Kate Brandes is the debut author of THE PROMISE OF PIERSON ORCHARD (Wyatt-MacKenzie, 2017) and a member of and contributor to WWWB. There is no better feeling than when one of our own makes it. We are so proud of and happy for you, Kate!
About her –
“I grew up all over the east coast (born in Chapel Hill, NC; early childhood in New Orleans then Madison, TN before moving to Youngstown, OH.) I’ve lived in Pennsylvania since middle school. I had a deep southern accent as a child that faded over time, but I’m told it still creeps in every once in a while. I was raised by a single mother who started medical school the day I started first grade.
I went to college at Penn State University, earning a B.S. in geology and then attended North Carolina State University where I earned a M.S. in hydrogeology. I worked for six years in private consulting as a geologist and earned my professional geologist certification. Following that I got more interested in environmental conservation issues and worked for the government and non-profit organizations as an environmental scientist. Throughout my professional career I’ve served as a technical writer in many capacities. I currently design and install gardens featuring native plants to support the local ecosystem.
I’ve journaled and read all my life and dreamed of writing creatively. I started my first short story at the age of thirty-five after my first son was born. It took me two years to finish. I picked up my first paintbrush at forty.”
Let’s start from the beginning, your beginning.
How did your childhood impact the woman you’ve become?
Starting from the time I was age four, I was raised by a single mother who was often away since she was putting herself through medical school and then working a lot. So I grew up very independent. I also watched my mom go after her dreams despite considerable odds and because of that I don’t see a lot of boundaries for myself in terms of what I’m capable of.
Favorite writing clothes?
I like to be comfy, of course:) I have a pair of grey sweat pants that don’t look too terrible in case someone comes to the door, so those are my go to. I’m fine in any t-shirt, but my favorite has a welsh dragon on the front. It makes me feel fierce and I can use as much of that as possible when I’m trying to write.
Favorite place to write?
My home office. It’s a 12X12 foot space that functions as my work office (for my environmental science work), my writing space, and my art studio.
I’m a fan of jonagolds. Every fall I pick bags and bags of assorted apples from a local orchard and make pies and crisps and tons of applesauce.
What part of the publishing journey have you felt the most naturally equipped for?
I take critical feedback well. Instead of knocking me back as I know it does some people, I always see it as a possibility to make my writing better. As I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve gotten more keen in terms of which feedback makes sense and which to discard, so that also helps.
The least? Where did you find the help you needed?
Since I came to creative writing so late in life (not until my mid-thirties), I had no idea how to tell a story. Kathryn Craft, a developmental editor, mentored me through the writing of The Promise of Pierson Orchard from beginning to end. I feel lucky to have met her early on. She’s now a good friend.
The Promise of Pierson Orchard is fraught with emotional tension. First, congratulations! That is what we all need to be doing. One of the issues your characters LeeAnn and Jack struggle with is their growing anxiety over and costs of infertility. What drew you to this topic?
When I began writing this book, I’d just had my second child. I wanted both of my pregnancies very much and I had no trouble getting pregnant. But even so there was always a waiting period and months would pass and I would inevitably begin to worry. I realized how terribly difficult it would be for a couple who couldn’t conceive. That experience could tear a happy marriage apart over time. So I wanted to explore some of that in the novel since it was on my mind so much during early drafts.
Maternal abandonment is another of the topics you address. There couldn’t be a stronger opposite to infertility than that! What drew you to this topic? What was the experience of writing it being a mother yourself?
My father abandoned my family when my sister and I were 2 and 4, respectively. After I had my own children, it made me question more than ever how a parent could leave their children. I never had the opportunity to talk with my father about his choices so, in restrospect, I suppose I wanted to write a character who abandoned her children that I could understand and relate to.
Shortly after I began the novel, I was in a writing workshop where the instructor said there were two things a writer should never do. One was write about farming life (because these stories are often perceived of as boring). The other was to feature a main female character who abandoned her children (because readers would never like this character). I was doing both of those things in my novel. I felt strongly enough about the story that I didn’t follow the instructor’s advice even though I was more or less new to writing at the time. My gut told me I was writing the story I needed to write.
The environment itself is a character with The Promise of Pierson Orchard. Jack and LeeAnn run an apple orchard that belonged to his family. LeeAnn wants to use more environmentally-safe farming methods. Jack has been a farmer all his life, and he believes the industry bears enough risk and struggle as it is. You are an environmental scientist. What are your thoughts?
My family is from a rural area in Pennsylvania. I mostly grew up in a rural place like the setting in the novel. My grandfather was a dairy farmer. I lived and worked on a dairy farm for a time in my early adult life. Rural people tend to think about land differently from those who have never had to depend on it for income. From a personal standpoint, I prefer environmentally-friendly practices. But I also understand the practical and cultural reasons why a farmer might not want to or be able to go in that direction.
