Friday, February 09, 2018

Guest Blog Drinking the Knock Water: A New Age Pilgrimage by Emily Kemme



I Haven’t Written That Book Yet
by Emily Kemme

Growing up, one of my fondest memories is of my friend Kim and I biking to the library with empty backpacks slung over our shoulders. After an hour spent roaming the stacks, we'd cycle home, each loaded down with, on average, 10 books. We would gleefully retreat to one or the other of our bedrooms (we lived on the same block, so we alternated turns), where for hours we sat on the floor in silence, reading our treasure trove. No conversation occurred or was necessary. On cooler summer days we'd read stretched out on the trampoline in Kim's backyard. 

We read our books one by one, and then returned to the library for a new cache each week.

Oh so boring? Perhaps for some, but for Kim and I, the hours we spent delving the imagination of others was priceless.

And I always thought it would be fun to write a book. I was sure of the topic — it would be the story of my heritage, stemming from the fact that I'm a first generation American and how my family ended up in the United States. Fast forward years and years, through history degree, law degree (and close to five years in practice), two kids and a husband's medical practice I managed in between making hot chocolate on demand while being a picture-perfect field trip mom.

That book has still not been written. Even though I tried, there was no organization or method. I mourned the fact that I could have been an author.

When I turned 40, I was invited to join a women's organization in my town known for imposing rigorous research topics on its members who gladly spent hours reading, researching and writing lengthy papers on topics not of their choosing. We read them aloud to the club, presenting PowerPoints with pretty (and sometimes nitty-gritty) pictures. And even though, as an attorney, I knew how to track down a footnote to the nth degree to find the answer that could win a written argument on its merits, I had never learned how to research to be able to tell a story.

After several years and several papers, I wrote about Joseph Campbell, author of "The Hero’s Journey”, and learned more about storytelling. I discovered it’s a complicated process to get your point across in prose.

And so I began writing my first novel. It was published in 2011.

And my second novel, “Drinking the Knock Water”, was published last year.




The theme came to me while on a Hudson River cruise when we saw the Statue of Liberty at dusk. The story developed legs after visiting historic Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where Washington Irving's Headless Horseman raged.

Even though I used Sleepy Hollow for inspiration, it’s not a thriller or chiller. This is a story about people who experience loss and disconnection with the world around them based on a theme of fertility.



I’ve learned a novel plants a seed of truth, and from there roots burrow down into the soil, growing and developing buds as the story evolves and blossoms. If the roots are good and the soil is fertile, with regular treatments of fertilizer and water a story will continue to bud, bloom and share a beautiful perfume.

I don't want to bore you with a regurgitation of the hows and whatnots of novel-writing. You don't want to know about the time spent mulling over the spelling of a word, its etymological history, the variations of synonyms, and why understanding a word's antonym can open a Pandora's Box of meanings.

When I write a story, I need to see the stage I set it on in person, and smell the surroundings. That's the only way to make it seem real when I turn it into simple words. So, I travel to the location and walk its streets.

You aren't interested in the hours lost as I track an idea, drowning in the Google Sea of thoughts, ideas, numbers and lessons. Or the 3am ideas that wake me up or the stop-in-mid-sentence dinner conversations with my husband when I tell him, "Wait, wait, wait — I need to write down what you (or I) just said." You aren't interested in the late night dinners, or the dinners that never got cooked and we ordered take-out in exhaustion. The brain drain of finishing a chapter or even a thought, leaving my mind numb and unable to hitch two words together to speak aloud. The days when I tell myself that I'll write three pages and only finish one new sentence. Or the number of times I edit a novel before it finally gets the go-ahead — it’s 30, all told.

And I still panic. Particularly when the characters I've created wake me up in the middle of the night insisting that the story line would be better if it goes in this direction (or that) and they whisper words, words that jolt me awake from my dreams to make sure I capture them in notes erratically typed on my cellphone.

So, let's re-write that entire scene, Emily, my characters whisper. Even though you're not supposed to keep your cellphone on the bedside table.

There are the lunch dates skipped, the sleep lost, the friends who just don't get why all I do is sit at my desk and stare at a computer screen, wishing for the words to come. Any word. Please, just one to get the flow moving. And the friends who ask, "Where have you been lately? I haven't seen you in forever!"

And most frightening of all, there are the what-if's. The fear that once you, the author, open your head up to the world, allowing all to see what goes on inside, well then. What will the world think of you?

