Arts and Entertainment

Island author and animal lover Kristin von Kreisler to visit Eagle Harbor Books

'An Unexpected Grace' by Kristin von Kreisler.
— image credit: Image courtesy of Kristin von Kreisler

The ability of animals to heal and comfort humans in troubling times has long been known.

Therapy animals visiting hospital patients and wounded military members have had proven positive medical and emotional results. Owning a pet has also been proven to ward off depression and stress, lower blood pressure and cholesterol and even ease chronic pain and improve immunity.

None of this is surprising to Bainbridge Island resident and author Kristin von Kreisler, who describes herself as far more than just an animal lover.

“I’m an animal fanatic,” Kreisler said. “Ever since I was born I’ve loved animals more than anything else in the world.”

Kreisler’s debut novel, “An Unexpected Grace,” combines her love of animals with her love of story-telling into a redemptive tale about the power of love and the potential strength of the human (and canine) spirit.

“An Unexpected Grace,” tells the story of workplace shooting survivor Lila Elliot, who has moved into a friend’s house to recover and to be alone with her fear and grief. Her solitude is disrupted, however, when she is drafted into caring for Grace — a shaggy, formerly abused golden retriever.

The dog is not a welcome presence; Lila was bitten when she was younger and has been afraid of dogs since childhood. Grace senses Lila’s unease, and warily keeps her distance. Slowly and cautiously the two begin to trust, and even like each other, and find comfort and relief from their traumatic pasts in their budding relationship.

“They are both totally traumatized and suffer from post-traumatic stress,” Kreisler said of her main characters. “My great theme is that animals have huge importance in our lives. I wanted to show animals’ kindness and sensitivity. This book is doing all of that, and taking it a step further and showing how they can heal us.”

The choice of a workplace shooting as the cause of Lila’s injuries and trauma makes the story, sadly, all too contemporary. It was an interesting choice for Kreisler from the angle of dramatic storytelling, she said.

It is also a phenomenon that Kreisler herself has some personal experience with, having been on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin in 1966 when Charles Whitman killed 17 people in a mass shooting.

“I was on campus that day,” she said. “I shook like a leaf for days and days. I was terrified.”

Though Kreisler says that she was not close enough to the incident to be in direct physical danger, the emotional trauma of the day would remain with her for some time and, along with additional research about mass murder and post-traumatic stress, inspire Lila’s journey in the novel.

“I knew I wanted to show the healing process,” she said.  “And the grace of healing, and she [the dog] is a grace in that she helps this woman heal.”

Though she has written extensively in the genres of non-fiction and journalism, Kreisler said she prefers to work in fiction for the personal freedom it allows.

“It’s a great learning process and I love it,” she said of writing her first novel.

“When it’s fiction you don’t have to be so wedded to getting the exact words right. You’re free to make it beautiful,” she said.

Discussing the healing power of pets, dogs in particular, Kreisler says that she has no doubt that the presence of animals improves health.

“A dog reads you and watches you and gets in tune with what you’re feeling,” she said. “And they empathize better than any people on the planet. I think that it’s so comforting to know that there’s a being that loves you. I love my work and my mission in life is to get people to understand and love animals more. That’s my purpose.”

Kreisler will visit Eagle Harbor Book Company in downtown Winslow to read an excerpt of “An Unexpected Grace” at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 12.

The debut novelist said she is not nervous about the reading at all, and is in fact looking forward to the chance to connect with more island dog lovers.

“I taught for years and years so getting in front of a crowd doesn’t bother me,” she said. “This is the beginning of a whole new career for me and I’m thrilled.”

To learn more about Kreisler and her work, or to check out her blog for all the most recent news about the island author, visit kristinvonkreisler.com.

To see more upcoming author events at Eagle Harbor, visit www.eagleharborbooks.com.

Author event

What: Island author Kristin von Kreisler reads from her new book “An Unexpected Grace.”

When: 3 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 12.

Where: Eagle Harbor Book Company in downtown Winslow (157 Winslow Way East).

Admission: Free.

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