Interview with Kathryn Fitzmaurice, author of The Year The Swallows Came Early

author-interviewsI’d like to welcome Kathryn Fitzmaurice for a great author interview on the Maw Books Blog.  Kathryn has just published her debut novel, The Year the Swallows Came Early, which I loved.  Check out my book review and then join us back here.

Book  Cover:  The Year the Swallows Came Early

Maw Books:  Welcome Kathryn!  First, what led you to write The Year the Swallows Came Early instead of other books you may have considered writing?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: The Year the Swallows Came Early was the book I had to write.  I supposed I didn’t have any other ideas until I got this one out.  Now that this one is completed, I’ve been writing about other ideas.  I’m kind of like that; one project at a time.

Maw Books:  You say, “My first novel’s title changed approximately 18 times while I was writing it. Then, when it finally sold to Brenda Bowen at The Bowen Press, she decided the title should be The Year the Swallows Came Early, which, (I promise this is the truth) was the exact title I used when writing my first draft four years ago.”  What were some of the reject titles and what is it that you like so much about this one?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: First, I have to say that I was so surprised we both came up with the same title!  I suppose this is a sign that it was meant to be, and that is why I have come to like it better than the others.  I had a really hard time deciding what the title should be.  I changed it so many times, mostly depending on my mood or the chapter I was working on at the time.  Some of the past tiles were; Earthquake Weather, Chocolate, Just Right, and then Foodology, which was what the tile was when it sold.

Maw Books:  And it’s so sad that due to economic times, Bowen Press had to close before it even had a chance to soar!  What surprised you most about your book and/or characters as you were writing? Did anything turn out radically different than you’d originally thought it would?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice:  I am one of those writers who doesn’t use an outline.  I do, however, absolutely have a general idea about where I want the story to go, but really, the story evolves as I write it.  For me, a good day of writing occurs when I suddenly see events or conversations that I hadn’t thought about in the beginning.  Those are the best surprises, the ones I hadn’t planned on.

Maw Books:  When you develop a main character like Groovy, do you find yourself thinking about them all the time?  What would Groovy do?  Would Groovy like this?  Do your characters stay with you long after you’ve closed them between the covers of the book?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Usually between the hours of 4:30am and 6:30am is the time when I can best hear the characters.  I am completely a morning person.  After 3:00pm, I’m not much good any more.  But, yes, the characters stay with me while I’m writing about them.  Often, I’ll rewrite an entire scene in my head while I’m making dinner or driving my two boys to their practices.

Maw Books:  I just don’t know how morning people do it.  I am in awe.  Was there a particular scene that came to you, or a moment when you said to yourself “oh yes, I have to write about that”, or was it a more gradual process?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: There were two things I knew I wanted to include in the book, the return of the swallows and the day I first looked through my grandmother’s box of manuscripts that she left to me when she passed away.  These ideas came to me gradually, and were the main concepts I sat down with to write the book.

Maw Books:  I loved that you gave Groovy your grandmother’s box of manuscripts.  What was the most difficult part of The Year the Swallows Came Early to write?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: The most difficult part to write was when Eleanor forgave her father, because the whole mindset of forgiveness can be a difficult place to get to sometimes.  It took her a long to come around to it.  I wanted to let her get there on her own time, and she did.

Maw Books:  What do you want young readers to come away with after reading The Year the Swallows Came Early?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I just hope they enjoy the book.  I say this because I have two teenage boys and I have learned not to push, just suggest.  This makes for a happier house!

Maw Books:  What was it like when you held the finished product of your book in your hands for the first time?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice:  I was overwhelmed with thankfulness toward the people who helped me so much as I wrote the book over the last three years.  I am lucky to be in a fabulous critique group, and my agent, Jen Rofe, at the Andrea Brown Agency, was a tremendous help.  I have learned that writing a book is a much combined effort.

