn,” the heroine joins the French Resistance. Both are available at Sweet Reads in Austin, and online through a number of sites, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Kittleson said her passion for writing has led her to yet another style of writing — she is in the midst of writing “a cozy mystery” with another author, who is from Wisconsin.

“It’s very interesting,” she said, adding “a cozy mystery” is one where those who end up solving the mystery are not ones who would ordinarily approach such a task.

“The only problem is, I don’t think that either one of us is particularly good at plotting mysteries,” she said wryly, indicating that even experienced writers have their challenges.

Kittleson said while each author takes turns writing chapters, “and it has been interesting,” she said, neither of the collaborators has suggested a resolution to the mystery yet.

She is good at “walking down the hallways” of a plot, but not so much in finding the right door to solution.

“But, I find,” she said with a chuckle, “that I am really good at dead-ends.”

Gail Kittleson, an author from St. Ansgar, Iowa, spoke about her newest book, “With Each New Dawn” at Sweet Reads on Tuesday.