Behind the Book: Home for Erring and Outcast Girls by Julie Kibler

Inspired by historical events and a follow-up to the bestselling Calling Me Home, Home for Erring and Outcast Girls follows the deep friendship between two women at an early 20th-century rehabilitation home for cast-out single mothers and the reclusive librarian who discovers their story a century later. Read on to discover author Julie Kibler’s recommendations, inspirations and influences as we go Behind the Book.

My new novel, Home for Erring and Outcast Girls (Crown Publishing, 7/23/19), is finally out, and wow, has it been a long time coming! I’m a slow writer, and that doesn’t even include the years leading up to finding the “right” story to tell. I concluded long ago I’d never be able to write a book every year. My brain just doesn’t work that way. I envy writers who can, but it’s not in the cards for me. One advantage, however, to being so slow is that the time between my first book, Calling Me Home (St. Martin’s Press) and Home for Erring and Outcast Girls has allowed me to truly savor so many novels by other authors who, mostly unaware, have influenced my own writing.

I read for the simple pleasure of it, but also for learning the fiction market, understanding different genres, improving my storytelling by studying the styles of other writers, and absorbing additional details about eras, settings, and cultures that are the potential or actual subjects for my own novels. I conduct tons of primary research for my books—digging through archives, searching census records, scouring newspaper archives, reading applicable nonfiction, and so on—but reading fiction that complements what I’m contemplating or working on is beneficial too.

I’ve compiled a list of novels I’ve read over the last several years, some new or debut fiction, some more classic, that especially influenced me while writing Home for Erring and Outcast Girls—but ones I also truly enjoyed and would recommend regardless.

Both of my novels employ “time slip”—the method of braiding two or more time periods and point-of-view characters to tell a story in both the past and the present. This method allows the writer to explore not only a bygone era, but the way in which history influences more recent characters and situations. I love stories of hidden histories and family secrets.

Some more obvious titles of this type from the last several years are Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, and Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, all runaway bestsellers. Have you read them yet? I loved each of them. But I also loved What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman, the heartbreaking tale of a young woman thrown into an asylum and forgotten, simply because she loved the wrong person. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s a good reminder of how far we’ve come with mental health, and how far we have yet to go.

My first novel, Calling Me Home, was partly set in Texas, and Home for Erring and Outcast Girls is almost completely set there as well (with the exception of one section in Oklahoma City). Texas is a state with many cultures and a unique sense of spirit and independence. I’ve lived here three decades and still haven’t quite wrapped my brain around it. Every Texas book I’ve read gives me a different view and another morsel of the history of this vast geography. Lately, I enjoyed Bluebird, Bluebird, by Attica Locke, about an African-American police detective forced to contemplate his own history while examining a race-driven crime near his East Texas hometown. Locke strikes all the right notes as a female author writing from the male point-of-view.

Marjorie Herrera Lewis’s When the Men Were Gone is about a determined Central Texas teacher and housewife who wouldn’t allow her small town’s high school football team to languish simply because the coach goes off to fight in World War II and no other man is willing or able to take over. It’s a fast read, based on a true story, and is already headed to the big screen.

The Lost Husband, by Katherine Pannill Center, is a tender look at a young wife and mother whose life is turned upside down. She reluctantly (and wisely) accepts her aunt’s offer to move her children and belongings to a remote South Texas town while she recovers.

The historical portion of Home for Erring and Outcast Girls is set in the early 1900s and revolves around a community of women who aren’t accepted anywhere else. While conducting my research and writing, I especially enjoyed two other novels from the same time period exploring marginalized groups, both full of grit and the glimmer of hope: Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry, and Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford. I’m also looking forward to reading Woman 99 by Greer McAllister. My interest in certain topics doesn’t end simply because I finished writing a novel about them.

And finally, much of Home for Erring and Outcast Girls centers around the topic of religious faith and adherence, for better or worse. I’m fascinated by this subject and tend to read nearly anything I can find on the topic. I loved The Mothers by Britt Bennett, in which a young woman impregnated by the son of the pastor must come to grips with her new situation and the reaction of the “church mothers.”

Hanna Who Fell from the Sky by Christopher Meades tells the story of a teen who is a member of an extreme polygamist society and must decide for herself whether to leave or stay—either way, at the risk of her life and others. It’s a heart-pounding, heart-wrenching novel, and the female teen voice, coming from a male author, is pitch-perfect.

The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman examines what happens when a young woman becomes pregnant by an “undesirable man” and how her family deals with the pregnancy and the resulting child. Based on a true story, it doesn’t sugarcoat the abuse of children in Catholic orphanages in the not-so-distant past.

And of course, anyone who hasn’t read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood or watched the related Hulu series should, and should allow themselves to consider the horror of a society who has allowed religious extremists to control every aspect of a citizen’s life.

I hope these recommendations are helpful and give you plenty to chew on.

Julie Kibler is the author of Home for Erring and Outcast Girls and the bestselling Calling Me Home, which was an IndieNext List pick, Target Club Pick and Ladies’ Home Journal Book Club Pick, published in fifteen languages. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and journalism and a master’s degree in library science and lives with her family, including four rescued dogs and cats, in Texas.

Julie Kibler stops by the HPB Flagship in Dallas to discuss and sign Home for Erring and Outcast Girls on Thursday, July 25, at 7 p.m. Want to reserve your place in the signing line? Get your free event pass here.