Those of you who follow my blog know that I regularly invite lesbian fiction writers to talk about their writing and their books on my blog. Today, I’m honored to interview Caren J. Werlinger, author of award-winning novels such as In This Small Spot and Looking Through Windows.
I was the lucky person who got to edit two of Caren’s books, Turning for Home and Cast Me Gently. They are very different books, but I loved both; Turning for Home for its main character, Jules, and Cast Me Gently for the sweet love story that developed between Teresa and Ellie.
But let’s see what Caren herself can tell us about her newest novel, Cast Me Gently.
How would you describe Cast Me Gently? What is it about?
Cast Me Gently is a romance at heart. It’s the story of Teresa Benedetto, a thirty-four-year-old woman, still living at home with her family. She’s never allowed herself to think that she could fall in love, and she’s totally unprepared for just that when she meets Ellie Ryan. Ellie is all alone and longs for family and love more than anything. As Teresa and Ellie fall in love, Teresa has to figure out how to choose between her family and Ellie.
How is Cast Me Gently different from your previously published novels?
It’s not all that different, actually. The relationship between Teresa and Ellie is the heart of the story, but it weaves in themes of loyalty, friendship, duty to family—things I’ve explored in some of my other novels. All of those things that tug at us and pull us in different directions.
What made you decide to set your novel in Pittsburgh in 1980? Do you have a personal connection to that city or that era?
I lived in Pittsburgh in the early ’80s. I guess it made more of an impression on me than I had realized. Pittsburgh was facing a unique set of social issues during that era, with the closure of the steel mills. It made for an explosive mix of class conflict, crime, and homelessness. Those things serve as the background for this story.
How did you come up with the title for the book?
It’s from the Sarah McLachlan song “Answer.” There’s a line that says, “Cast me gently into morning, for the night has been unkind.” That line seemed written for Teresa and Ellie—each struggling with her own hardships, her own need to find love, yet doubting that she ever will.
What kind of research did you do for Cast Me Gently? Do you enjoy research, or is it a necessary evil?
I love doing research! I remembered a good bit from when I lived there, but I have pages and pages of details about Pittsburgh neighborhoods and the inclines and all kinds of things. I found old newspaper articles talking about Pittsburgh’s recession, which was roughly double the rest of the nation in terms of unemployment figures. Remember the TV show Hill Street Blues? That show was based on the Hill District of Pittsburgh.
What was the hardest thing about writing Cast Me Gently?
Remembering what it was like to fall in love for the first time. All the fear and uncertainty of wondering whether she feels the same, gathering the courage to do something about it, trying to learn how to be intimate with another woman when you’ve never done it before. I think I gave myself flashbacks to the trauma of those early experiences!
What was your favorite part about writing Cast Me Gently?
Remembering what it was like to fall in love for the first time! There is a wonder to that first time that’s never there again. I felt very much as if I were reliving that first time with Teresa and Ellie.
One of the things that sets your novels apart from other works of lesbian fiction is the use of flashbacks. In what ways do you think flashbacks can enrich a story?
It’s funny that my writing style has gravitated so much toward the use of flashbacks, but it has occurred to me that most stories start in the middle. If you think about it, the characters’ pasts—their growing up, their successes and failures, their fears—all of those things influence how they handle conflict, how they relate to the other characters they meet. You can’t really understand what they’re going through now if you don’t gain some insight into what came before. I hope readers feel as if the flashbacks are seamless glimpses into the characters’ pasts.
Are you working on a new novel? What can your readers expect next from you?
I’m working on a fantasy that I hope will turn into a trilogy. Set in Ireland about 700-800 A.D., about the time of the Viking invasions, it’s about a young girl whose village is pillaged, leaving her injured and orphaned. She is rescued and raised by a family of badgers, not realizing her ability to communicate with them is part of her magical power. When her power comes to the attention of others with magic, she is brought to a mystical forest. It’s not Hogwarts, but for her, she has to learn how to deal with humans as much as she has to learn how to channel and control her power.