Literary Fiction Lovers: Meet Kathryn Mattingly

Written on April 24, 2013 by Lori Anderson

A new literary star is born, right here in Sacramento – Kathryn Mattingly weaves a beautiful and powerful tapestry of words in “Benjamin” – her debut novel…


Kathryn Mattingly is a writer by design, and not so coincidently, taught writing at the design college where she used to be be Academic Chair. Lit & Film, English, College Success, and Critical Thinking were the classes in which she mentored her students to properly pen words. Now she edits manuscripts and mentors writers for creative rather than academic success. She’s had a lot of experience to pull from. Kathryn has written four fiction novels over the last decade. Her debut novel Benjamin was released in May.

I asked why the novels are just now being published and Kathryn smiles. She tells me that marketing is not her gift. “I had a NY agent for a couple years,” she says, “but he finally admitted to not having time to follow up on suggestions made by editors who reviewed my manuscripts. They felt my work was better suited for publishers like Bloomsbury or Scribner, because I write literary fiction (character driven, and not genre specific). Most publishers want plot driven (commercial) fiction. In his defense my agent was quite a fan of what I wrote, but he also had a lot of established authors who kept him busy and well fed. Once we parted ways I decided to look at smaller publishers, hoping not to get lost again in the system.”

She goes on to tell me that, “I soon became Academic Chair at the college where I taught, which did not allow time for writing or marketing fiction novels, but the trade off was the satisfaction that came with serving my faculty. I enjoyed mentoring them and problem solving daily academic issues, along with teaching predominantly right-brained design students how to be successful in college (and in life) by using critical thinking and English (especially writing) skills. Being laid off 4 years later as a result of downsizing (the college eliminated individual program managers and opted for one overall Chair) was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“I have been very blessed by the experiences I’ve had in the last two years, including dusting off the manuscripts and marketing them. I was fortunate to receive a contract from my first solicitation, which was also my first choice – Winter Goose Publishing. I absolutely love the quality product they are putting out there in the marketplace. I’ve profiled a lot of their authors in the articles I wrote here at The Possibility Place, and that’s what gave me the idea to approach them. It’s been a wonderful journey working with their amazing team of professionals.”

Speaking of profiles, below are some questions and answers that focus specifically on my friend and colleague’s writing, and her debut novel Benjamin (a New Century Quarterly Finalist). First, here is one of the reviews from the back cover:


“Mattingly writes with an artist’s flair, richly interweaving passion and suspense in this heartfelt tale of forbidden love and its unforeseen consequences. By turns poignant and shocking, Benjamin is at once a literary romance and a contemporary thriller, rife with spiritual themes and stunning plot twists. A must for readers who delight in a dramatic situation from which there is no apparent escape…” Eldon Thompson, author of the epic fantasy series The Legend of Asahiel with HarperCollins

What is Benjamin about in your own words?

The novel is about a woman whose son (Benjamin) has some very special gifts, and how she is willing to do whatever necessary to protect him from having those gifts exploited. It’s a testament to women: strong, resourceful, selfless and never expecting anything in return for their often extraordinary sacrifices made in the best interest of a child. Add an impossible love triangle complicated by the Catholic Church, and there you have it, a rather compelling story involving all the different types of love that drive us to do what we do, for better or for worse.

Where did you get your inspiration?

When I met my husband (in high school) he was Catholic, born and raised. He even had Catholic nuns for teachers who made him write on the chalkboard until his handwriting was legible. The man has perfect handwriting to this day. Our dates were going to mass on Saturday night and then out to pizza, because he worked on Sunday. I fell in love with the ornate cathedral – the dramatic art, the stained glass windows, the beautiful Latin hymns. Being a drama student who relished Shakespeare and wrote prolific poetry, I was also drawn to the mysteries of the mass itself – every sacred element taken and word spoken.

