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Cathy and I are published by the same press, Penner Publishing, although I do not know her as well as I do some of the other authors. I have read her debut historical fiction science novel, Natural Attraction (see my review), and I have had some interaction with her. I think she’s incredible. I follow her Twitter closely to keep up with all the quirky and interesting science stuff she posts as well as listened to a radio interview detailing the process of how Natural Attraction came about – it was fascinating. I’ll post links at the end so you can follow into her wondrously experimental world.

Background Info

Author name: Catherine Haustein

Book title: Natural Attraction

cover- natural attraction

Tell us a little about yourself and your background: I’ve always enjoyed traveling through life in several directions as a mom, scientist, teacher, and author. I’m married and have two dogs, three kids, and seven grandkids. I like live theater, music, and walking. ( I don’t like to drive. ) I’m from Michigan but call the small Dutch town of Pella, Iowa home.

Tell us a little about your novel: Set in 1871, it’s about a young woman who wants to be a scientist so she takes a tonic that allows her to resemble a man. She goes on a prospecting expedition as their naturalist and falls in love with a preacher.

Have you written anything else (including novels, short stories, novellas, etc.): I’ve written numerous short stories. My most recent is in an anthology called The Female Complaint. I’m working on another novel and a novella right now. When my kids were teenagers and I felt really poor I wrote non-fiction for encyclopedias and companies. I’ve also written two lab manuals.

Q&A

How long did it take you to write your book: Two years.

Is there a specific time of day that you enjoy writing the most: I’m a morning person and fortunately my dog is too so I have someone to share it with. I like to write when I first wake up and then before bed.

Is there a supporting character in your book you’d love to write a story for: Yes, the Madame’s daughter Mae Peacock.

What’s an aspect of being a writer that you didn’t know about going in: How isolating it can be. I have an MFA so you think I’d know but working shopping stories and drinking with your writer friends isn’t the same as working alone on a novel.

Science based novels are usually set in the future. Why did you place yours in the past: I chose to set Natural Attraction in 1871 because it was a time of great social change. The theory of evolution and the discovery of sperm and egg cells were quietly ushering in ideas of social equality. I wanted to compare the past with today to show what has changed and what hasn’t for women.

What challenges do you see facing you as a writer: Getting romance readers to see science as something accessible to them and getting scientists to appreciate the craftsmanship found in a romance and the importance of fiction.

Do you have any pointers or advice for aspiring writers: I like duotrope.com for finding new markets.

Favorite song: Silver Lining by First Aid Kit

Favorite movie/tv show: The Lego Movie

Chosen superpower: Shape shifter

Toilet paper: over or under: Random

Real book or tablet: Real

Star Trek or Star Wars: Trek

Excerpt

During the six-day train ride, as the transforming hand of science moved over me, Oudwijf Gesternte, a retired teacher of classics on a trip to visit her sister in San Francisco, patted my hand and called me “sonderling,” which sounded close to the Dutch term for “odd.” On occasion, she whispered clove-scented advice on how to be a man.

“Don’t cross your ankles. Sit with your knees apart.”

“Keep your hands off your face unless it is to scratch something.”

“When thinking, put your hand to your chin, or place your elbow on your knee and rest your chin in your palm.”

“Look straight at a person when you address them. Casting your eyes down is for  women.”

“Shake the hand of a man firmly. Kiss the hand of a woman.”

I wrote her advice in my sketchbook and studied it as the train rode on. Spookstad’s roll of water on sand and fog horn’s moan were superseded by the rhythmic strain of pistons in cylinders and the startling shriek of steam whistle. Until this time, I’d gone nowhere but Chicago by boat. The train didn’t reach Spookstad yet and our only visitors were lumberjacks rolling logs down the Zwart River. We were a place few could find and even fewer left.

I re-read The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection and studied my Field Guide to Order Rodentia, pouring over drawings, descriptions, and observations of connection and struggle between living things. When my ardor and choleric ambitions exhausted me, I slept in the steamy sway of the Pullman, traveling the path forged by General Dodge and his crew with nitroglycerin.

In a coal-fired haze, I questioned why I wanted to be a scientist at all. It began, I decided, when Granny and I turned over a pine log and found a salamander – simultaneously aquatic and earthy, a product of water and forest. I knew then the enticement of discovering hidden things and that every species has a story to tell filled with intimacy of different ilks. Among the salamander, the male will court but leave his spermatophore on the ground, letting the untouched female retrieve it. Some animals knew how to make things better for the females of the species.

I had good hands for sketching and a mind for numbers, both traits valuable to scientists. Science drew me towards it as a well-adapted mate. I didn’t take after my mother, a beautiful woman with a tiny waist, love of French fashion, a perfect passionless disposition, and a life that was pleasant, settled, but done. I feared such an early resolution to my own brief existence. A man such as Darwin, by example, wrote his incendiary book at age fifty and rumors are that he has more to come – a tome on sexual selection and human origin. A man over sixty barely getting his start! A scientific mind won’t fade as beauty does. The passing of time sharpens it and leads to greater boldness.

When the trip stretched across the prairie, I recalled the giddy feeling of getting my letter of selection informing me that I’d been chosen as the naturalist for the expedition. I craved the recognition that was withheld from women. If I stayed in Spookstad, my parents expected me to marry someone agreeable, my father’s bat-eared banker friend. That wasn’t happening, even though I had given my family false hope by sharing one dry kiss with him. After that, there was a wet kiss tasting of coffee with Lars the lumberjack at Lumberjack Days in the nearby town of Singapore. I’d spent just a moment in those strong arms and we whispered our names to each other before being spotted by my brother Todd, who pulled me away. For many months following he called me Swamper Sally, a swamper being a lumberjack who cuts branches off the felled trees. Having kissed two men, I had a reputation. I would be a scientist now and if I kissed at all, it would be with someone intelligent, bursting with vitality, a native, mysterious and deep. It would be kept secret from the town of Spookstad. Perhaps I wouldn’t go back at all to a place so small that family and Oudwijfs watched all. I’d be a man with status, a famous naturalist.

Author Bio

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After a year of pursuing her graduate degree in chemistry at The University of Iowa, Catherine Haustein couldn’t get fiction writing out of her system. She was accepted into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and enrolled in the MFA program there without telling her chemistry adviser. Thus her career as a writer of scientist characters was launched.

Most of her life has centered around science and raising a family. She barely wrote a word of fiction when her kids were teenagers. Her scientific research focuses on analytical chemistry and biologically active chemicals in plants. She’s written a lab manual where the toxic chemicals in classic labs have been replaced with non-toxic ones. (Yes, she also hugs trees.) She hopes to release a series of novels with scientific women as protagonists. She’s a professor at Central College where she teaches chemistry and short story writing.

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