Citizen Potawatomi Nation member Linda Kasparek Zook always wanted to be an author. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva, Oklahoma, and studied Spanish and French as well. After three decades of teaching middle and high school in small towns across the state, she retired in 2011. Her love of languages burgeoned during childhood.
“I’ve always been an avid reader. My mother was an avid reader, and I think she’s the one who actually planted the seed in my head that I could be a writer. It is something that has been with me my entire life,” Zook said.
About 10 years before she retired, she began writing short stories under the pen name Kitra Kaspar and submitted several to magazines and other publications. She won the 2005 Oklahoma Writers’ Federation Crème de la Crème award for her story Face to Face with a Rattlesnake, inspired by rattlesnake hunts held on the desert-like land near Waynoka, Oklahoma, where she has lived for more than 25 years.
“That was a wonderful thing,” Zook said. “That told me that, yes, I can write. I can do it. I have the ability to tell a story.”
Her aspirations grew, and she began working on a book following her retirement. After four to five months of hard work writing and editing, Zook completed The Greatest is Love, later published in August 2014.
Methods and inspirations
The Bourassa family descendant has always read romances, drawn in by “a good-looking guy, a beautiful girl and a happy ending.” She occasionally dips into detective novels or reads authors like Mitch Albom; however, romances remain her favorite, whether reading or watching movies.
“I’m a sucker for chick flicks. Honestly, if I’m going to go watch a movie, I would rather do a chick flick,” Zook said. “I don’t like anything violent because a lot of times, they’re too graphic for me.”
She forms a compelling piece of work by writing what she knows; her leading heroes show a bit of her husband, Larry, and her heroines show some of her personality as well. She also takes inspiration from her friends and surroundings. Zook calls herself “a people watcher.”
“I’m not terribly outgoing. I’m actually very shy, and you put me in a room full of people, and I tend to go find a corner,” she said.
“I used to carry a notebook, and if I saw something interesting, I would write that down. So, I always tell my friends, ‘You just be careful because I take inspiration from everything. If you have a little quirk or some idiosyncrasy, it may show up in a book.’”
While Zook wrote romances prior to The Greatest is Love, the novel was her first attempt adding a Christian element. It felt more fluid than working in the broader genre, and she knew the style and lessons of the books served a bigger purpose.
“It’s my witness. It’s my way of telling people about God’s love and God’s grace. The theme throughout these books is there’s no hurt that God can’t heal,” she said.
Zook pairs the romantic portions of her plots with more serious themes such as sexual abuse and drugs. The characters struggle with internal dialogues that expand beyond the “will they or won’t they” of the potential relationship in front of them, helping her work stand out in the genre.
“There has to be a conflict, or you don’t have a story, but Christian authors don’t deal with some of those harder issues. And we live in a world where those issues happen all the time,” Zook said. “I felt it was important to tackle some of the problems not typically addressed.”
The Greatest is Love
As part of a trilogy, Zook’s first novel tells the story of young doctor Joey Winters. Raised in Oklahoma City, she moves to rural Freeman, Oklahoma, after receiving her medical license to work for two years as part of the fictional Doctors for Rural Oklahoma Program. In exchange for her time, the town covers some of Winters’ medical school debts. She tries to convince herself two years will pass quickly.
Throughout the novel, she meets Brad Freeman, a Potawatomi lawyer, his friends and family, as well as the rest of her neighbors. Zook has always enjoyed living in small towns and pieced the fictional Freeman together from everywhere she’s lived.
“I love small towns because everybody takes care of everybody else,” Zook said. “And yes, there are drawbacks because everybody knows everybody else’s business. … Small towns are wonderful. They really are. They can be aggravating, but they’re wonderful.”
Winters’ experience unravels her preconceived notions of small towns, and the other characters help her heal from painful experiences. Zook felt a natural connection while developing the doctor.
“Sometimes you have an idea, and you start writing it, and then that character reveals himself or herself to you as you write,” she said. “In other words, you don’t have all of the details worked out. But as you write, you learn about your character.”
Zook intentionally included a well-rounded Potawatomi, Brad Freeman, to assist the lead character while growing and learning about life and themselves.
“I just feel like it’s important to spotlight Natives and portray them in a positive light,” Zook said. “But my characters will always be caring, loving and giving people. If I can help change negative Native stereotypes, I want to do my part.”
Currently, she continues to craft her second novel with the same passion for her ideas.
“I just have a strong belief that this is what I’m supposed to do, and God made it happen,” Zook said. “That’s my belief.”
The Greatest is Love is available on Amazon as both an e-book and a paperback at cpn.news/zookbook.