Local Writer Of Historical, Christian Novel To Speak At Lakewood Public Library
Keena Tomko decided to be a writer at the age of twelve. This Lakewood resident has come a long way since then, with five novels and a host of nonfiction writing behind her. Life has a way of interrupting the best plans, however, and Tomko ended up not only a writer, but also a widow raising two children and an entrepreneur running a tech business from home.
You can meet Tomko, who writes fiction under the name Naomi Dathan, at Lakewood Public Library’s Main Branch on Thursday, August 24 at 7:00 p.m. She will discuss how her personal struggles intertwine with her fiction, how she fits writing into her life and her novel “Whither Thou Goest, I Will Go.” Books will be available for sale and signing at the event.
“Whither Thou Goest” relays the story of Jem and Seth, who along with their toddler son, stake a claim in Nebraska in the 1880s, living in a sod house and attempting to farm through fiery summers and freezing winters. Always fascinated by the pioneer era, Tomko was inspired to write a fictional account of one family’s experience before and during the Children’s Blizzard of 1888, an unexpected storm that blew up fast, plunging the pioneers into temperatures thirty below zero, with icy snow and high winds. Between 100 and 400 people died, many of them children. “I was all about Little House on the Prairie when I was small,” says Tomko. “After my research, I came away with a less enthusiastic perception.”
Tomko deliberately pursued a Christian theme in the novel. “The story was an expression of my faith at the time,” says the author. “While the main character believes and prays, she doesn’t embrace throwing Bible verses at people or accepting her fate as God’s will. She fights and works to improve her circumstances.” Christian or faith fiction is a genre that has a loyal following and encompasses writing such as C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia,” books about the Amish and romance novels with Christian themes.
Tomko describes writing for a Christian publisher as constraining and challenging. Rules for the genre prohibit foul language, sensuality and anything supernatural except for God. But Tomko embraces the challenge in “Whither Thou Goest” and produces fully formed characters who experience conflict both within their marriage and outside it when family relationships become strained. The most emphatic conflict is their battle with the elements and the economic hardships of their new life on the prairie.
At the time she was writing the book, Tomko was fighting a battle that emerged in her fiction in unintended ways. “It was very annoying when I realized how much I revealed in that story,” she says. “That book is very reflective of my life at the time.” Her husband was very ill, and he passed away in 2011, leaving her a widow with two children to support. In the book, the husband has bouts with serious illness, leaving his wife Jem to break sod, plant crops, feed livestock and care for her husband and child without any help.
While breaking sod was not in her future, after she was widowed, Tomko knew she needed a plan. “I knew my books couldn’t support my family and I didn’t want to abandon my two traumatized daughters to spend 40 hours a week in a cubicle making not enough money,” she says. Through a temporary job, she discovered an interest in database development. “I learned as fast as I could, hung out my shingle long before I was ready and I’ve gone from there. I love the work because it helps businesses in a really tangible way – automating their processes and securing their information. It’s sort of a combination of solving puzzles and organizing a closet, but doing it for a living.”
Visit the Main Library Auditorium on August 24 to meet this impressive author, find out what motivates her and hear more about “Whither Thou Goest, I Will Go.”