Shelf Media hosts the annual Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Competition for best self-published or independently published book. In addition to prizes, the winner, finalists, long-listed, and more than 100 notable books from the competition are featured in the December/January issue of Shelf Unbound.
Kathi Koll’s acclaimed and award-winning memoir is both a love story and a survivor’s tale in which Koll courageously unveils an unexpected life of joy, adventure, heartbreak, and even little laughter as she shares the realities of life as a full-time caregiver.
When her husband, Don, called on his way to the hospital, Kathi Koll had no idea how dramatically their lives would change or how her loving heart and indomitable spirit would fight it. From childhood, her life might have seemed charmed —play dates with Lucie Arnaz, real dates with a future TV idol, and a big brother engaged to film star Dolores Hart. But behind the scenes, her role as a caregiver began early with a mother dying of cancer, a father battling alcoholism, and a brother diagnosed with a debilitating disease. Then Kathi found Don Koll–her “rock”–and their joie de vivre and unstoppable moxie made everything feel possible. Until Don woke up “locked in” after a catastrophic stroke.
About The Author: Kathi Koll
Kathi Koll is the founder of The Kathi Koll Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to providing meaningful support to caregivers and their families. Her experience caring for her late husband, Don Koll, for more than six years after his debilitating stroke, was the inspiration for creating the foundation and writing her memoir. Kathi lives in Southern California, and is the proud mother of three children and extremely proud grandmother of nine grandchildren, who all lovingly call her KK. When she isn’t helping and educating caregivers, she is traveling the world, looking for new adventures. Kick-Ass Kinda Girl: A Memoir of Life, Love and Caregiving is her first book.
Interview with Kathi Koll.
Tell us about your book.
kk: Kick-Ass Kinda Girl is my story as a caregiver. It didn’t start out that way, but developed as I wrote, and the common theme of my caregiving history became the thread binding so much of my life. It’s not a “How To” but unveils my experiences from a young age as a caregiver through a number of different situations with my mother, father, brothers, and husband. Along with my very personal story I have tried to throw in “prescriptives” — how I did things, how I would have done things differently, and how I was able to keep a sense of humor and live a normal life through some very challenging times.
How did you go about developing this book?
kk: I sat down one day and just started writing at the recommendation of my friend Nancy Brinker who started Susan G. Komen in honor of her sister who died of breast cancer. She said, “Kathi, I wrote a book about my sister. I think if you wrote about your experiences with your husband, Don, it could help a lot of people.” Nancy recommended a wonderful editor to me, Joni Rodgers, who liked my story with all its different aspects of life and agreed to take me on. We worked together for four years before my memoir was ready to publish.
What was the experience of writing this book like for you?
kk: I’ve always enjoyed writing, especially during challenging times. Jotting down my thoughts and rereading them has been an exercise that has helped me look at each situation of my life with a clearer mind. I had just experienced the darkest period of my life after the death of my husband and brother within days of one another, and writing my thoughts was an emotional release. Some of my stories took me a couple of years to dive into and tears rolled down my face as I relived some very painful experiences, but in writing, rewriting, and rereading I found myself able to think about some very sad situations with less pain. I also discovered that I was unconsciously writing about so many sad parts of my life, and I see myself as a pretty happy person. I called Joni and said, “This story is so sad!” She said, “Well start writing about some fun and funny experiences,” which we then interspersed throughout the book. Writing about my life was truly cathartic if not a little embarrassing in parts, but I knew if I didn’t open myself up, warts and all, my story wouldn’t help anyone.
What writing advice do you have for other indie authors?
kk: Just go for it! Read a lot, especially in the genre you are interested in writing, and talk to everyone and anyone you can think of who could offer advice. The internet can be a great resource for new authors. Use social media —Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to develop an audience and work at getting your story known. It takes persistence – a lot of it! Let friends know what you’re doing in hopes they will pass the word on and maybe even have a book party in your honor when the time comes. Look at it as a “Grass Roots Campaign” that will hopefully grow.
What are you working on next?
kk: Well, my main focus right now is the foundation I started, The Kathi Koll Foundation, to help caregivers in need. After the death of my husband, I woke up one morning thinking about caregivers that can’t afford many simple necessities, or even respite, while caring for their loved one. All caregivers feel the same incredible loneliness, exhaustion and unbearable sadness while they care for someone close to them, but in many situations the burden is more than they can take, both financially and emotionally. I was very fortunate to be able to afford more than most, so I came up with the idea to help those who can’t. The foundation’s gifts won’t fix their problems, but it does give a bit of respite in meaningful ways, plus the added gift of knowing they aren’t alone in their struggles. We know how caregivers feel, appreciate what they are doing, and want to help. I also write a monthly blog to help educate others on many topics related to caregiving. Many of us have been, are, or will be in a caregiving situation eventually. I hope by sharing my thoughts it will offer some guidance from one who has been there. I’ve also started a podcast, Care for Caregivers with Kathi Koll. I guess it’s the way of the new generation and I’m trying to be part of it! If you are interested you can find out more about the foundation, sign up for my blog or listen to my podcast at
READ AN EXCERPT
THE DAY MY WORLD STOOD STILL
“Rock bottom became the solid foundation in which I rebuilt my life.” —J. K. Rowling
October 27, 2005—the day that changed everything. The peak of the mountain—or was it the bottom of the sea? I had two lives with my husband Don, and this day was the dividing line.
Every moment of that day is etched into my memory, starting with waking up in Don’s arms. We had a habit of sleeping nose to nose with my leg wrapped around him, like two pieces of a puzzle never to be separated. He slowly started kissing me, distracting me from my scheduled appointment with the subcontractors I was about to meet but quickly forgot. It was a way we started many mornings, but this one wasn’t like others. I distinctly remember thinking at the time that something was really different. What was it?
As we quietly rested in one another’s arms, I glanced out the window and spotted a boat cruising by. The early morning light on the bay sparkled through our partially opened blinds, and I could hear the soft sounds of seagulls in the distance. My thoughts drifted to how ideal my life truly was. I didn’t want the moment to pass, but true to form, Don sprang up and was ready to get on with his day.
That bittersweet morning was the last time I saw Don as the man I knew on “the front side of the fence.”
A stroke had always been Don’s biggest fear. Both his father and sister had died from them during their fifties, and Don battled the aching dread he would succumb to the same fate. He visited his doctor regularly, took prescribed medications, exercised with a trainer most mornings, and did everything he thought would help to avoid what he felt would one day be his demise.
I distinctly remember Don saying to me one day before his stroke, “You know, Kathi, there are only three things in life that really matter: food, water, and love. Food and water enable one to exist. Love enables one to live.” I would imagine his buddies would be surprised by the simplicity of these words, but then again, maybe not.
Those words resonated with me more than he knew at the time, and the strength of them was tucked away deep in my thoughts, to reappear after Don was ill.
To read more please visit www.kathikoll.com.
Article originally Published in the December/January 2020 Issue “2019 Indie Best Award Winners”