But there is also freedom. Once a thought is processed and written, whether it be on my blog or in a point in a novel, it makes space for more thoughts, more creativity, more ability to stretch my mind in new directions.

But all of that would be boring — like listening to your car mechanic tell you the step-by-step process of how he rebuilt your carburetor. You're just happy the car runs.

And you're happy there are good books to read. As am I. And I'm equally happy to write them.

Drinking the Knock Water: A New Age Pilgrimage
Emily Kemme

Genre: Chick Lit

Publisher: Arrowhead Publishing

Date of Publication: January 27, 2017

ISBN: 0983740127
978-0983740124
ASIN: B01MTE7QGJ

Number of pages: 288
Word Count: 107,532

Cover Artist: Mia Kemme

Tagline: “We all live with ghosts. . . Some are those of people who’ve never been born.”

Book Description:

“We all live with ghosts. . . Some are those of people who’ve never been born.”

So begins Drinking the Knock Water: A New Age Pilgrimage, the second novel by award-winning Greeley, Colorado author Emily Kemme.

Loosely based on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the novel takes on life itself as a pilgrimage. One of life’s biggest struggles is fitting in with the rest of the human race, and an aspect of that is having children. It’s not meant for everyone and yet, true to Darwinian forces, it’s almost expected. Giving birth and then raising a child to maturity is one of the bravest tasks we take on. 

On what was supposed to be a day to celebrate, another cruel outburst from Holly Thomas’ sister-in-law begins a spiral of events that would leave Holly questioning every choice she’d ever made and every belief she held as truth.

Had she done the right thing by her unborn child? Had she given enough, or too much, freedom of choice to her son? Did she truly, deeply know her husband and clinic partner, Roger? And what right had she to counsel infertile couples after her own pregnancies?

With the Fertility Tour only weeks away, a group of unlikely and disparate pilgrims look to her for guidance. But Holly’s life has unraveled in ways she could not have imagined, including a restraining order against her. Will she be able to find her footing and make peace with her choices and herself? Will visiting the religious and sacred feminine sites in England help her regain control or only tear her further apart?


Reviews

"Today exists for you to let your mind wander, let it free, all week long. This is the time for reflection and evaluation."

Deeply traumatized after her daughter, Arella, is born dead, fertility counselor Holly Thomas struggles to achieve inner peace. Roger—Holly's supportive husband and a prominent fertility doctor—accepts her grief-induced eccentricities, but his intolerant Christian family resents her and her Jewish roots. When Edward, Roger's brother, openly belittles the Bar Mitzvah of Daniel, Holly's son, tensions escalate, and her whole world threatens to fall apart. To overcome heartbreak and reflect on self-discovery and relationships, Holly and Roger take a group of patients from their clinic on a fertility tour. This tour becomes a spiritual pilgrimage for unrealized truths.

Kemme elegantly examines the complicated aspects of life and relationships. Using Holly's experiences with a failed pregnancy, her in-laws, and Roger, Kemme focuses on how pain can shape and enlighten us. That religious intolerance can inflict significant emotional damage is depicted through Roger's family members who weaponize words to hurt Holly. This, along with Holly's emotional fragility, causes strain in her marriage. However, Roger's unwavering love helps Holly stay somewhat balanced, letting her emotionally heal many patients who cannot conceive. Some of these couples include Leah and Rachel, the Rhanjhas, the Chandlers, Burbages, and Jane Brown and her mother. As Holly and Roger take their chosen couples on a fertility tour to England, various colliding elements within the patients' lives emerge, thereby projecting how relationships bless or burden us. Pain becomes a recurrent theme in the novel, neutralized by the healing touch of water as a metaphor. Arella's grave is near water, and the visit to the sacred sites of England serves as ritual cleansing for the characters. Artistically nuanced language and the sincere, soothing tone bring out the true beauty of this literary novel. This is an introspective, gentle novel that illuminates and rejuvenates in the same breath.

RECOMMENDED by The US Review of Books


Fertility doctors confront the lingering effects of personal and cultural emotional trauma. Holly and Roger Thomas have a stable marriage, fulfilling careers, and a son practicing for his bar mitzvah. Holly insists on throwing a birthday party each year complete with gifts for their stillborn daughter, but Roger doesn't complain. His Catholic brother and sister-in-law, however, find fault with Holly, primarily because she's Jewish. Her religion haunts her, almost as much as the death of her daughter. . .
. . . the author often beautifully depicts Holly s self-doubt as she explores different aspects of overcoming trauma. . . [in a] positive tale of moving forward through unexpected circumstances.

