116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Katie Runde and her husband lived in Iowa City from 2005 to 2009 while he was in medical school. During that time, many people wanted to know about the place where she grew up — a place that provides the setting for her beautifully crafted debut novel, “The Shore.”
“I found myself explaining — and over explaining to be honest — this Jersey Shore area where I’m from. And I just felt like I had so much more to say … So (the novel) started with a place.”
She also drew from her own experience in creating the family at the center of the novel. The father, Brian, suffers from a brain tumor that transforms most everything about his personality.
“When I was 19, my dad had the same thing,” Runde explained. She was quick to say that “The Shore” isn’t autofiction, but the experience — especially the kinds of caretaking required — underpins the novel.
An early draft of “The Shore” focused on the character of Liz, Brian and Margot’s, oldest daughter. But when that draft was complete, Runde wasn’t fully satisfied.
“I got the feeling it wasn’t quite finished,” she said. “I got curious about what everyone else in the family was doing when we weren’t seeing them. It seemed like there was so much more. It just seemed so obvious that it was the story of this whole family.”
The novel now features sections devoted to Liz, Margot, and to Evy, the younger sister. Brian provides the first and last words of the story.
But there is another kind of voice in the book as well, said Runde, “an alternate form that tells the story from a voice that’s not one of the three women.” Email exchanges and an online forum are the primary sources of this additional voice, and Runde uses both to good effect, as a way to look back to the past and to imagine the future.
Runde and her husband selected Iowa City from a shortlist of possible places to live as his career got underway. They were wooed back by the town’s affordability and the sense that it would provide Runde with time to write. Runde — who has an MFA from Warren Wilson College — also wrote about what her experience as a writer has been like in Iowa City in an essay for the online publication Catapult called “Writing Your Little Stories in the Shadow of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.”
“Because of the Workshop’s presence,” she writes, “the city punched above its weight and attracted famous authors on tour, hosted festivals, boasted several bookstores, and had literary quotes etched into the sidewalk.”
The full essay, which recounts how Runde found her “magic baseball team” — the group of people who would help her bring “The Shore” from a file on her computer to a book on the shelf — is an excellent look at the writing community (or communities) outside, adjacent to, and interwoven with the famed UI writing community. As she puts it in her essay:
“For the non-Workshop writers, it’s DIY all the way in the City of Literature. It’s awkward and awful, occasionally, and you will feel lonely and left out a time or 20,” she writes, “but if you keep showing up and keep going back to your own glowing screen full of nonsense, if you keep the faith and keep eavesdropping, keep asking people what lights them up and keep forgiving yourself for your own audacity, imagining you deserve to write your little stories here, too, it can, eventually, be a place that is almost too good to be true.”
Readers of “The Shore” will reap the benefits of Runde’s stick-to-itiveness — and should be pleased to know she is in the early stages of writing her next book.