I was first introduced to Cara Sue Achterberg through her book Practicing Normal, sent to me by her literary agent, Tina P. Schwartz. Wow, Cara is quite writer and what a creative premise! So, I was thrilled when she agreed to participate in an interview for Books Uplift.
What I didn’t know, and was excited to learn, is that Cara is a huge animal lover like me. She is the cofounder of Who Will Let the Dogs Out, a nonprofit initiative to raise awareness and resources for shelter dogs and has written a book to help support animals in shelters. Cara currently lives in New Freedom, Pennsylvania, and Bentonville, Virginia with her husband and far too many animals and is the author of four novels, two memoirs, one work of non-fiction, and multiple blogs. Still, she graciously found time to share with us a little about her life and journey.
You are an author, but is it your day job? Being an author is my low-paying day job, but my other day-job pays even less since it is completely voluntary. I spend most of my free time working in animal rescue. I’m the cofounder of Who Will Let the Dogs Out, an initiative of Operation Paws for Homes. WaLDo (as I affectionately call it) works to raise awareness and resources for shelter dogs in the south. Besides traveling and writing extensively about the issue of unwanted dogs in the southern states, I foster dogs and puppies (and now kittens!) with my family
Did you always want to be an author? I didn’t always want to be an author because for the first 35 years of my life I never imagined I could be an author. I’m not sure why. I loved to write and had always written for school newspapers and had to write for most of my jobs, I just didn’t think I was qualified to write a book.
What is your most recent book and what inspired you to write it? With my most recent book Blind Turn, I was inspired to write it after a tragic accident in a county to the east of us. A young driver hit and killed a family of four in their buggy (we live in Amish country). I was in the midst of teaching my own teens to drive at the time, so this hit especially hard. I wondered how that driver and his family could move forward after such an enormous tragedy. I knew it would change their lives—but how did they recover? The Amish communities’ ability to forgive has always astounded me, but the rest of us? Forgiveness is not that simple.
How do you hope your book uplifts those who read it? I hope this story helps people realize that forgiveness undergirds every relationship we have and, while challenging, it can alter a lifetime. I also hope it illustrates that in every tragedy is the opportunity for growth.
What are you most excited about with this book? I’m most excited for people to meet (and hopefully love) my characters. This story has been so long in the making and I’m eager to talk about it. I hope lots of book clubs pick it and invite me into the conversation.
How did writing a book help your career take off? Getting that first book deal gave me confidence and ‘legitimacy’ that helped me to take more risk in my writing and to work harder to live up to the belief that others had in me. It also gave me the courage to reach out and connect with other writers and build a platform that would give me a bigger voice.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to succeed in your professional industry? Many times, success is about a lot more than talent. It comes down to things you can control, like persistence, hard-work, and initiative, but it also comes down to things you can’t control like connections, timing, and luck. So, you have to focus on what you can control, and let go of the rest.
How do you handle setbacks and criticism? I try to focus on the readers who have been affected by my words—the ones who write to say I touched their lives in some way or taught them something or inspired them to write or to foster a dog. When it comes to criticism, I consider it, but ultimately, I remind myself that it is just ‘one person’s opinion,’ which is the same thing I always said to my riding students at horse shows when they rode well and didn’t win. Opinions are just that—opinions, not fact.
What book uplifts you? I read a lot of nonfiction and memoir. I love the writing of Kate Braestrup, Heather Lende, Katrina Kennison, and Will Schwalbe. I also love to read the writing of other people working in rescue like Melanie Sue Bowles who writes stories of her work with Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary, Peter Zhuetlin’s Rescue Road, Catching Dawn by Melissa Armstrong, and Finding Poppy by Teresa Rhyne.
When it comes to fiction, I always find uplift in the work of Barbara Kingsolver and Anna Quindlen, but a few other uplifting books I’ve discovered lately are The Wife’s Tale by Lori Lansens, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, and The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker.
Anything else you’d like to share with your readers? I’m a compulsive blogger! AnotherGoodDog.org is where I write the stories of our foster dogs. On WhoWillLetTheDogsOut.org/blog I tell the stories of our visits to shelters, dog pounds, and rescues all over the south, and on MyLifeInParagraphs.blog I write about my writing life. If you need a few more blogs in your life, you can find links to my blogs on my website.