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With her debut novel, a Pine Island teacher hopes she has practiced what she teaches

"In the Shade of Olive Trees" is available for preorder through Olive Street Publishing, Barnes and Noble and Amazon, and will be on sale at Garden Party Books in Rochester after its release on Nov. 29.

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Kate Laack, an English and theater teacher at Pine Island High School, holds her debut novel, "In the Shade of Olive Trees" in her classroom on Nov. 15, 2022.
Dené K. Dryden / Post Bulletin
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PINE ISLAND — A local teacher is getting ready for the release of her debut novel this month.

Kate Laack is an English and theater teacher at Pine Island High School. Her book, "In the Shade of Olive Trees," tells the story of Julia Brooks, who decides to take her honeymoon trip to Italy after her fiancé left her at the altar. There, Julia ends up at Olive Haven Women's Retreat for Widowed Travelers and goes on a journey that changes how she looks at love and heartache.

"In the Shade of Olive Trees" is available for preorder through Olive Street Publishing, Barnes and Noble and Amazon, and will be on sale at Garden Party Books in Rochester after its release on Nov. 29.

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How long have you been teaching in Pine Island, and what subjects do you teach?

This is my ninth school year here. I taught in La Crosse (Wisconsin) previously. I have always taught freshman English here as well as theater arts. My electives kind of rotate depending on what courses are needed. This year, I taught film studies.

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Have you always wanted to be an author?

I have always loved writing. I was a compulsive journaler when I was a kid. It was just always something I kind of did in the background, and I found different outlets to use it for. In college, I wrote for the university newspaper, and I was on the editorial board there. As I got into teaching and kind of more professional avenues, I found ways to freelance and keep that part of my life. I kept a personal blog for a while, but I think in the back of my mind, I always knew, if I had a story that was good enough, then I would want to write a book. ... And then when this story came along, I went, "Oh, now this feels like it needs to be told."

So, when did you start getting those first inklings of an idea for your novel?

Beginning of June 2021. We were coming out of COVID, everybody was kind of looking for that escapism, feel-good — I love to travel, we hadn't been traveling. And, as goofy as this sounds, you hear authors say, "Oh, I just woke up and the story was in my head one day," or, "The story was just always there." And my story wasn't just always there, but I really did wake up one day at the beginning of that summer and I knew my main character, like she was just kind of there. I was like, "Oh, huh, what's your story?"

We had taken a trip to Italy in 2016 and again in 2018, and both times we were there, I had told my husband, "You can come back and you can show pictures and you can tell stories of what your trip is like, but you would literally need to write a book to capture the magic of this place."

So her whole story is set in Italy, in places that we have been, which was a wonderful way to kind of, post-COVID, get back there and have that escapism component again. And it really started to write itself — I got compulsive about it. I would sit down every single day at my kitchen island and write one, two, three, sometimes five hours a day. Between June and August, I wrote the entirety of the 70,000-word first draft and finished it the week before we went back to school.

You're no stranger to writing, but I feel like writing a novel is a whole different beast. What's a part of that process that surprised you?

I think the big difference about writing a novel is when you set out to write an essay or a blog post or a newspaper article, you know what you're trying to do in a very concise kind of way. You have your nut graph or you have your thesis statement, and you're just working off of that. Novel writing, as a creative writing process, is very much about letting the creative process happen before you go back and do all of the nuts and bolts. There is no thesis statement with a novel. ... There is no template. You're just kind of in it, creating, which is incredibly freeing and incredibly terrifying — to stare at a blank page and a flashing cursor and know it's you and only you, and whatever you create with that opportunity.

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How have your teaching experiences informed your writing?

It is interesting as an English teacher to think about the fact that I teach kids to read and hopefully love books, and now I've written a book that I hope people read and love, right? I'm kind of on the backside, behind the curtain of my own job, in essence, which is interesting. It does feel a little bit like practicing what I preach.

Beyond teaching and writing, what do you do for fun?

I run. I started distance running the same time I started teaching because I thought it would be something harder than my day job. I have finished roughly 20 half marathons and three full marathons and five triathlons. So, I like being active, and my husband and I love to travel. ... We got a dog this summer, so now I'm in the midst of puppy training and teaching her to be a runner with me, so that's been a lot of fun.

At the end of the day, I'm an introvert and a homebody. Any given weekend, a pretty good bet is to find me fresh off a morning run curled up in a blanket in front of my fireplace with a book.

And I don't feel like this would be a complete author interview without asking you: What are you reading right now?

I'm reading "The Reading List" (by Sara Nisha Adams), which is actually our book club book for the book club that I'm in.

Dené K. Dryden is the Post Bulletin's region reporter, covering the greater Rochester area. Before joining the Post Bulletin in 2022, she attended Kansas State University and served as an editor for the student newspaper, the Kansas State Collegian, and news director for Wildcat 91.9, K-State's student radio station. Readers can reach Dené at ddryden@postbulletin.com.
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