Rochester author Catherine H. Armstrong has written a new book, “Roam,” which will be released February 5. Armstrong’s first book, “The Edge of Nowhere,” was published in 2016.
INSPIRATION THROUGH A WRITING ASSIGNMENT
Armstrong wrote an article for the November/December 2014 issue of Rochesterwomen magazine that she describes as a “life-altering event.” The article, “Saturday Noon Meals Provide More Than a Simple Meal,” describes meals—supported by donations—offered to those in need at Christ United Methodist Church at 12 p.m. every Saturday. Armstrong explains one woman used to organize it and volunteers served the meals.
“There was a series of round tables, dishes and flowers. The meals were family-style…people liked each other and treated each other with respect. It gave me chills…the room felt like love,” Armstrong says.
Armstrong explains how this experience became the inspiration for her book, “Roam,” which is about a homeless teen and her family. “I couldn’t stop thinking about what it would be like to be a kid.” Armstrong goes on to describe how she met people in that situation and imagined what she would do.
Armstrong wrote the first draft of “Roam” in five or six weeks. “When I sat down (to write), it came to me, and it wouldn’t stop. Next thing I know its 2 p.m. I’d wake up at 3 a.m. and think, ‘I got to go write it down,’” explains Armstrong. “It was a fun book to write.”
INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS
A few events in the book are also inspired by true events, Armstrong explains, such as the soup kitchen and the idea of the family squatting in a church’s basement. “Our daughter and her friend were 14 or 15. They went to the church’s basement storage room and saw a homeless guy and freaked out…I talked to the Christian education director and asked what he’d do if he saw a family sleeping in the storage room. He said his first priority would be to make sure they were safe.”
She drew inspiration for characters from life too. “One of the characters, Amber, is inspired by my daughter and quirky things from real life. But she has the physical attributes of my niece.”
There really is a music teacher named Mrs. Miner as described in the book. Armstrong says, “She was my music teacher. I called her up and got a release. She was bigger than life. There isn’t anyone that doesn’t remember her.”
Armstrong also mentions how she came up with many of the characters’ names in the book. “I have a huge, ginormous family, with 25 great-nieces and great-nephews, and I use all their names throughout the book.”
THEMES AND TAKEAWAYS
Armstrong explains the main theme and takeaway of the book is empathy and seeing where others are coming from. “I want them to think about how we treat people. We don’t understand what others are going through until we try.”
“At the end of the book, there’s a presentation called ‘In My Shoes,’ that was inspired by the student body presentation of ‘In My Shoes’ at Mayo High School,” Armstrong describes.
Armstrong goes on to say that as a parent, it’s important to stop and take a breath and think about what others might be going through. “I think we need more empathy,” she notes.
Alison Rentschler is a writer and editor living in Rochester, Minnesota.
The book will be released February 5, but will be available to buy presale before then. It will be sold at Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, Walmart and Amazon.
Scheduled book signings in Rochester: February 9, 2:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble in Apache Mall
February 17, 2 p.m. at Rochester Public Library