-- Kirkus Reviews

Dr. Roger and Holly Thomas run a successful fertility clinic in New York City. Roger tends to the patients' physical needs while Holly ministers to their emotional and psychological ones. The couple cherish the routines of their partnership and their happy marriage as they struggle with the pain of a lost child. Holly continues to throw their daughter birthday parties long after the child's been buried. This painful ritual causes her in-laws to question her sanity and is a source of annual familial strife.
Then the Thomas's son, Daniel, decides to complete his Bar Mitzvah. While Holly was born Jewish and Roger was born Catholic, neither parent practices his or her childhood religion. They've exposed Daniel to both religions for the sake of their families, but neither of them expected him to take it this far. Roger's devoutly Catholic family cannot accept Daniel's sincerity, and harsh words are said at his birthday party. Holly and Roger's resulting fight has surprising and unintended consequences.
All this turmoil takes its toll on the workings of the clinic. The Thomases have hosted something they call the Fertility Tour for over a decade. It's an opportunity for their clients to connect to one another outside of their familiar surroundings. Holly conducts the tour; she chooses the participants, orchestrates ice-breakers, and mediates conflicts. Normally she's a skillful operator, but she's lost her confidence. This year's tour is populated by an odd and ill-matched assortment of individuals. Needless to say, this tour does not run smoothly. Roger and Holly must find a way to reconnect with one another in order to salvage the retreat.

The Thomases deal with people at their most vulnerable. Fertility is closely tied to an individual's identity, and both men and women find it difficult to process the inability to have a child. While Holly and Roger have never encountered problems with conceiving, they have suffered a loss and are sympathetic to thwarted expectations. This closeness to struggle and their ongoing religious turmoil provide the pair with a lot of philosophical ground to cover. Is religion necessary to cope with the vicissitudes of life? Is God responsible?

Drinking the Knock Water is at heart an exploration of the role religion plays in the life of an individual. Faith in a god can both connect a soul to others and sow discord. In the end, it's up to the reader to decide if faith is essential or composed of empty rituals.

