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Sometimes Late Starts are the Best Starts of All

Kathryn Kay

Interview with Kathryn Kay, author of The Gilder.

Sometimes, late starts are the best starts of all. For Nantucketer Kathryn Kay, whose first novel, The Gilder, was published in 2012 when Kathryn was 58 years old, this is especially true.

"I finished my undergrad degree at age 40, and then went on to participate in a low-residency MFA writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts to get a Masters in fiction writing".

Low residency writing programs are designed for writers who may already have full time jobs and family responsibilities and do not require physically being in campus classrooms, as in traditional degree programs. Kathryn revised and worked on a story she had written as an undergrad a Lesley College in Boston, and decided it might make a unique novel. The story, loosely based on Kathryn's own experiences living for a time in Florence, Italy, learning the craft of gilding, lay in various stages of drafts in her writing studio in Nantucket for close to ten years.

"Finally, one winter day, I decided I had to either finish it, or abandon it. I had about eighty pages left to write, so I set a goal of five pages a day until it was done".

With the help of Nancy Thayer, Kathryn found an agent for the book, then a publisher, and in the fall of 2010, a box of beautifully printed books arrived on the front porch of her home on the Polpis road.

"The feeling of initially holding the book, the real thing, in my hands was just overwhelming".

The arduous process of promoting the book began, taking Kathryn and her husband, Robert, up and down both the East and West Coasts during the winter of 2012, promoting the book with readings and author signings in bookstores and  book clubs, both large and small.

"I am a private and solitary person", Kathryn says, "most writers are. So I wasn't sure how I would react to being in the public eye, but to my surprise, I really took to it".

"In fact", she said, "every single reading was a wonderful experience", whether there was two or 62 people in attendance".

Kathryn said she felt overwhelming gratitude for the warmth and encouragement expressed by fans of the book.

Now, home in Nantucket, Kathryn is focused on being a grandmother, beginning research on another book, and leading writing classes for women at her Nantucket Writers Studio, housed in the charming guest cottage on her property, where she offers a "smorgasbord of writing exercises for all genres".

Before The Gilder was published, Kathryn was very involved in bringing Boston's Grub Street Writing Center's Memoir Project to Nantucket (which I wrote about here). The results were cumulated into a lovely book called Little Grey Island, encapsulating twenty mini-memoirs from Nantucket residents and wash-a-shores -- stories of their childhoods, some reaching back into the early 20th century, of growing up and growing old on-Island. The book could have a Volume Two, if the project finds a Nantucket home this year, and some help running it.

"I am hoping this all happens organically", she said.

In the meantime, please look for Kathryn Under-The-Tent at the Nantucket Book Festival, June 21-23, where she will be selling and signing her intriguing story, The Gilder


Ryder S. Ziebarth, a freelance writer, was most recently published in the Metropolitan Diary section in the New York Times,  Brevity, a flash- nonfiction literary journal, N magazine and NantucketChronicle.com among other publications. Here are her other interviews with 2013 Nantucket Book Festival authors Ann Leary, Nat Philbrick, Nancy Thayer and Bob Barsanti.