Maw Books:  This is a question that I ask every author I interview and that’s to share a recipe that appeared in the book or a favorite of theirs.  I was giddy when I read The Year the Swallows Came Early because Groovy loves cooking and wants to go to culinary school.  She plans out special menus depending upon the occasion.  Most of what Groovy makes is really simple – meals out of a box, etc but she is so proud of herself. At the back of the book, you already included the recipe for the chocolate covered strawberries that Groovy sells (recipe at end of this interview).  Is there another recipe in the book that you’d like to share with your readers?  And in what situation would Groovy make this recipe?  How would it make her feel?

author-recipesKathryn Fitzmaurice: Well, her most special recipe is the chocolate covered strawberries.  But I think her second favorite recipe is scrambled eggs.  She would make these when she wanted to have a nice quiet little dinner, maybe after a crisis, because they would make her feel better.  Her recipe is to use two eggs plus one-eighth cup of milk for each person.  She talks about this recipe in the chapter entitled Scrambled Eggs, which starts on page 251.  This is also where she makes up the word “Foodology”.

Maw Books:  Describe yourself as a reader.  What books influenced and inspired you as a child? As an adult?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I read constantly, like I’m sure most writers do.  Usually, I read middle grade novels, but also, I read classic novels that my high school sons are assigned to read.  I read the classics so I can just give a quick glance/check on how their essays are coming along when it comes times to turn them in.  The last classic I read was Richard Wright’s Black Boy, which was assigned to my 15 year old.

When I was a child, I read The Little House books, and, of course, my grandmother’s science fiction books and short stories.

Maw Books:  At this point in your career, what has been your most memorable experience?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Absolutely my most memorable experience has been when my little neighbor girl, named Amanda, age 11, came over and told me she read the book and she loved it!!  I just wanted to give her a big hug!

Maw Books:  The Year the Swallows Came Early is your debut novel, what are your goals and aspirations for the future?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I hope to write a companion book to Swallows and, in the future, some historical fiction.

Maw Books:  How awesome!  I’d honestly read whatever you write next.  What’s the last book you finished and what’s on your nightstand right now?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I just finished reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and right now I am reading Lucky Breaks, the new one from Susan Patron.  They are both amazing books in very different ways.

Maw Books:  Which book or author has most influenced you as a writer?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Any book by Kate Dicamillo.  But really, every book I read influences me in some way.  Every author has a different gift.  At some point, no matter what I am reading, I will come across a paragraph or a line that makes me think what a genius the author is whose book I’m reading.  I will re-read it and think, “How did they come up with that?”

Maw Books:  Besides the books you just mentioned, what is a book or author you think everyone should read?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: This is a very difficult question for me to answer because I am the type of person whose favorite color changes.  Right now, its lime green.  So see, the books I think everyone should read right now will be different next month.  But I guess I would have to say that I loved Where the Red Fern Grows.  Mostly because it had those incredible dogs in it, but it is truly a masterpiece in voice.  The main character is so memorable.  He saves that money for so long to buy his dogs.  You can really feel what he wants.

Maw Books:  What do you do outside the world of books?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I do a lot of PTA things for the public schools my boys attend.  I really like knowing the other parents and the principal and the teachers.  And then, most afternoons, I drive my two boys to water polo practices five days a week.  And I walk my dog, Holly, who I’m certain is the smartest dog ever.  I hate grocery shopping.  I’d rather break my arm and get a cast put on it than make out a grocery list and go to the store, which is very unlike my main character!

Maw Books:  I hate taking my kids to the grocery store and I hate going in the evening.  I wish I didn’t have to go either.  What are you working on now, and what new release(s) can we expect to see from you down the road?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I am writing a companion book to Swallows, and I hope to rewrite a historical fiction book I’ve been working on for the past two years.

Maw Books:  Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers of the Maw Books Blog?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I would just like to thank you for hosting me on your blog.

Maw Books: And let’s not forget:

Eleanor Robinson’s (perfected) secret recipe for chocolate covered strawberries

10-15 large ripe strawberries with the stems intact (as gigantic as you can find)
8 oz. dark (semisweet) chocolate
4 oz. milk chocolate
1/4 cup shortening (Crisco)


Wash and dry strawberries.
In a medium-size saucepan (or a double boiler) on low heat, melt the dark and milk chocolate and shortening.  Stir constantly.
Using the stem as a handle, dip each strawberry into the chocolate mixture and twirl it until it is mostly and evenly covered with chocolate.  Do  not cover the stem part.
Place the berry on a tray lined with waxed paper to dry.
Refrigerate for 30 minutes or more.