-- Manhattan Book Review

Excerpt: CHAPTER 1: Circumnavigating Sanity

          In a town famous for its ghosts, it was easy to imagine there was one lurking behind every tree. And while Holly knew most visitors to Sleepy Hollow expected movie-inspired visions of the headless horseman, in truth the densely wooded surroundings allowed a more peaceful somnolence. In spite of its thirty-mile proximity to the most populated city in the country, what with New York’s electric hubbub of restless, cosmopolitan energy, there was never a feeling of urgency in the little hamlet, merely a sleepy torpor, a sensing that the world stopped in this hollow of quiet dead.
            Whether the town cultivated any sensational image was another question altogether. Holly suspected it did not, at least not year round. Of course, there were the Halloween weekends, prompting arrival of thrill seekers by the thousands, but that was just theatrics. No real ghosts shared the stage.
            If there was any spectral unrest, it existed only in the minds of the towns' inhabitants.
            Even by the light of early evening in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where saturated gray skies released rain to drip from the trees, dotted here and there with planted shrubs and summer flowers in fresh bloom, there was a lovely serenity, enhanced further by the rain’s sudden cease. Here, there was nothing to fear.
            Holly entered the cemetery through scrolled iron gates wedged between gray quarried stone, which made up the wall bordering the grounds. She jogged up Forest Avenue, turned left on Transit, making her way up Hill Side, and then down onto Cascade, where she left the well-marked gravel path. From there she strode through wet grass crowded with lichened grave stones, some weatherworn and leaning askew, others newly polished with crisp lettering, until she reached the pale little stone marking the grave. At the baby’s feet, a short drop off past the main road, the Pocantico River burbled as it shot over rocky masses. Holly’s one request of Roger and the cemetery’s caretaker was that the site be near water, the giver of life, bringer of tranquility. Knowing how nearly Holly brinked insanity in those days, Roger swiftly supported her wishes; they were lucky to find a small plot in a relatively unpopulated section.
            Holly sat next to the grave, nestled the spray into the humped grass covering it, and leaned her cheek against the smooth stone. It was simple and austere, with only a slight scallop of embellishment at the top, befitting a little one who had never breathed air. She closed her eyes, inhaling deeply to catch her breath from the run, collecting her thoughts. Above her head, squirrels batted sticks together, hidden away in the leafy trees, a reminder of the unseen life they shared.
            Marit always managed to rattle her, either poking fun at Holly’s whims, or sometimes with outright malice, which Holly knew all too well stemmed from their differences in religious outlook. The fact that Arella’s birthday fell on St. John’s Eve didn’t help. For someone as devotedly Catholic as her sister-in-law, celebrating a baby’s life who had never been born, was sacrilege. The saint’s day was meant to celebrate a birth, Marit insisted, and certainly had nothing to do with a baby born dead.
            But it wasn’t a topic Holly was willing to think about today, not on Arella’s birthday. Instead, she catalogued her daughter’s gifts:  an enormous stuffed pony for her bed, and a cellphone. She chuckled at that one, recalling Roger’s perplexity.
            “Why do you have to get the baby a phone?” he’d asked her the week before when she walked into the house, arms loaded with shopping bags. Holly had exclaimed that Arella wasn’t a baby anymore, she was turning eleven, and every preteen needed a cellphone.
            Roger chewed his upper lip for a while, before asking, “Is this along the lines of ‘ET phone home?’”  He had laughed, and so had she. Gifts for Arella were an annual practice in their household, and long gone were the days where Roger made much of a fuss over it. Keeping Holly happy was his primary goal in life, even if that meant some particularly nutsy charges on their credit card every June. His wife’s frenzied activities subsided within a week or so after the birthday celebration, allowing her to settle back into reality, recharged and reaffirmed with the notion that she was doing the right thing by Arella.
            She felt warm pressure on her right shoulder, and opening her eyes saw that Millie’s husband, Josiah, knelt at her side on one corduroyed knee, his gnarled hand grasping her shoulder lightly, holding her steadfast. Holly looked up into the old man’s deep blue eyes, shot through with red veins, but firm and gentle in their gaze, and nodded. He stood up slowly and she extended a hand for him to pull, which he did.
            “Almost everybody’s there at the cottage,” he said. “Except Edward, but you knew that.” They were both aware that there was no need to explain further; of all the friends and relatives, Roger’s brother had never attended these parties, whether he was in town or off somewhere in the world. For some reason, Josiah enjoyed pointing out this fact to her, a reminder perhaps of which of the two older men in her life she could count on more.
            Holly stood immobile, gazing into the tangle of trees rambling up the hillside away from the brook.
            He looked at her closely. “We all live with ghosts.”
            The motion of her head was barely noticeable. “Yes,” she agreed. “Some are those of people who’ve never been born.”

            She looked down at the grave. “I have to leave now, Arella. Your party is starting.” She swept her index finger over the top of the stone, letting it linger on the upward swooping scallop, and then turned to walk with Josiah back up the hill.

About the Author:

As the award-winning author for her novels, Drinking the Knock Water: A New Age Pilgrimage and In Search of Sushi Tora, and on her lifestyle blog, “Feeding the Famished”, Emily Kemme tends to look at the world in all its rawness. She writes about human nature, and on her blog shares recipes and food for thought along with insights about daily life. She is a recipe creator but winces when labeled a foodie. She is the Food and Lifestyle Contributor for the Greeley Tribune’s Dining column and also writes features for the newspaper and its magazine, #Greality.

"I write about what I ate for lunch only if it's meaningful," Emily says. "Mostly, I'm just hungry.”

Emily also writes because her degrees in American and English History, followed by a law degree from the University of Colorado, left her searching for her voice. She also suffered from chronic insomnia.

“Writing helps clarify my mind, erasing clutter, and makes room for more impressions. My thoughts can seem random and disconnected, but once they flow onto paper, a coherency and purpose emerges, directing patterns into story. I sleep much better, too.”

As an author who lives in Greeley, Colorado, she celebrates people’s differences, noting that the biggest problem with being different is when it’s deemed a problem. Emily often identifies with the underdog, focusing on humanizing the outsider, showing there is not only one right way to be or to live. Through her writing she hopes her audience will be open to new ideas, the acceptance of others, and will recognize the universalities of human experience in a non-judgmental way as they meet her characters and follow their stories.

Her first novel, In Search of Sushi Tora, was awarded as Finalist for First Novel in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards and her second novel, Drinking the Knock Water, was awarded as a Finalist in Chick Lit in the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards and received two CIPA EVVY awards.  Emily is currently working on a children’s book series, Moro and The Cone of Shame, a collaborative project with her daughter-in-law, Mia. She is also writing her third novel, The Man With the Wonky Spleen, a story about human idiosyncrasies.

Professional Memberships: PEN America






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