Happily settled in the Rochester, NY, area with her husband and two young sons, Susan Gilbert-Collins is always a little homesick for her home state of South Dakota. That’s probably why a lot of her fiction is set there, including her first novel, Starting from Scratch (Touchstone at Simon & Schuster, 2010).
“I wanted to explore what it’s like to lose one’s mother as a young adult,” Gilbert-Collins says, “and I tried to do so with a lighter touch, with humor and compassion, so the reader could witness the main character’s grief without being overwhelmed by it. My main character, Olivia, loses her mother very suddenly, and after that she doesn’t return to ‘normal,’ whatever that means, quickly enough to suit her family. This is a typical response to grief in our culture: you’re supposed to move on fairly quickly, which I found hard to do when I lost my own mother as a young adult.”
Olivia, the youngest of four high-achieving siblings, resists family pressure and at first wants only to bury herself in her mother’s kitchen, finding solace in their shared passion for cooking. But as a family secret comes to light and startling announcements are made by two of her siblings, she finds herself drawing on her mother’s memory and spirit to navigate the shifting family dynamics.
Gilbert-Collins’s short fiction has often explored loss as well and has appeared in Confrontation, The Greensboro Review, Prairie Schooner, Alabama Literary Review, and Kansas Quarterly/Arkansas Review. Her stories have been finalists in Glimmer Train competitions and nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Along the way, Gilbert-Collins has freelanced in technical writing and test development, taught English as a Second Language, worked briefly in grants and development, and studied at Oberlin and the University of Minnesota to put off the inevitable (a real job). And before any of that, she spent the summer between high school and college as the worst pizza deliverer in the history of South Dakota.
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