By Leslie Lindsay
Resonate story of love, loss, and friendship, inspired by historical events and connected by the Berachah Home for the Redemption and Protection of Erring Girls.
In the early 1900s, on a dusky speck of land just outside Arlington, Texas, a home is built and curated by Reverend J.T. Upchurch and his wife, Maggie May for the protection and redemption of ‘erring girls,’ whether by life circumstance, prostitution, rape, birth, poverty, addiction, widowhood, or more. At the time, the home is progressive, and perhaps shunned by townspeople. Who would want to do what the Upchurches are doing? Who would take that on?
That’s the premise of Julie Kibler’s second book, HOME FOR ERRING AND OUTCAST GIRLS (Crown, July 20 2019). The main difference with the Berachah Home is that it offers faith/religion, a safe haven for these women (and their infants/children), training/work, and they don’t force women to give their children up for adoption.
Told by three vibrant narrators, spanning decades, we ‘meet’ present-day Cate, a university librarian working in the archive section, along with her mentee/work-study student, Laurel. Both Cate and Laurel are fascinated with the Berachah collection, and both have a story of their own.
Mattie Corder and her son, Cap, arrive at the home in 1904 and Cap is not doing well. Neither is Mattie, really. They are befriended by Lizzie (and her young daughter, Docie), who is struggling with her own demons. Together, we see them through unbearable loss, heartache, difficult choices, and ultimately, diverging paths.
We skip around in time–jumping forward to the flu epidemic (1917-18) and into the early-mid 1920s. It’s clear Kibler has done her homework–meticulous attention to details and historically accurate events are peppered throughout the narrative, giving HOME FOR ERRING AND OUTCAST GIRLS an authentic feel. She tells the stories of Mattie and Lizzie and Cate with insight and sensitivity. I really wanted to *be* Cate and delve into the archives myself. I was especially moved by the earlier chapters and so wanted to know more about the origins of the home, the land, the remains, and the cemetery—always a good sign!
Please join me in welcoming the lovely Julie Kibler to the author interview series.
Julie, welcome! I immediately fell in love with your spoiler-free author’s note at the beginning of the book. I think it’s great when we stumble upon fun little facts about history that propel us into story-world. Can you tell us more about how you discovered the Berachah Home?
Thank you so much for having me!
I was on Facebook one day when a friend posted a link to an article about the “most haunted places in Arlington, Texas,” and I was curious. I figured I knew each of them after living there for 25 years, but I was surprised to learn about the cemetery for the Berachah Home at the very bottom of the list. I did fast internet searches and was hooked. Once I visited the cemetery, the real archives at the University of Texas at Arlington and began to learn the stories of the home and the women, I was completely sunk.
“Kibler’s poignant story effectively captures the raw pain and anger these women experience, but also shows them moving forward and finding support in other women.”
The home is no longer there, but what remains—I understand—is the cemetery and maybe some old foundations of outbuildings. Can you set the scene for us a bit? Do you have any photos?
I have taken lots of photos over time, and there are also historical photos available in the archives and online, so it wasn’t very difficult to get the basic setting. I did struggle with the actual locations of the buildings and landmarks–none remain except the foundation of a tiny chapel next to the cemetery. I studied an archaeology project a master’s level student conducted about the grounds and found a few photos in the newsletters printed by the home each month that showed buildings in proximity to each other. I feel I now know more or less what was there and where many of the buildings were, but I’ll never know for sure!
Cate discovers the cemetery in her first scene. Here’s a short excerpt:
“A park is visible from my new backyard. It’s the last quiet weekend of the year. Soon, it will teem with students playing intramurals, studying, or socializing, instead of the solitude I seek this morning. It’s a good day to explore.
The park is small, and thick with trees. Only a few paved paths connect the busy roads and a parking lot, and it takes no time to run the length each way. On my second circuit, I cut through a playing field near the back edge to see how vulnerable my yard is. The campus police patrol the park and nearby neighborhoods, but now that I see how secluded the area is, I’m relieved my wood fence is in good repair. Fortunately, an even taller industrial fence makes it nearly impossible to access it from the field. My windows and yard aren’t visible at all.
I slow my pace, cool down as much as the humidity allows, then walk, taking a long draw on my water bottle.
The sun is at the treetops now, and the sound of traffic is increasing, but still muffled by huge oaks. I walk toward the far corner of the park, curious what lies beyond in the dusky woods. I’m surprised to find another grassy area surrounded by a simple chain-link fence. It’s a small cemetery, memorial stones scattered here and there–an odd discovery in this modern-day park. Perhaps early settlers buried their dead here, and the city graciously fenced the space instead of incorporating it into the park.
A historical marker catches my eye near the gate. I struggle to read it in the early-morning light. Site of Berachah Home and Cemetery . . .”
Here are a couple of photos I took of the cemetery. Many of the markers are flat and sunken, so it doesn’t look like much unless you know what you’re looking for.
