In these ten elegantly written short stories, Caitlin Hamilton Summie takes readers from WWII Kansas City to a poor, drug-ridden neighborhood in New York, and from the quiet of rural Minnesota to its pulsing Twin Cities, each time navigating the geographical boundaries that shape our lives as well as the geography of tender hearts, loss, and family bonds. Deeply moving and memorable, To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts examines the importance of family, the defining nature of place, the need for home, and the hope of reconciliation. Bookclubz sits down with Caitlin to ask about her inspiration and why this collection is perfect for book clubs.
When did you decide to write this book and what was the process like for you? Did you write these short stories in a particular order or did the writing come to you at different points in time?
I wrote this book over a period of 25 years, beginning with my MFA program. I then continued writing after I entered the working world, became a mother, and started my business 18 years ago. There was no process, aside from deadlines for my MFA program classes. I snatched time to write when I could, celebrated any story acceptance at journals, and sometimes let things lie for years. But I did it. In the end! And I am very proud, especially because To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts earned good reviews and won awards. That is a big deal to me. Also a big deal to me is this: I told my children at my book launch that it was worth waiting 25 years if I got to celebrate with them. My kids were old enough to understand that I was fulfilling a lifelong dream--and old enough to appreciate the effort it took.
What would you define as a common thread between these ten stories, if any?
Certainly one could say loss, and even grief, connect these stories, but just as easily one could say that hope is central to the stories. Hope for reconciliation, re-connection, second chances, renewal.
Do you have any advice for leading a book club discussion on this book? Can you suggest one or two conversation starters?
Each story is all about a character, and each story depicts a whole world. I think asking about the characters makes the most sense. Will Dolores feel differently at the end of the story? Did John go to the funeral? I also think asking about their worlds would be a good question. What world does each story depict?
Why do you think book clubs should read short stories?
The compressed nature of short stories makes them easily digestible in a world that is full of distractions. Also, the compressed nature of stories also makes them immensely powerful.
In this collection was there a story that was difficult to write, more so than the others?
Geographies of the Heart! It took me 20 of the 25 years because I took significant breaks, but mostly because the story had a pacing issue it took forever to resolve. My next book, a novel-in-stories coming from Fomite Press in January 2022, is called GEOGRAPHIES OF THE HEART, after this story. It takes the story and then moves on to tell what happened to all the characters.
Do you have a favorite short story collection or shorter story writer?
I love Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories. But there are so many good short stories and short story writers. I have had the privilege of working with a few as well, in my firm.
Do you find that your work as a book publicist impacts your role as a writer?
Oh, yes. My husband and business partner, Rick, is my publicist, but I am still involved in publicity, like any other writer would be.
I am much kinder to myself than I might have been otherwise, having seen the whole industry (I was once an independent bookseller as well). I know what to expect, what is realistic, what is hopeful. I understand exactly what I am getting into--and that knowledge is a gift. But my clients come first, too. I need to work on my own book when time allows and put clients first because I have a business to run!