Their town becomes a target of an oil company who wants to lease the townspeople’s land for potential drilling. This is an especially heated topic today with the North Dakota pipeline and the protests over it. What things should we consider when deciding where we fall on these issues? Is there a way to safely drill and convey oil without negatively impacted the water supply?
These are hard questions. It’s easy to have black and white answers. But in my 20+ years as an environmental scientist I’ve found the answers are often somewhere in the middle and require compromise. There are two truths: People need energy and accidents will happen, no matter what. For me, the simple answer is to provide energy in the safest, most ethical manner that is economically feasible. The complexity comes from trying to understand how best to do that and carry it out.
The word ‘promise’ in The Promise of Pierson Orchard has multiple meanings. How so?
There’s the promise of money should Jack and LeeAnn decide to lease their land, the promise of of continued misery for the characters unless they’re courageous enough to change, the promise of the orcharding life that is the one thing that LeeAnn and Jack still agree on, and the promise of happiness for the characters if they can just find it in themselves to reach for what they so desperately need from each other.
Film or Television?
Film for sure. I even know who the stars would be:
Jack – Patrick Dempsey
Wade – James Norton
LeeAnn – Angelina Jolie
Stella – Meryl Streep
Roses or Zinnias?
Zinnias, no question.
Painting in oil or Painting in water?
I’ve only ever painted with watercolor. I love the transparency of them and how you can layer them to create more interest — sort of like characters in a story.
Thank you, Kate! We support you now and always.
This story is Erin Brockovich meets Promised Land, about a Pennsylvania family threatened by betrayal, financial desperation, old flames, fracking, and ultimately finding forgiveness.
In the novel, Green Energy arrives, offering the impoverished rural community of Minden, Pennsylvania, the dream of making more money from their land by leasing natural gas rights for drilling. But orchardist, Jack Pierson, fears his brother, Wade, who now works for Green Energy, has returned to town after a shame-filled twenty-year absence so desperate to be the hero that he’ll blind their hometown to the potential dangers. Jack also worries his brother will try to rekindle his relationship with LeeAnn, Jack’s wife, who’s recently left him. To protect his hometown and to fulfill a promise to himself, Jack seeks out his mother and environmental lawyer Stella Brantley, who abandoned Minden—and Jack and Wade–years ago.
When LeeAnn’s parents have good reason to lease their land, but their decision leads to tragedy, Jack must fight to find a common ground that will save his fractured family, their land, and the way of life they love.
“The Promise of Pierson Orchard is a wonderful read, compelling, and surprising, and sparkling with insight. I devoured it in a single afternoon, and my guess is that you will do the same. Or you may decide to savor Kate Brandes’s fine writing over time. Either way, I envy you the treat of reading it fresh.” – Robin Black, award-winning author of LIFE DRAWING
“Kate Brandes’ beautifully crafted story maps the town of Minden, PA with compassion and insight. Her characters feel as real as people you know, and as their lives are tested, broken, and patched together, she evokes the enduring bonds that tie us to our families, our communities, and nature itself. This is a lovely, stirring novel. ” – Alix Ohlin, highly acclaimed author of THE MISSING PERSON and BABYLON and OTHER STORIES
“Capably following in the footsteps of Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer, Kate Brandes marries flora and family in The Promise of Pierson Orchard to craft an unmistakable sense of place in an evolving environment. This paean to pastoral roots torn asunder by capitalist yearnings is equal parts promise and prediction for our fast-changing future.”—Ellen Urbani, author of LANDFALL and WHEN I WAS ELENA
“The Promise of Pierson Orchard is a well-tended story about two brothers who love the same girl and were disappointed by the same woman–their mother. When life brings them all back together again, old wounds are re-opened and regrets bubble to the surface. As sweet and tart as the apples grown in an orchard so vivid I felt as if I had been there, this novel is sure to please fans of family-driven fiction.”–Catherine McKenzie, bestselling author of HIDDEN and FRACTURED
“Newcomer Kate Brandes delivers honest, shades-of-gray storytelling in The Promise of Pierson Orchard. This is a nuanced tale about the rise of poison in one fractured family, and how high-pressure situations can clarify what’s most important to us. You’ll remember these complex characters long after you’ve finished the book.” — Therese Walsh, author of THE MOON SISTERS and THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY
THE PROMISE OF PIERSON ORCHARD is available –
Other ways to bond with Kate –
Interviewed by –
MM Finck is a writer, essayist, and offers query letter coaching and opening pages editing as The Query Quill. She oversees WWWB’s Interviews and Agents’ Corner segments. Her women’s fiction is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the contest chair for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association 2016 Rising Star writing contest for unpublished authors.
Her work has appeared in national and regional publications, including skirt! magazine. When she isn’t editing her novel, #LOVEIN140, you can find her belting out Broadway tunes (off key and with the wrong words), cheering herself hoarse over a soccer match (USWNT!), learning to play piano (truly pitifully), building or fixing household things, and trying to squeeze more than twenty-four hours out of every day.