The author talks about the value of looking through someone else’s eyes.
Katherine Reay is a national bestselling and award-winning Christian author whose novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair.
Her latest novel is Of Literature and Lattes (Thomas Nelson): Return to the cozy and delightful town of Winsome, where two people discover the grace of letting go and the joy found in unexpected change.
In this interview, Katherine talks about why this is her first novel to revisit characters from one of her previous books, explains how she made the book accessible to new readers, and addresses the comparisons some have made between her town of Winsome and Jan Karon’s folksy town of Mitford.
Katherine, Of Literature & Lattes returns readers to the town of Winsome, and revisits characters from The Printed Letter Bookshop. What about this town and these characters made you want to visit them again?
The three women in The Printed Letter Bookshop (Janet, Claire, and Madeline) created such wonderful energy and synergy that I wanted to explore their lives and the town further. I had not returned to characters or to a setting in my writing and felt this town and its people from Printed Letter made it worth the effort. I was not disappointed—I have come to love Winsome and hope to return there someday.
Of Literature & Lattes is a standalone novel. How did you balance between the needs of a follow-up and making this story work for newcomers who haven’t read the other book?
I have never written a series before so making Of Literature and Lattes a standalone, in many ways, was easier for me than continuing the threads from Printed Letter. In the end, I found I needed a full and new story for each character that hinted to what came before without regurgitating—I wanted to be very careful that I did not retread ground and slow Of Literature and Lattes with too many allusions to Printed Letter. That said, I hope what I included works and that the beloved characters from that first story experience new and dynamic change.
Some have compared your folksy town of Winsome to Jan Karon’s folksy town of Mitford–where she returned to so many times. Do you feel that’s a fair comparison? How does Winsome stand apart?
I am incredibly honored by that comparison and thank each and every reader who feels that welcome within Winsome. I will certainly admit I have read all the Mitford books and thoroughly enjoy Karon’s in-depth and cross-generational approach in Mitford.
I do believe readers will find differences between Winsome and Mitford. We are influenced by our environments and I have firmly situated Winsome in the Midwest right outside Chicago. Its location to the city and those urban influences are vital to the movement I wanted to create within the town.
Additionally, I have created my primary movers within Winsome one to two generations younger than Father Tim and Cynthia. All those details may feel minor, but they do influence story and tone.
Can you see yourself returning to Winsome like Jan Karon kept going back to Mitford? Or are you more likely to want to go to new places in your fiction?
I would love to return to Winsome. What a treat and an honor to have readers invite you back to a beloved community to create and explore more stories.
I will not return to Winsome for at least a couple books. My next novel takes place primarily in London and Paris—and deals with a family secret that leads the heroine to a WWII mystery, discovered through family letters and diaries. I am so excited about this story and hope readers will find it my best yet.
When writing Of Literature & Lattes, which characters surprised you the most?
Ah… Such a good question. The relationship between Alyssa and Janet continually surprised me. Mother and daughter relationships are so complex—one generation often has trouble understanding the influences upon and perspectives within another. That “surprise” carried over into Jeremy’s relationship with his daughter, Becca, as well. I had such fun with those dynamics.
George—another smaller character—also surprised me. He was meant to be a “few line” character, but I found he had a lot of life and wisdom to share.
What themes or ideas run through Of Literature & Lattes?
There is quote from John Steinbeck at the novel’s beginning about learning to understand and love each other—that all writing carries that theme. It was definitely true in Of Literature and Lattes. Forgiveness, understanding and growing into one’s best self were themes, but the idea of perspective, and learning another’s perspective, was one of the primary driving forces for the novel.
What do you hope readers take away after reading Of Literature & Lattes?
Hope. For me, it always comes down to that. My goal is to take characters on an organic and authentic journey that readers can relate to and draw hope from. Things can be tough—real life often is—and relationships can be strained, but through mistakes, mishaps, effort, and understanding the characters (and perhaps we too) will end in a better place.
Can you share some examples of how your faith impacts your storytelling?
While story comes first for me, my faith undergirds my writing. We all have a worldview and my faith forms mine. I try to keep those themes running beneath surface and let my characters tell their own stories. I hope my writing invites readers to ask questions, dig into different perspectives, and find the complexities of real life reflected in each of my novels.
Why is storytelling such a powerful way to communicate truth?
I always say storytelling is powerful because it sneaks truth in sideways. If done right, we don’t put up our defenses against it and we let ourselves approach with greater vulnerability. Fiction allows us to “try” on new places, new people and new perspectives. We learn a great deal this way without ever feeling we are “learning” at all. Powerful stuff!
What are the best things readers can do to support their favorite authors?
Please share your favorite books with friends. It’s so important that we keep the conversations going.
I would ask that we post on social media about books, we rate them at any wonderful places that allow us to rate, we chirp about our bookstores and libraries, and we encourage our friends to do the same. Books create community and conversation—we need that right now.
We also need more good stories. The more we chat, the more all that goodness happens.
Visit Katherine Reay’s Author Page:
Of Literature and Lattes
Buy the book from our store!
After fleeing her hometown three years earlier, Alyssa Harrison never planned to return. Then the Silicon Valley start-up she worked for collapsed and turned her world upside down. She is broke, under FBI investigation, and without a place to go. Having exhausted every option, she comes home to Winsome, Illinois, to regroup and move on as quickly as possible. Yet, as friends and family welcome her back, Alyssa begins to see a place for herself in this small Midwestern community.
Jeremy Mitchell moved from Seattle to Winsome to be near his daughter and to open the coffee shop he’s been dreaming of for years. Problem is, the business is bleeding money—and he’s not quite sure why. When he meets Alyssa, he senses an immediate connection, but what he needs most is someone to help him save his floundering business. After asking for her help, he wonders if something might grow between them—but forces beyond their control soon complicate their already complex lives, and the future they both hoped for is not at all what they anticipated.
With the help of Winsome’s small-town charm and quirky residents, Alyssa and Jeremy discover the beauty and romance of second chances.