Niles Brewing Co. hosts local author Q&A

Published 5:12 pm Thursday, April 27, 2023

NILES — Katherine Higgs-Coulthard has always had a passion for writing.

From writing on the limb of a Sycamore tree when she was an elementary student at Northside Elementary to exploring junk yards with her father, Higgs-Coulthard has used her adventures as fuel for her imagination and story writing.

On Tuesday, the Niles native met with readers at the Niles Brewing Co., 206 E. Main St., for a discussion and book signing of her new book, “Junkyard Dogs.” There, she discussed her inspirations and writing methods, answered questions from the audience and signed books.

“Junkyard Dogs,” Higgs-Coulthard’s seventh book, is a young adult novel centering around an unhoused teenager struggling to survive a criminal scrapping ring while unraveling a dark family history. 

The story is set primarily in South Bend, where she spent years teaching elementary school. Business and locations in the book were inspired by real-life places, including Ragamuffin Bakery in South Bend. She added that the South Bend Manhole Murders loosely inspired elements of the book.

While Higgs-Coulthard has written books with different genres and settings, she said her books often include themes such as poverty, homelessness and family dynamics. As a youth, she would often explore junk yards with her father, with junkyards being a key component of the story.

“This idea of treasure-to-trash and finding riches in poverty were really important things of my childhood,” she said. “We were not impoverished, but we weren’t wealthy. So being able to find joy in all of the cool things that you do have and appreciate what you have was the theme of my childhood and that comes up in this book.”

As a student at Northside Elementary, Higgs-Coulthard said she was inspired by the school librarian and her fourth grade teacher to pursue writing. According to her, the two teachers started an elementary newspaper there that she wrote for when she was in elementary school.

“I learned along the way that we learn to write by writing,” she said. “Just like you can’t take your kid out to the soccer field and they’re ready to go to the World Cup; you have to play against different teams and try different types of positions to figure out what fits with them. It’s like that with writing a book, you have to think about  finding your writers’ voice and then finding the right story for you to write and then finding somebody who cares about that story that you wrote and thinks there’s an audience for it.”

A Niles High School graduate, Higgs-Coulthard graduated from the University of Nebraska with a bachelor’s in education and earned a master’s degree from Indiana University, before completing her doctorate in education through Northeastern University. She taught kindergarten, third and fifth grades in South Bend and was a professor at Lake Michigan College. Higgs-Coulthard currently trains teachers at Saint Mary’s College and offers writing camps and classes for children and teens through Michiana Writers’ Center. 

In high school, she said she flirted with becoming a journalist before realizing she wanted to become an author in her spare time.

“Being a journalist requires a different level,” she said. “I like to make stuff up, which you can’t do if you’re writing for the news.”

For Higgs-Coulthard, being able to participate in the Q&A and engage readers in the community she grew up in was an experience she won’t soon forget.

“It’s just really inspiring,” she said. “There have been two times in my life where I’ve really felt this overwhelming sense of accomplishment, like I have made it. One was when I got my master’s degree and I went to teach at Lake Michigan College. The first time I walked on campus as a professor there was amazing. And this is like I’m coming home. to have worked so hard and then to be able to share it with people who grew up here and know the area. It’s just amazing.”

Higgs-Coulthard’s works can be found wherever books are sold. Follow her on Twitter @michianawriterl and on Instagram @kathiggscoulthard.