Teacher, financial planner, fitness coach, and now published author. Throughout her life, Catherine Matsalla has always been journaling, but it wasn’t until a certain “ah-ha” moment that she would follow a new dream of writing a book.
Her debut novel, Through the Eyes of Blue, imparts practical wisdom on dealing with life’s adversities through the story of a young woman guided by Blue, her blue-eyed, mixed breed rescue dog. However, Blue is no ordinary dog. He has been reincarnated several times, looking for his lost love from a past life. He finally finds her, reincarnated as his owner Ellie. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have any memory of their time together. Blue’s mission is to make amends for his past by guiding Ellie through this life using the wisdom he has accumulated over many lifetimes.
Catherine Matsalla recently shared her inspiration for Through the Eyes of Blue with eBooks2go, the surprises that came up while writing, her experience as a first-time author, and her future plans.
The Story Behind Through the Eyes of Blue
Where did you get the inspiration for Through the Eyes of Blue? What was your “ah-ha moment” where you knew this is the story you wanted to write?
I was looking at my dog, Blue, realizing that wherever I went – even if I got up and took three steps – he did too. He followed me everywhere: swimming, running, room to room. I looked at him, looking up at me adoringly, and thought, “you must have been a lover from a past life.” That was the beginning of an idea. I was going through a real rough patch in my life and desperate for ways to handle PTSD, I started to journal, and that idea evolved into a story.
How did you come up with the title of the book?
I had the title before I started developing the story, which is backwards, I’m sure. Or maybe it is a good way to start! I knew the beginning and very end. It had to be a story about transitioning through things. And the story has multiple transitions moving through various situations.
How did you name your characters?
Blue is named after my dog as a tribute to his inspiration for the book. The main character – Giselle/Ellie – was a tough one though. It had to be a name I had no association with. Toko is the Shoshone word for Grandfather. I never spent too much time on the rest of the characters, although I changed them if I thought the name didn’t fit after I developed their character.
Are any of the characters based on people (or dogs) you know in real life?
Blue is very loosely based on my dog Blue, with only some of the dog-type behaviors: chasing squirrels, eating deer poop, horses, distrusting some people, glued to Ellie. The athlete appearances are all very loosely based on athletes I know of but have never met. All other characters are figments of my imagination, except my father always wore aftershave like Ellie’s father. To be honest, my characters feel like they already existed (not as real people) and just came to me to say they wanted to be in the story.
Do you have a favorite character? Why are they your favorite?
I love all of my characters! Even the evil ones! Of course I love Ellie most! I know her so well. She is like a daughter to me. But Blue – he touches my heart like a dog does, but even more so, if that is possible.
Were there any parts that were especially difficult to write?
I cannot say they were “difficult” – they were emotionally draining. Having to go through the emotions of my characters to do a deep dive to understand how they would feel, talk, act – doing that over and over again was exhausting at times. I have cried when Ellie sees her mother as a woman who was once a little girl. It always makes me think that if we could reduce the person we have issues with to an innocent or troubled child they once were – we wouldn’t judge them so harshly. There are other parts of the book that touch me and I get teary-eyed.
What do you love about this book?
It is a mix of fiction with applicable life lessons – like a self-help book. I think it would be a great assignment for readers to pull out each lesson they can find; there are so many that I have gathered, especially in the last ten years. Lots of research went into this book. I love the descriptions of events and places, and I hope that the reader can picture themselves there. And I love books that allow me to escape into another world – and I hope that I accomplish that.
I also love foreshadowing. There is a lot of it. An astute reader could play detective by trying to gather hints to see how that person, action or statement leads to what happens later on.
What makes this book special to you?
It is the hardest thing I have ever done, including endurance races. The idea was born nine to ten years ago and slowly developed, but I never thought I was good enough to write and finish a novel. Then I knew in my heart that if I never finished and published it, my life would never be complete. I really haven’t felt that way about anything else in life. I heard authors talk about rewriting a sentence ten times and I thought that would drive me nuts – but I have done just that. So for me to finally let it go, it is like letting go of a child into the world.
Who else will love this book?
I see all kinds of people loving this book and finding something to take away from it.
People struggling with relationships, defining who they are, maybe having self-doubt, lack confidence, parent issues – they will gain strength from this book even if they can just take one thing away. Dog lovers will look at their pets in a different light. If someone is into spirituality, aboriginal spirituality, past lives, quantum theory, principles of positive thinking, rules of life to live by – this book is full of all of that! For the athlete, male or female, they will see themselves in this book. They will truly relate to the struggles of the athlete and the reasons for why they do what they do.
If you love stories of coming of age, or about the human struggle and the drive to overcome – to find true meaning, to transform, to forgive, to move forward despite tragedy or loss – this book touches on all of that.
What do you hope readers take away from Through the Eyes of Blue?
