An author just never knows when the next eureka book idea will strike.Julie Kibler of Arlington, whose debut novel, Calling Me Home, hits shelves Tuesday, is a classic example.Kibler was toiling away on a novel, making revisions, polishing, reaching out to agents in hopes of getting it published, making slow but steady progress, but still not quite achieving her big breakthrough.Then, in a casual conversation with her father, he dropped a bombshell that changed everything."I'm not even sure how it came up, but he told me that when my grandmother had been a teenager, in 1920s Kentucky, she had fallen in love with a black boy," Kibler says. "We know very little factual details, except that the relationship didn't pan out."We know that they were engaged and that the families were not happy about it and that it ended."Eureka! Kibler's imagination started working overtime. The story of a taboo love affair in a so-called "sundown town" (because blacks were not allowed there after dark) started percolating in her brain."So I put away the other book and started writing this book," she says. "It kind of flew out of my fingers. It came so quickly and easily."And although I don't really know what happened with my grandmother, I feel like she was at my shoulder, whispering to me what it felt like to lose the love of your life because it just wasn't allowed."Once she finished writing, Kibler quickly found an agent and a major publisher (St. Martin's Press) that has such confidence in Calling Me Home that it's getting an initial print run of 100,000 copies."I think it's confirmation that I had finally written the right book," she says.Then, after those hurdles were cleared, all that was left for Kibler to do was endure excruciating months of waiting for Feb. 12.Kibler and a group of her author friends call it being "book pregnant.""It's like being pregnant with a human in that it's pretty terrifying," says Kibler, a mother of three."You have, especially with the first baby, no idea what to expect, no idea how your life is going to change. There are so many unknowns when you're about to send your first book out into the world."Actually, Kibler does have an inkling what it will be like, because the book came out in Germany in August. (The translated version is titled Zu Zweit Tut Das Herz Nur Halb So Weh.)Reader reaction overseas was strongly positive, which reassured Kibler, who wondered initially whether German readers would relate to a story of forbidden interracial romance set in 1939 Kentucky.It turns out that a well-told star-crossed-love story is universal.Kibler, who was born in Kentucky and grew up in New Mexico and Colorado, moved to Arlington after graduating from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene. She has been writing full time since 2005.She loves North Texas because she feels she lives in a community that's refreshingly diverse."That's always been a soapbox issue for me," she says. "I'm happy that I brought my kids up in a place where they don't think about the people next to them in terms of the color of their skin."The town in which Kibler's lead character, Isabelle, grows up certainly isn't as welcoming a community. Shalerville is a place where, at the city limits, a sign warns blacks in no uncertain terms -- and in vile language that won't be repeated here -- to stay away after the sun sets.Kibler stumbled upon that shameful nugget of history while picking her father's brain."I said, 'Tell me things about the town you grew up in, things that I wouldn't know,'" she recalls. "And one of the very first things he told me about, uncomfortably, because it's not something that he was proud of, was that sign at the edge of town. I was shocked. I had no idea."Yes, times have changed, but Kibler wonders sometimes whether they've changed enough.That's why she hopes Calling Me Home accomplishes two things."I want readers to enjoy it," she says. "When I heard early reviews that said, 'I laughed, I cried, I needed a lot of tissues, it was a book I got sucked into and couldn't put down,' that was of course very gratifying to me."But I also hope readers take something else away from the book. In my acknowledgements at the very end, I challenge the readers with the phrase, which is often attributed to Gandhi, 'Be the change.'"Because it starts at home. If you see something that you don't like and that you know is wrong and that needs changing, the place to start, and the only way to start, is with yourself."
Calling Me Home
By Julie Kibler
St. Martin's Press, $24.99
The book will be in stores Tuesday. Kibler begins her tour for Calling Me Home at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Barnes & Noble at The Parks at Arlington. For information, call 817-472-7559.