Aug. 11 2010 12:00 AM

Surviving a tough year inspired Katrina Kittle to think about animals



First there was the divorce, then there was that hurricane that shared her name. And then there was a year in which author Katrina Kittle was “couch-surfing,” spending time in the homes of 18 different friends.

She would save headlines about the 2005 hurricane. Her favorite? “3000 Marines in Wake of Katrina.”

Those experiences all come together in Kittle’s new book, “The Blessing of the Animals,” which explores loss, divorce and the institution of marriage. Kittle says she is a favorite of book clubs; one reason for that is she raises a lot of questions about social issues in her books.

“I don’t give any answers,” she said. “Readers have to answer questions along with me. The secret of my success is book clubs. They are keeping books alive.”

Kittle will read from her novel at 7 p.m. today at Schuler Books & Music.

In addition to divorce and complex family issues — ranging from a teenager exploring her sexuality to same-sex marriage — the book is tied together with an overriding theme of the role animals play in our lives and what we can learn from them.

Kittle’s protagonist, Camden, is a veterinarian who is active in the animal rescue movement. When her husband leaves her for a younger woman, she becomes a single mom to her high-school-aged daughter, Gabriella.

The author said the idea for the book came to her one day when she was working in the garden.

“I realized I was feeling damaged, like a shelter dog. You can even discard people when you don’t want them anymore."

Early in the book, after several disturbing animal interventions, rescue animals become a part of Camden’s life and offer her lessons in survival and coping.

“There is so much we can learn from them,” Kittle said. “Animals are so much in the moment. They don’t long for things from the past. They’re a complete honesty.”

In Kittle’s book, dogs, cats, goats, burros and horses are the teachers: “The threelegged cat doesn’t pretend it has all four — it just adapts.”

Kittle said when she completed her first manuscript for “Blessing,” it was too autobiographical and the former man in her life was portrayed as a total cad.

“My editor said I made it so real that (the fictional husband) was actually my ex. I needed him not to be my ex.”

Like many authors, Kittle can’t remember a time when she wasn’t writing. “I’d write stories about my dolls,” she said of her early work.

Although Kittle has not published any short stories, she often writes a short story first about the novel she is preparing.

“I also will work on short stories to exercise my craft," she said. "They are very hard to write.”

Kittle said all of her books have contemporary social issues intertwined with the plots; her next book will explore the new face of homelessness in America. She is also completing a young adult novel, a mystery with a strong female heroine.

Kittle said the year she spent as a gypsy taught her some lessons about materialism.

“Your relationship to possessions really changes,” she said.

What hasn’t changed is her relationship to animals.

“I have a fabulous cat. It’s amazing how cats find you.”

Katrina Kittle

7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 11 Schuler Books & Music 2820 Towne Centre Blvd., Lansing. Free. (517) 316-7495.