P.S. To draw the swallow (like Marisol did), after your strawberries have hardened for 30 minutes in the refrigerator, melt a small amount of white chocolate (1/2 cup of white chocolate chips works well for this) mixed with a teaspoon of shortening.  Dip a toothpick into the mixture while it is still warm, and let the white chocolate drip off onto your strawberry into a pattern.  (It is a good idea to practice first on a napkin.)  Place strawberries in the refrigerator again until the chocolate is hardened.

Thank you so much to Kathryn Kitzmaurice for joining us today.  The Year the Swallows Came Early is also on tour today with Kidz Book Buzz at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Buzz, Hyperbole,, Looking Glass Reviews, Never Jam Today, Novel Teen, Reading is My Superpower.

You can find Kathryn at her website and blog.


  1. Terrific interview! I loved this book too! Thanks for sharing.

    on February 24th, 2009 at 6:04 am
  2. I love your interviews. I got tears in my eyes when she said her neighbor came over and told her she’d read the book and loved it.

    on February 24th, 2009 at 6:29 am
  3. This sounds like a great book! And I really agree about Where the Red Fern Grows.

    on February 24th, 2009 at 9:02 am
  4. What a delightful and engrossing interview!! I loved it! I am also thrilled beyond words to hear that Kathryn is thinking of doing a companion book to The Year the Swallows Came Early – I am like you, Maw Books – I will read whatever this author comes out with next!! LOVED this book!

    on February 24th, 2009 at 9:33 am
  5. I love that she hears her characters best in the early morning. I’m not a morning person, so I admire those who are. Great interview!!!

    on February 24th, 2009 at 9:52 am
  6. What a great interview! I’d love a companion novel to the book…though I’d read anything she writes!

    on February 24th, 2009 at 10:29 am
  7. Thank you for all of these encouraging and sweet comments about the interview and the book. I am overwhelmed by your kindness.

    on February 24th, 2009 at 12:07 pm
  8. I also will read whatever she dishes up next.

    And speaking of dishing up… here I was expecting some great recipe from her. I’d been thinking about it for weeks. Wondering what Groovy would give us on Natasha’s blog.

    Only to find out that Kathryn isn’t into cooking and groceries. ha ha

    Great interview–I felt like I was sitting in your living room, Natasha, listening to a conversation.

    on February 24th, 2009 at 12:59 pm
  9. I had not heard of the book before, but based on the interview alone I know I need to read it.

    It is because of these awesome interviews, reviews and posts in general that I gave your blog a shout out today – and an award. Thanks so much for all your contributions.

    on February 24th, 2009 at 2:22 pm
  10. [...] A great conversation between Natasha, at Maw Books, and Kathryn. [...]

    on February 24th, 2009 at 3:43 pm
  11. Great interview. I love the cover of the book and hearing about the process of writing a debut novel.

    By the way, I s’pose I’m lucky. I’ve somehow convinced my husband to do the grocery shopping. I make the list, and he goes and gets it. I have to put it all away…but at least I don’t have to go to the store.

    I had forgotten about Where the Red Fern Grows. I loved that book.

    on February 25th, 2009 at 1:40 pm
  12. What a fun interview! It’s always entertaining to read some of these behind the scene tidbits about an author. I especially like that her favorites change from month to month. I can identify. With hating to grocery shop, too.

    The only book that might have made me cry as much as Where the Red Fern Grows was The Yearling.


    on February 25th, 2009 at 2:51 pm
  13. You conduct such great interviews! Have I mentioned how much I just love the main character’s name? It’s so different :) Loved The Graveyard Book, it actually made me cry! I just finished my first Kate Dicamillo book this morning- lots of great authors and books mentioned here :)

    (I’m a night owl myself Maw, I don’t understand morning people lol)

    on February 25th, 2009 at 4:35 pm

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