I hope they find a bit of themselves in this book and that they can relate with one or more of the characters; that they take notes and say to themselves, “I am going to try positive visualization, or pull determination deep from within to complete something; I will forgive myself for being human and making human mistakes, being weak or naïve.”
No matter what life throws your way – the tough, rocky trails – there is a finish line, where the pain and suffering will stop, and you will feel elated or learn to feel love or joy again. This can happen if you visualize it and believe in yourself. If you can’t believe in yourself, then look around because the world is full of hidden mentors and guides who can show you the way. Maybe they will come to you, but often you must seek them out – open your eyes to see the mentors because they are all around you, even in nature. If that fails, then believe in something greater than yourself; that you are never alone in your journey. And at all times that greater self is within you hiding as your alter ego – your own superhero.
How much have your life experiences shaped this story and its characters?
I was (kind of still am) an endurance athlete. Nowhere close to the main character, but I am familiar with the struggles. Ellie has personal struggles because, in my research, most endurance athletes are successful because they know how to overcome struggles in their personal life. So many suffered through rough or challenging childhoods, or addictions and running or endurance sports saved them and/or those struggles made them stronger endurance athletes.
How did working on this book change you?
It made me feel like nothing is impossible if you truly desire it. Desire overcomes all obstacles. You must WANT something badly enough to fight for it – no matter how long or how old you are – just never give up.
I’m relieved to let go of this story I have held inside me for so long. I would have never felt fulfilled in life until I published it. I have finished the longest endurance race and in the end, even though I am publishing to share, it is about the journey of writing, of growing as a storyteller and there is no end to that journey.
More About Catherine Matsalla
Have you always wanted to be an author? What led you to this career path?
I always knew I was going to write a book because I have been a storyteller all of my life. I am not sure I would say it is a career. It is a passion. Storytelling is a passion to me.
What do you enjoy most about being a writer?
I love the ability to play God: to create, to control, to end – I am omnipotent as a fictional writer. And that is not an ego or control thing. It is pretty amazing. I love when I read what I write and say, “Did I really write that?” It is like I am someone else when I write.
I write through an alter ego – just like my main character does when she runs. I suffer from imposter syndrome. The only way to deal with that is to pretend that I am a good writer while I am writing and then sit back and be objective when I read what I wrote. And every time for ten-plus times I have read through and rewrote this novel, I still love every word of it and can’t believe I actually wrote it.
What was the most challenging part of the writing process for you?
In the beginning, it was finding the courage to sit down and start!
Any advice on dealing with it?
As Margaret Atwood once said, she sits down at her desk with her pen in the air until an idea comes to her. You have to set a time, sit down and stare at your computer or paper until an idea comes to you. If after 20 minutes, nothing happens, then go for a run. That is when EVERYTHING comes to me!
Were there any surprises?
I was surprised when my characters became entities I could have conversations with. For most of the longer conversations, I have acted them out for both characters. The conversation between Coach Lane and Ellie is a very significant conversation in Chapter thirty-two, as is the one between Ellie and her mother in Chapter five.
Toko’s spirit journey came from a shaman who led a sweat lodge I participated in. That is his journey and I took it deeper. I was at the exact spot that is in the story where he had his spirit quest. I heard Toko’s voice as he told of that journey and I just did the typing. That is my favorite part of the book!
I was also surprised by Toko himself. He was not in my list of characters – he just appeared out of nowhere one day. I clearly remember the day he showed up. It’s kind of freaky, actually.
What are your literary influences?
I love Margaret Atwood and John Irving for fiction. And I love everything that helps us develop to be better humans including lots of autobiographies or biographies, especially about people who accomplish incredible things in life.
What do you do outside of writing?
To earn a living, I write professional resumes and LinkedIn profiles. I also coach endurance athletes and do personal fitness training. After that, I am in nature – my happy place.
How do you balance writing with family/work/etc.?
I have a set routine every day that I stick to. I am fairly disciplined.
Is there anything else you want readers to know?
I used to work ten-hour days in finance. I calculated that I spent one whole month’s worth of time travelling to see clients per year. One whole month just driving. During one particularly bad snow storm, after making it home and prying my white-knuckled hands off the steering wheel, I determined that there must be more to life than working long hours for a six-figure income and a house full of stuff I didn’t need. So I gave away most of my possessions, kissed my adult children good-bye and went to live an extraordinary life out of the norm and expectations of society. I got a lot of flack for leaving my family and the comforts of a big expensive home to move 2,500 miles away with no job or plan. But I soon learned all the magic happens outside of your comfort zone.
As soon as I let go of this manuscript, I am going on a long solo hike and camp in the mountains with my chihuahua. Then I will come back and start my next book, keep training to run 60 kilometers when I turn 60 in 2022, and then get ready to move to another new country to explore new adventures- and maybe write about them.
Can’t Wait to Read Through the Eyes of Blue?
Through the Eyes of Blue is coming soon to eBooks2go. Make sure to check back to get your copy when it’s released.