In these days of high tech gizmos and information overload, it’s easy to forget that there was a time, not so long ago, when the closest thing to a cell phone was two tin cans connected by a string; when Facebook was an album of black and white photos autographed by schoolmates; and when a laptop was where you curled up to listen to a bedtime story. Bonita Springs writer Catherine Underhill Fitzpatrick chronicles these bygone days in Going on Nine, the beautifully-written tale of a young girl coming of age in the summer of 1956. Reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s classic, Dandelion Wine, Going on Nine takes readers on an unforgettable journey back in time to an era of drinking from garden hoses, catching fireflies in jars, licking cake batter from wooden spoons and enjoying the unbridled freedom to explore the world and all its wonders.
Fitzpatrick credits her older sister with starting her on the road to writing. “When my late sister went to the University of Missouri to major in journalism, I wrote letters to her. One day, I received a postcard that said, ‘Hey, kid, why don’t you come on over? You really can write!’ So I did.” After graduating from the University of Missouri’s Columbia School of Journalism, Fitzpatrick distinguished herself as a feature writer for newspapers in Hannibal, Milwaukee, and her native St. Louis. Her profession afforded her opportunity to experience some memorable moments. “I interviewed Jimmy Carter from a rooftop while he was working for Habitat for Humanity,” she recalls. “I talked to women on Death Row in Texas, drank cocktails with Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, and stood in the shadow of the Trade Center towers on 9/11.” Her eyewitness account of the aftermath of the terrorist attack earned her two awards from the Milwaukee Press Club for Excellence in Journalism and inclusion in Washington D.C.’s Newseum.
In 2005, as a new retiree, Fitzpatrick found herself with time for creative pursuits. Her two daughters suggested that she write down the stories she often told about childhood friends. One of those stories eventually grew into a four-generation family saga titled A Matter of Happenstance. The tale of a wealthy St. Louis family, the novel explores the impact of coincidence on individual lives and how the power of personal character can alter that trajectory. A fifth-generation member of that fictional family was to become the central character in Going on Nine.
Going on Nine is the story of Grace Mitchell, a feisty eight-year-old who runs away from home after arguing with her parents and winds up embarking on an odyssey of self-discovery. Her parents suggest that she spend a few days living with each of her neighborhood friends to see if she can find a family that’s a better fit. After getting an insider’s glimpse into the complexities of each family’s private affairs, Grace learns important lessons about life, relationships, and outward appearances. Told in the alternating voices of adult and eight-year-old Grace, Going on Nine is written with a lush, lyrical quality that elevates it to the level of literary fiction.
“It was worlds of fun writing this book,” Fitzpatrick says. “I like the diversity of characters that populate the small, close-knit neighborhood of Thistle Way. The story also speaks to a different generational model. We baby boomers tend to look back on our childhoods with nostalgia. The freedom we enjoyed fostered self-reliance, creativity and independence. But there were dark days as well. The 50s were as fabled as they were flawed.” She hopes readers will return from Thistle Way with an appreciation of how “families and friendships are nuanced and often layered in ways imperceptible to those viewing and judging them at a distance.”
Ever since Go9 (the nickname Fitzpatrick gave the book and, now her official Florida license plate) came out in May of 2014, Fitzpatrick has spoken at book club meetings, library programs, women’s group gatherings, discussion groups, independent bookshop events, and big-chain book store promotions. “In some ways, a new book is similar to a newly-released movie: its moment in the spotlight is finite,” Fitzpatrick says. “The good news is that word-of-mouth endorsements can extend and broaden the readership of a particularly enjoyable, informative, or provocative book for months, and sometimes years, beyond the initial flurry of interest and activity. This has been the case with Going on Nine. I am pleased to have author talks scheduled for the upcoming fall season here in Florida.”
In 2015, Fitzpatrick and her husband became full-time residents of Bonita Springs. She also completed another writing project- a memoir based on letters written by her father. “When I helped clear out the house my late parents shared for more than 40 years, I discovered a hidden packet of letters my father wrote to my mother during World War II, letters he signed Just, Bob,” she says. “The cache of more than 150 letters is a family treasure, but to transform it into a memoir of interest to a wider audience, a story that addresses universal themes of hope, honor, longing, love, loss, and abandonment took some doing. On the advice of a professional editor, I wrote two dozen vignettes, stories-within-a-story to tuck in between the letters. Each vignette is a vivid look back at my exemplary parents when they were in the throes of rearing their six not-so-exemplary kids. With contemporary humor, wistful nostalgia, and the leavening clarity of hindsight, the vignettes comprise half the story taking Just, Bob from World War II to the modern era.”
Three years ago, Fitzpatrick became a first-time grandmother and began writing books for her granddaughter, Lily. “I have created not one but three books for this little spitfire," she says."Each is a picture book with simple text that documents the previous year of her life. Of all the books her parents have sprinkled throughout the house for her, these are her favorites.” Fitzpatrick has also been contributing shorter pieces for periodicals and online literary websites. "Authorwear,” an story she describes as a “tongue-in-cheek essay about a writer’s struggle to find just the right outfit for a book talk,”can be found at www.defenestration.mag.net. “It’s the website of a literary magazine dedicated to humor,” she says. “Being a full-time writer is a serious business, filled with self-doubt, isolation and rejection. Which is why it’s so critical, sometimes, to throw back your head and laugh out loud.”
For more information, visit the author’s website at www.goingonnine.com.