Local author Caitlin Rother spoke to a crowd of La Jolla Country Day students on October 5 about what the life of a writer, past and present, entails. What it boils down to, according to Rother, is being passionate and taking risks. Rother is well-versed in both arts, as she has held journalism jobs with some of the most credible sources on both coasts of this country.
The author is a true local: she graduated from La Jolla High, started college at UCSD, and had a longstanding career with the San Diego Union-Tribune. Rother was inspired after seeing author Ann Patchett at the Encinitas Library.
“I went to see her after reviewing one of her books," says Rother of Patchett. "I truly wanted to be like her."
After transferring from UCSD to UC Berkeley, Rother worked at the college newspaper in response to her father's prodding. Here she majored in Psychology, focusing on Abnormal Psychology, but found it difficult to listen to extremely mentally disturbed individuals. Rother always knew that she loved to write, and found herself to be quite talented. This prompted her to get a job in public relations for a travel company in San Francisco.
“This was right after Chernobyl,” said Rother. “I was tasked with positive spin for cruises to Russia and Europe, and I would ask myself: 'Is this ethical?' The PR business was not for me.”
Rother continued to graduate school at Northwestern, where her focus shifted to magazine publishing. After Northwestern, she wrote her first series of stories during attendance in a writing workshop, all the while working for The Berkshire Eagle and The Springfield Union-News in Northampton, Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter, Rother worked as intern for Outside magazine, then moved on to the Los Angeles Times.
She was paid by the story at the LA Times, and eventually took a job at The Los Angeles Daily News. While at the Daily News, Rother published some high profile articles- stories covering Michael Jackson's first child molestation case and the “King of Pop's” announcement that he was addicted to painkillers. As an investigative journalist she also covered strippers laundered political contributions to San Diego City Council Members.
Rother took a job at The San Diego Union-Tribune, where she continued to work until 2006. Rother's first book, Poisoned Love (2005), is a true crime thriller which drew from her coverage in the Union-Tribune of the Kristin Rossum murder case. Also while at the Union-Tribune, she was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for a story about a teenager who died after tragically lighting himself on fire.
The author feels that her time at the Union-Tribune has come full circle, as the publication has recently been citing her past coverage of both mayoral candidates.
“Journalism is like a puzzle," says Rother. "You have this one set track and collect information along the way. This helps with my books, as I am always curious as to where my characters will take me."
Including her first novel, Naked Addiction (2007), Rother has published eight fiction and non-fiction works. Her latest work, Lost Girls (2012), is about the John Gardner case - where two teen girls from San Diego were raped and murdered by a known sex offender. She says that she is currently working on book number nine, ten, eleven, and twelve.
“This case really piqued my interest,” said Rother. “San Diego has been known to remain typically apathetic, but this case galvanized the entire county. There was this collective sadness when we all discovered the final outcome.”
Remaining ever true to her city, Rother founded the writer's group San Diego Writing Women. The San Diego Writing Women will be hosting an event this week on October 13 at the Seaside Home in La Jolla, with eight authors reading their work.
“Risks have paid off for me,” explained Rother to the students. “If I had not held the various jobs I had in the past, my skill set would be slightly limited. Writing ultimately requires constantly working at your craft, and doing what feels right to you.”