Teaching has been at the heart of Lowry Hill resident Kathleen West’s life for 20 years. Parenting has taken a large focus in recent years, too, as she and her husband have raised their two sons.
It therefore seems fitting that her first novel, “Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes,” focuses on the experiences of a teacher and a parent who become the subjects of a social media maelstrom.
The book was published Feb. 4 and has gone on sale nationwide. West, who has taught in the Bloomington and Edina school districts and at The Blake School, is scheduled to promote the book in about half a dozen U.S. cities.
“Minor Dramas” tells the story of a fictional stay-at-home parent named Julia Abbott and a fictional teacher named Isobel Johnson. Abbott has two kids attending Liston Heights High School in the affluent (fictional) suburb of Liston Heights. Johnson is a well-liked English teacher there.
Johnson is threatened with an anonymous voicemail accusing her of anti-Americanism and a “liberal agenda” and is eventually investigated by her principal. Meanwhile, Abbott injures a student after sneaking into the school to see which part her son received in the school play, an action that’s caught on video and uploaded to social media.
A secret parent Facebook page stirs up gossip about both characters and adds to the drama.
West said neither the parent nor the teacher character is based on any specific person from her teaching career. Nor is the school, though West said Liston Heights High would most resemble Edina High School, among the schools at which she has worked.
Empathy from teaching
West, 41, grew up in Mendota Heights, where she knew as early as middle school that she wanted to be an English teacher.
Reading had always been a passion, but writing had never been something she pursued seriously, aside from academic papers and a blog she began in the mid-2000s.
That changed in 2015, when she made a New Year’s resolution to work on her writing. She first wrote what she described as a “generational family saga,” but it didn’t come to fruition, so she began another story at the end of the year.
The first scene she wrote was about a parent who pushes through a crowd of students to see the part her son got in a school play. West’s son was participating in a school play at the time.
West largely wrote “Minor Dramas” in 2016 and 2017, working on the book from 4:45 a.m. to 6:15 a.m. almost every day before teaching.
She began looking for an agent in 2018 and signed with Joanna MacKenzie of the Denver-based Nelson Literary Agency that spring. The book was purchased by Berkley, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House, that October.
The book has received positive acclaim on Instagram and book-review websites. MacKenzie said there has been “lots of film and TV interest” in “Minor Dramas,” though there is “nothing announceable.”
She said West’s teaching and parenting experience is evident in her writing.
“I don’t think anyone in [the book] is ridiculed or made fun of or ‘caricature-ized,’” she said. “Everyone feels like a whole human, and their motivations are relatable. I think it just showed the empathy she probably had, and the caring and compassion, when she was a teacher.”
West, who recently stepped away from teaching to focus on writing, has a contract for a second book, which is now being edited.
Visit kathleenwestbooks.com to learn more about “Minor Dramas.”