Monday, 13 July 2020

I Interviews

Interview: Cathleen Armstrong

Cathleen Armstrong, author of At Home in Last Chance

1.            Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Always. Even as a child I was always writing poems (mostly little sing-songy verses where ‘love’ rhymed with ‘above,’ and ‘way’ rhymed with ‘pray’), short stories, and very, very short novels. But you grow up and get realistic and practical about your life, and short, short novels give way to the occasional clever article for the church newsletter. But one day, a character marched into my head, unpacked, and started telling me her story. What could I do but to write it down?

2.            Your blog is full of recipes. Can you share one of your winter favorites with us?

My blog is full of recipes, and my books are full of descriptions of eating—everything from cookies and tea at the kitchen table to full-blown Thanksgiving feasts. I guess you could say that food is the tie that binds in Last Chance.

This recipe for Green Chile Stew is from my cookbook, Tastes of New Mexico, which is offered as a free download when you sign up to receive my blog. It is one of my family’s favorites.

 

Green Chile Stew

Simple and hearty and just right for a cold winter’s night.

Serves 8

 

2 pounds boneless pork, cut in 1-inch cubes.

2-3 tablespoons cooking oil

One medium onion, chopped.

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

6-8 green chiles, roasted, peeled, and chopped, at least 2 cups*

1 can chopped tomatoes, well drained (optional)

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1 1/2 pounds white potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed and cut in 1-inch cubes

salt and pepper to taste

 

Brown pork in the oil, adding chopped onion and garlic part way through browning process. Add remaining ingredients except potatoes and bring to boil, Reduce heat and simmer 1 ½ hours. Add potatoes, 1 cup more liquid, and raise heat to a slow boil. Cook another ½ hour or until potatoes are tender, but not mushy.

* Do take the time to roast your own chiles, it really isn’t difficult, and you’ll be so disappointed if you used canned chile. Be sure to wear latex gloves when you work with chile, though. It can burn your hands!

Wash and dry the green chiles. Make a steam vent in each with the tip of a sharp knife. Place chiles on a foil-covered cookie sheet and set it four to six inches below the broiler unit. Roast chiles, turning them frequently until they are universally blistered. Remove chiles from oven, place them in a bowl and cover with a cold, damp towel and steam for ten minutes. Starting at the stem end, peel the outer skin downward. Remove the stem and the seeds. Chop the chile, and it’s ready for your stew!

 

3.            Your A Place to Call Home series is set in the fictional small town of Last Chance, New Mexico that’s described as “dusty and delightful.” Is Last Chance based on an actual town?

No, I couldn’t say Last Chance is based on a real town. There is a small ranching and chile growing community in the part of New Mexico where I set Last Chance, and I did borrow its landscape and the amazing winning streak of its high school football team, but there are far too many differences between the two to say that Last Chance is based on Animas, New Mexico.

4.            The town of Last Chance has been described as a major character in your books.  How has the setting of Last Chance influenced the characters?

The southwest has never been a particularly welcoming place. The lack of water, the dry alkaline soil, and extremes in heat and cold required tough and determined settlers to survive it. Their descendants, the residents of Last Chance, retain that tough determination. They can be stubborn and inflexible, but they’ve also learned that it’s easier if you don’t have to go it alone, and their caring concern is offered (whether you want it or not) to stranger and local alike.

5.            At Home in Last Chancedeals with some tough emotional issues. What can you tell us about Kaitlyn Reed and Steven Braden?

You know, it’s always amazing to me how much I learn about my characters as I write about them. When I wrote about Steven Braden in Welcome to Last Chance, and Kaitlyn Reed in One More Last Chance, I pretty much saw them as the rest of the town did—totally irresponsible, completely self-centered, and, frankly, not all that likeable. But when I began to write their story, I discovered so much more. Both Steven and Kaitlyn grew up in high achieving families in the shadow of an older brother who could do no wrong. They became convinced early on that they’ll never measure up to their families’ expectations, so they chose other ways to get the attention they crave. Steven is a charmer who disappoints everyone who ever counts on him. Kaitlyn has been a rebel since her early teens, and now, with no place else to go, is back in Last Chance tying to make amends with the daughter she abandoned there with her brother six months earlier. Both Kaitlyn and Steven have long accepted—and even agreed with—the low expectations others have of them, but as they learn to believe in the good in each other, they gradually begin to believe in themselves.

6.            Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions this year?

I know it’s passé, but I always make New Year’s Resolutions. I love the New Year.  It’s like getting a brand new journal full of blank pages and a gorgeous new fountain pen to write with. The possibilities are endless. And if the same resolutions keep turning up year after year, that’s okay. I’ve made progress. But for specifics, here’s one: I’m going to find a yoga class and give that a try. Aerobics just aren’t doing it for me anymore. (Shall I keep you posted?)

7.            What do you think is significant about Christian fiction?

Of course, one of the main things I hear from readers is that they love being able to immerse themselves in a story without being suddenly jarred by language or situations they find offensive. But beyond just being clean, Christian fiction, whatever the genre, offers a thread of hope, of redemption, of promise that you just don’t find elsewhere.

8.            How do you hope your readers react to the stories you write?

I hope readers love my characters. While none is based on a particular person, they are all people I know—big-hearted, helpful, loving…and flawed. I would love it readers would find themselves smiling and saying, “Oh, I know that person well!”

9.             Can you share your testimony with us?

My pleasure, although it’s not the least bit dramatic. I grew up in church, was baptized at eight, and went on to youth group, college group, young marrieds…and then saw it all start over again with my own family. Pretty seamless. But, of course, life can really throw some curves. Finances can get tough, children can rebel, parents can suffer lingering illnesses, and even when things appear to be going fine, doubts can spring up from nowhere and you can be wandering though a spiritual death valley before you even know it. And here’s the cool part. Jesus is always, always, there. If I’ve wandered, he’s gone after me. If I’ve been crushed, he’s gathered up the pieces. And as I’ve received the numberless gifts and blessings he’s bestowed, I’ve felt his pleasure. It’s been an amazing walk.

10.        With the release of At Home in Last Chance, have we seen the last of A Place to Call Home?

No, we haven’t! What started out as a three book series has grown to four. Last Chance Hero will be coming out in the fall of 2015. It’s the story of Last Chance High’s new football coach, Andy Ryan, and a red-haired doctor named Jess McLeod. I’m excited about these two and their story. And I love the opportunity to be back in Last Chance.


Cathleen Armstrong is the author of At home in Last Chance (Jan 2015). She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, Ed, and their corgi. Though she has been in California for many years now, her roots remain deep in New Mexico where she grew up and where much of her family still lives. Learn more at www.cathleenarmstrong.com.

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