I love when family history inspires a story. For author Julie Kibler, learning of a young romance between her grandmother and a black man in the south during the 1920s, inspired Calling Me Home. It’s a beautiful and also heartbreaking story, in that the reader hopes for a happy ending but deep down understands how the story ends.
Julie shares more about discovering her family history and who she would like to see cast if the novel turned into a film. Here is my Q and A with the author:
Q: This book has a beautiful dedication to your grandmother. Can you share a little bit of the family history that gave you the idea to write this book?
A: Seven or so years ago, my father told me that when my grandmother was a young woman in the late 1920s in northern Kentucky, she’d been in love with a black man. I learned this a long time after she died, but it helped me understand her personality a little better. She wasn’t an especially “warm fuzzy” grandmother. I believe now that she must have lost her one true love, and that it affected the way she felt about the rest of her life. My dad also told me while I was researching the setting for Calling Me Home that his hometown had a sign at the city limit warning blacks to be gone by sundown. I’d never heard of such a thing, and further research indicated this wasn’t uncommon in the first six or seven decades of the 20th century — and also that many of the towns where early generations of my family lived, on both sides, were “sundown towns.” Calling Me Home is fiction, but learning these things about my own family inspired me to write the story.
Q: I so badly wanted this story to have the “and they lived happily ever after” ending, but I just knew it wasn’t meant to be for Robert and Isabelle. Was this story difficult to write?
A: As much as I would have liked a happily ever after ending, too, I knew it wasn’t possible. I took comfort in knowing I could create that possibility for some of the characters, regardless, and that I could write an ending filled with hope in spite of the unavoidably tragic circumstances.
Q: Did writing this book lead to more discovery about your family history?
A: Recently, my family enjoyed digging through boxes and boxes of old photographs my grandfather had carefully preserved, along with saved letters and cards, hoping to learn something more about my grandmother’s relationship — a photo, perhaps, or some other hint. I was surprised as I viewed pictures of my grandmother as a teen for the first time. She was curvy, with a shy, but sassy smile. Her hair looked soft and somewhat fair. When I knew her, she was painfully thin, and always colored her hair the darkest shades of brown or black — really, quite harsh looking. We were fairly amazed at the vast transformation in her appearance from young adult to woman. My sister, my daughters, and I also sorted through a small trunk of costume jewelry, deciding what each of us would keep and what we would discard. Nothing surprised us especially, but we enjoyed sifting through the memories and curiosities stirred up by the task.
We’ve always been a family of packrats and storytellers, but I’m frequently surprised at how much we don’t know. I spend a lot of hours researching genealogy, locations, and connections online, asking my parents questions, and digging through keepsakes. I always wonder when the next bit of family lore might surprise me and set my fingers to typing madly.
Q: If Calling Me Home were to become a movie, who would you like to see cast for the main characters?
A: I recently sold the film option to Warner Brothers, with Roy Lee producing (who also produced The Departed and The Lake House). I’m excited to see how it unfolds. Dorrie was greatly inspired by the personality of a friend of mine, so it’s extremely hard for me to picture the right actress. I personally would love to see Betty White play the present-day Isabelle, but folks tend to peg her as a comic actress, so I’m open to suggestions for both of these women. I could see Taissa and Vera Farmiga playing the young Isabelle and her mother, and though Chadwick Boseman seems a bit old for the part of Robert, I’d love to see an actor with his looks and charisma.
Q: Is there another project you’re working on?
A: I’m currently working on a story set in Fort Worth, Texas, which is near where I live. I’m still not sure it will be “the one,” and I’m a little superstitious about talking about it — it seems whenever I start talking about a story idea very much, it tends to lose its magic. But I think I’ll probably always write stories about people who seem, on the surface, very different, but at heart are not so different at all.
Read more about Julie and Calling Me Home on her website!