As seen in the December 2017 issue of Uncaged Book Reviews.
Uncaged: You have degrees in forestry and science. How did writing come about for you? Do you also work in your fields of study along with writing?
I’ve always been telling stories to my three younger brothers, my cousins, and anyone else who wanted to hear them. Sometimes I’d written them down but never considered writing a serious career option.
When I did my PhD in science there were times when I had little to do (waiting for other scientists to get stuff to me), so I wrote a historical novel based on facts from my best friend’s family history which got published by a small press publisher in Germany with surprising success.
When my daughter was born, I decided to stay at home to be there for my family. To stay sane in a household where most of the talk was kids’ gibberish, I took some creative writing courses, wrote and published more books. It was so much fun that I never stopped.
Uncaged: This is our holiday issue – can you tell us of some of your holiday traditions and some things you love to do during the Christmas season?
Since I’m born and raised German, there are probably some traditions that aren’t as well known as others. My family has a variety of customs.
For example, we always create individual advent calendars (a chain of 24 tiny packets, mostly sweets, that get cut daily to count down to Christmas) for out god-children. I love that custom so much, I am providing one online (http://adventcalendar.katharinagerlach.com) with stories from Indie authors including myself.
Growing up in the middle of the forest made me blind for the longest time to the incredible luck we’ve always had with out Christmas tree. Around noon on Christmas Eve, my father would take us kids into the forest to choose and cut our very own, special tree. It’s a pity that this is something I can’t do with my children, but we still have a real tree with real candles every year (and a bucket of sand and a fire blanket handy). This year will be the first celebration for my first grandson. We’re all looking forward to that.
As a child, I always nearly died from anticipation each year, since my parents were the Masters of Delay. My brothers and I had to sit in front of the Christmas room while they carried packets inside. When they were done, they rang a bell for the first time. Then, everything went quiet while they prepared the tree, spread out the gifts, and made everything ready for the celebration. They rang twice more. After the third bell chime, we were allowed to enter (in Germany we celebrate on Christmas Eve). Naturally our gazes always went to the covered piles with the presents, but first we had to sing at least three carols. If we didn’t put enough enthusiasm in or showed any sign of being impatient, my father ordered more singing. When that was done, we read the story of Christ’s birth (sometimes we kids also reenacted it or showed a picture gallery) and sang a few more carols. Only then were we allowed to touch our presents. By the time we’d unwrapped them, we were usually so tired from all the excitement that we went to bed soon after.
Uncaged: The Christmas Dragon is a wonderful book full of short stories that can be read to children – what inspires you to write this type of stories?
A little warning, some of the stories in the book are not suitable for small children. Although there’s nothing wrong with them, they touch on subjects (like loss and mourning) that they wouldn’t yet understand. Others (like Stinky Socks) are quite simply fun, even for smaller kids.
Now to your question: I enjoy writing short and flash stories because they require writing discipline. In a short-ish story there is limited room for characterization and description, but still the reader needs to get all necessary information. It is a skill I love to train. As a result I have many of them lying on my hard drive. When I discovered that I had enough with a seasonal theme for a Christmas collection, I went ahead and published them. I’m planning to publish more collections next year.
Uncaged: As a reviewer, I’m always curious as to what authors can take away from the reviews, do you read them and what do you take away from the reviews?
I love to read my reviews. Regardless of the content, it makes me happy to know that someone has read the book and found it needed a review. Not many people do this unless they’ve been really moved (positively or negatively). With criticism, I’m trying to be careful. Not everything a reviewer didn’t like means I made a mistake. I try to find validation for the reviewer’s point of view in my critique circle. Sometimes I adjust my stories, and sometimes I don’t. It depends on how valid I think the point is. But I most definitely take everything a reader writes into account.
Uncaged: Can you tell us what you have coming up next?
I’m currently in the process of publishing the 10th volume of my fairy tale retelling series: The Inheritance, a retelling of Puss in Boots. The stories can be read in any order since they are complete. They are deliberately short (around 100 pages), come with a bonus short story (because I love writing short stories) and the original (because I know many fairy tales other people have never heard of), and are all set in the same world.
The world is a magical one that has just begun to discover steam driven technology. These two extremes are hard to combine since they don’t get along very well. This gives me a wide variety of stories to write. Some (like The Dwarf and the Twins) deal only with magic, others (like The King’s Mechanic) are closer to steam punk, but most examine the problems when magic and technology clash. The more volumes one reads, the better one gets to know the world.
Uncaged: Where do you come up with your characters and their names? How much do you pull from people you know?
I sometimes look up names on baby-naming sites but most of the time, the characters come to me fully fledged. If I pull aspects from the people around me (as I surely do), I do it unconsciously. As soon as I know what kind of story I want to tell, I hold a casting show in my brain and all the strangers that keep milling about in my mind line up to see if they fit. I know it’s a strange process, but I don’t do any character pre-planning. I believe I have enough characters peopling my mind for many stories yet.
Uncaged: What is your favorite parts about being an author? What have you found to be the least favorite?
I love everything connected with writing and publishing except marketing. I find that telling other people how great my books are (something I shouldn’t be the judge of since I’m clearly biased) or that they should buy them, makes me feel like sitting on a hot stove. I want to run screaming.
I love coding eBooks without a WYSWYG-editor, probably a remnant from my PHD times when I programmed a forest growth simulator. But most of all, I love the way a story flows onto my(virtual) page for other people to enjoy. To me, that’s the only currently existing form of telepathy. If you read my stories, you’ll read my mind at the moment of creation (plus a lot of my heart too).
Uncaged: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
I love to read or to go for long walks in the woods or to go swimming. However, I hardly ever get to do these things. As a first time grandmother and full time caregiver, I rarely get a little time off.I’m always needed, always in demand, and if I’m not laundry is still waiting.;-)
Therefore I cherish the time I have for writing. It is the time where I find solace from the everyday chaos. I recharge while I’m writing, and have enough strength for my beloved but exhausting family afterward.
Uncaged: I know that my favorites change as I read more and more books, but was the last book you loved? The last book you wanted to throw against a wall (good or bad)?
My two current favorites are two German series. One is a steam-punk series set in Cologne and Russia, and the other a clever and humorous series where the author assumes that the Harry Potter books are memoirs written by Prof McGonagal under a pen-name. Both are extremely well written and I can’t get enough of them.
My favorite authors in English are Rabia Gale, J.A. Marlow, William L. Hahn, Edith Nesbit, and Eileen Mueller. They never fail to entertain me. However, my tastes in reading (whenever I get to it) are wide and varied. You might find me with a novel, a memoir, a non-fiction book on surgery done in the Stone Ages or anything else that looks even vaguely interesting. I’ve even been known to read milk cartons.
Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you?
I love connecting, and it’s especially easy during the current season. Just visit my advent calendar and enjoy the stories. Or sign up for mailing list (I don’t write often) or follow me on Facebook. I’m not very active on all the other platforms since Social Media eats up too much of m writing time, but I always answer my eMails or FB-messages as fast as I can.
Try out my stories. Maybe you’ll like them (and then, please do let me know because I’m the worst judge of my own work).