What about the idea that the grounds could be haunted? Do you believe in ghosts? Did you ever toy with the idea of making HOME FOR ERRING AND OUTCAST GIRLS a ghost story?
At my launch event last week, I said that I don’t believe in ghosts—unless it’s two a.m. and I’m home alone in my very old house, in a historical hotel, or wandering a deserted cemetery. Interestingly, the smallest headstones in the cemetery, mostly for children, are often decorated with small toys, as if someone comes regularly to leave playthings for the tiny spirits.
I did write one small subplot that hinted at a ghost in the earliest version my editor saw. It was too random to leave in, so we removed it, though if you pay close attention, you might find the remnants.
Overall, I’m just a practical, down-to-earth writer who lives in the reality of past and present, and as Cate says in the novel, “I’m not superstitious. I don’t believe any place or person is haunted by anything but the past. But suddenly, that old saying about a ghost walking over a grave crosses my mind.” I suppose I’ll believe in ghosts when I see one.
Your first book, CALLING ME HOME was a bestseller, a Target Book Club pick, and received many other accolades. HOME FOR ERRING AND OUTCAST GIRLS took awhile–six years between books–which can be a long time in the publishing world. How did you know when you found ‘your’ story? And why are these second books so notoriously ‘hard?’
I played around with, and wrote a good amount of, eight or nine different story ideas before I settled on HOME FOR ERRING AND OUTCAST GIRLS. Yes, that many. But none of them grabbed me and wouldn’t let go like this one did. When something has my heart pounding nearly out of my chest and keeps me engaged even after long months of writing even when I don’t feel like writing, I know it’s the one. CALLING ME HOME was a true story of my heart—inspired by my grandmother’s own story—and I just didn’t have the same attachment until I came across the Berachah Home. I’m lucky enough to be on my own schedule more or less, and I just want to write books that keep me awake at night—and sometimes even bleed over into my dreams.
I suspect for most debut authors, finding the balance between revising and promoting their first novel and getting to work on the second is one of the most difficult parts of the job. I found it to be nearly impossible. I attended nearly 100 book club meetings for CALLING ME HOME, and it has had a really “long tail” as I still get requests occasionally. I decided to devote my time and passion to getting the word out about it for as long as I had the energy. When I began to burn out, I then found I was ready to write a new story and the timing was just right.
Overall, I think HOME FOR ERRING AND OUTCAST GIRLS is about overcoming adversity with trust, grace, and acceptance. Is that how you see the story? Is there something else you’re hoping reader’s take away?
I do see it that way, absolutely. It was so nice to find this historical organization that believed in these ideals, even when the women they took were so broken.
I also think I repeat this theme in nearly everything I write: Family is not always the one you are born to, but sometimes the one you create. Family–and humans in general–will always disappoint us in one way or another, but sometimes we genuinely have to let go of those we are tied to biologically and find people or groups that have our best interests at heart. I have had two foster daughters, and one has now been part of my family for 24 years. The other needed us for a time, and then, happily, was able to reclaim her family of origin.
I also tend to write about mothers and children and the incredible bonds between them—in spite of any circumstance that damages them or keeps them apart. These bonds do not always survive physically, but ultimately, they affect every step we take and every choice we make.
Julie, it’s been a delight. Thank you, thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have—like your writing routine, what you’re reading, if you’ve got any trips planned, crazy dog antics?
A friend in my Tai Chi class gave me a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land recently, a dystopian novel written in the 1960s by Robert A. Heinlein. It’s interesting and fun to be reading something so off the beaten track of my own reading choices. I’m also listening to The Widows by Jess Montgomery, and reading The Good People by Hannah Kent (I loved Burial Rites!). I used to read one book at a time, but those days are long gone, so it takes me forever to finish a single book.
I’ll be making a few bookstore stops over the next few months and meeting with lots of book clubs. I’m excited to visit places I’ve lived or where the people I love live—San Antonio, Houston, Denver, Spokane, maybe even California eventually. I have one story idea that might take me to Norway, but that might not be my next book, so Norway might have to wait. You never know.
I have four rescued dogs and cats—all very sweet and well-behaved, but also spoiled because they are my children now that the human ones are all grown, and they like popcorn and peaches as much as I do. These furry coworkers keep me company into the wee hours of the morning, when I tend to do my best writing, nestled at my feet to keep them warm in the winter, and sometimes knocking over glasses of water to remind me to go to bed or feed them.
For more information, to connect with Julie Kibler on social media, or to purchase a copy of HOME FOR ERRING GIRLS, please see:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Julie Kibler is the author of Home for Erring and Outcast Girls and the bestselling Calling Me Home, which was an IndieNext List pick, Target Club Pick, and Ladies’ Home Journal Book Club Pick, published in fifteen languages. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and journalism and a master’s degree in library science and lives with her family, including four rescued dogs and cats, in Texas.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author photo courtesy of author/Crown Publishing and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Please follow on Instagram for more like this. Historic image of Berachah Home ‘dedication ceremony’ retrieved from Wikipedia on 8.01.19]