As a freshman in college I took Catholicism classes from the priest on campus. He was a young Italian with long dark hair and bright, penetrating eyes. James was banned from having a regular parish of his own because he had ideas a little too progressive for the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. We became very good friends. Intuition told me that he was struggling with the rule of celibacy. More importantly, he genuinely seemed to need intimacy and companionship. We are, after all, wired this way as human beings. James married my husband and I on the most stunning fall day I have ever witnessed. I took it as a sign that our marriage would be blessed with bold and vibrant experiences and I have not been disappointed. Several years later James left the church to marry an attractive young woman with a fatherless child. Hmm. Seed planted.

Much of the story occurs in Portland and the Rogue River Valley. Why Oregon?

We lived in Portland for three years. It’s a very creative-minded community. The wet weather was worth tolerating for the vibe of that quiet little cultural-forward city beside the Willamette River. We actually took the rafting trip on the Rogue that I write about in the book. It isn’t something you’d ever forget- rafting the Rogue. If God vacations anywhere, it’s on that wild and gorgeous untamed stretch of water surrounded by terrain He must have mustered up on His most imaginative day, after a bowl of Wheaties.


Then the story moves to Rome. Why Rome?

Well for one thing, it is the hub of the Catholic Church and home to the Pope, both of which play a part in the book. For another, I spent ten days in Rome on a writing trip and have seen or done everything I say about it, in terms of the city itself. For me, part of the fun of writing is developing a plot around somewhere I have traveled or lived.

There is a lot of media attention lately about the Catholic Church because of the new Pope. How do you think it will affect reader-reaction to Benjamin?

Anyone vaguely interested in the mysteries of Catholicism (or any religion) will like the book. Benjamin shows the more intriguing side of the church, whether you are a practicing Catholic or a total skeptic. My heroine struggles with sorting out her own feelings about faith, as many of us do, and I believe her conclusions probably mirror those for many of us when confronted with difficult life situations. Every culture has its own ideas about spirituality and what constitutes good/ethical behavior as opposed to evil/wrongdoing, and what the result of that might be once deceased. The message in Benjamin can be universally translated, and the shades of gray (always the most interesting) will also be universally understood for the problematic questions those middle tones raise. Black and white is easy. The rest, well, it’s been great soul-searching material for penning words to paper over the centuries and I dare say even before books were printed.

Tell me about your background as a writer and editor.

I have been writing my whole life. I got in trouble for writing stories in the first grade instead of doing my math, until the teacher finally confiscated one of them and read it. After that she told me I could write any time I wanted, once my class work was finished. It was a great carrot for finishing math. Later, in the fourth grade my teacher sent my stories off to a contest somewhere and I got two blue ribbons that year for winning whatever division she’d put me in. I was amazed that anyone would reward me for writing! I wrote editorials under an alias in high school, so that I could discuss controversial issues without being confronted in the halls. (I am an introvert, and I used to be quite shy.) I also wrote for the English department’s quarterly literary journal in college. Mostly poetry during those years. It was an honor to always have work chosen each term. It made me realize that not everyone who wants to write can do it well enough to get recognized. It was the first time I saw my writing as a gift.

Editing goes hand and hand with writing. A good writer is a good editor, first intuitively and then by design. Besides writing fiction, I enjoy writing about people and their accomplishments, and editing/mentoring writers to help them perfect their work. As senior editor for Possibility Publishing, this is exactly what I did. Recently I have branched out on my own with an editorial service for manuscripts called penpublishpromote. I owe a lot to Tracy Saville, CEO of Possibility Publishing. If it weren’t for her I would never have connected with Winter Goose Publishing, or have perfected my editorial abilities enough to start my own business.

Tell me about your published short stories.

The short stories are nothing like the novels I have written. It’s like the difference between a short race and running a marathon. You need a more sophisticated strategy and expert pacing throughout a longer run, whereas you can sprint in a short race like there’s no tomorrow – just put yourself out there and go for it.

I actually started writing short stories for my New York agent who wanted me to build a portfolio. He said this would help to get me taken seriously as a novelist- already having a record of short publications. It turned out to be even more fun than I remembered as a kid. Once I began I couldn’t stop. Then I started entering my short stories in contests and winning, which got them published. I have a collection of short stories being released in January 2014 by WGP called Fractured Hearts, and another novel called Journey will be published around the holidays.

Visit Amazon’s Kathryn Mattingly Page

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