Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Author Spotlight >>> Katrina Shawver

Katrina Shawver is an experienced writer, blogger, speaker, and author of the award-winning HENRY: A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America. She spent fifteen years researching WWII, Poland, Auschwitz, and the Holocaust and is the recipient of the 2018 Polish Heritage Award from the Polish American Congress of Arizona. A reader at heart, she loves curling up with a good book and a glass of Merlot by her side. For more information, visit katrinashawver.com.

How long have you been writing? 

My accidental writing career began in 1996. I penned a letter to the editor of the Arizona Republic newspaper in Phoenix, Arizona, and in it I complained about their coverage of schools. Six months later they called me up and asked me to write a regular column in a new community section. I did that for eleven years until the paper downsized. I met a lot of interesting people along the way. A chance meeting in 2002 changed the direction of my life. I met an eighty-five-year-old Polish gentleman who had survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald during World War II. In an impulsive move, I offered to write his story. We became good friends, even though he died a year later. In November 2017, the adult nonfiction biography, HENRY: A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America was published through Koehler Books.

What is your genre?

As a reader, I have always been drawn to nonfiction or historical novels based on true events. That interest also transfers to my writing. I have always been a history geek, lover of biographies and believer in happily ever after. For me, history is about people–what they experienced, how they survived, and what they endured. I got my writing chops penning newspaper columns about real people, events, and organizations. I think real life is far more interesting than anything I could make up. Documenting someone’s life story, especially when it is representative of a larger group of people and important era in history, is valuable. It has been incredibly validating to hear from many readers that HENRY resonated with them and had positive impact on them. I included this quote in the front of my book: The past actually happened but history is only what was written down.

What are you currently reading?

In the last three weeks I finished Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World, by William H. McRaven, The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, and Educated, by Tara Westover. I just began The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. I never read science fiction, but this is in the spirit of “the book is always better.” This 1962 book is the basis for the popular television series of the same name on Amazon Prime, and has a lot of World War II history written in. The premise is more of an “alternative history:” what if Germany and Japan won World War II and the US lost. I have watched the first three episodes.

For many years I had little time to read, even though the mantra is “writers should be constantly reading.” For the last two years, I have set a personal reading challenge to read a set number of books in a year. In 2018 I managed to read twenty-nine books. My goal was thirty. I use Goodreads to track the books I have read and want to read. I also accomplished a bucket list item – I began a book club to have some semblance of a social life and read a more diverse selection of books than my usual nonfiction. The Woman in Cabin 10 is the book club selection for January.

What is the hardest aspect of the writing process?

The hardest part of writing for me is distraction and isolation. It takes a solid discipline to regularly write and churn out words, especially on a long-term project, or if I am trying to think of a new project. Writing is a personal and private venture, done alone, usually deep in thought. I am good at short projects such as blogs, newsletters, and columns. The internet is necessary, but it can consume a great deal of time unless you can physically and mentally turn it off. There is a balance between being proactive on social media to connect with others, market your book, and stay up to date on trends and news, versus having the discipline to turn it off to write and create new content. Both are necessary in the life of a writer. There is so much good information out there, like TED talks, YouTube tutorials, following other authors, and literally connecting with people around the world through LinkedIn and Facebook, I can find myself online for hours if I am not careful. YouTube is a huge distraction for me. Once I watch one video it has this way of always recommending more videos to watch.

What is the one piece of advice you’d give new writers?

It’s hard to name just one thing. Believe in yourself, invest in yourself, and WRITE. You can’t be a writer unless you are putting words on paper. Then, commit to perpetual learning and networking. Improve your craft by attending workshops and writing events to meet other authors, or at least enroll in a few online seminars. Find a critique group. Be a sponge for information. Become tech savvy with social media and graphics programs like Canva, PicMonkey, and Animoto for Instagram, to name just a few. We live in a visual world.

Ultimately, success is based on one thing–a really good book. It is the quality of the craft, and professionalism invested in editing and formatting, that will convey a polished message with the best chance to resonate with readers. Write for yourself, publish for others.

Katrina's award-winning book:

HENRY: A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America.

This incredible true story is both a witness to the Holocaust through Polish eyes and the story of how Henry Zguda, a Polish (Catholic) competitive swimmer, survives Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps by his wits, humor, luck, and friends. At times humorous, always gut-honest, this account fills a huge gap in historical accounts of Poles during World War II. Henry’s story is backed by authentic documents and photos reprinted throughout the book and meticulous research, that include travel to Poland and Germany.

Author website: katrinashawver.com

Facebook: Read Katrina Shawver

HENRY on Amazon

HENRY on Barnes & Noble