Author Archives: Donna B. Kaulkin

Brenda’s 9/11 Dream

This is one of my favorite passages from Brenda Corrigan Went Downtown — A dream of 9/11 in Washington, DC:

Awash in the news, her former neighbors would converge on the lawn in front of their building, consultants wandering off to Café Deluxe to nurse a cappuccino; retired foreign service officers entrenched, waiting for official word of what to do next. The Romanov heir would twist his rings and murmur memories of his Paris boyhood. The General from the Shah’s army would pierce the air with his foul cigarettes, his wife silent at his side. Nannies would comfort toddlers alarmed by the sudden roar of an F16 . . .


Splash! — August 2

SAMSUNGHad a great time with members of  Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church at Splash!, their annual book event organized by Lisa Vande Wege, Director of the Women’s Ministry.  We sat poolside in the amazing backyard of Julie Andrews, and talked about Brenda and the writing process, and what a lively discussion it was!

Matters of faith were in the forefront and these very intelligent women had much to say about Brenda’s final choice. Some expressed beautifully the SAMSUNGrole that faith might have played in Brenda’s recovery. Others said they understood Brenda’s decision—that it made sense in her particular circumstances.  I told them that when I created Brenda’s friend Rose and gave her a bedrock faith in God and her traditions, I was thinking of Rose Kennedy, President Kennedy’s mother. Mrs. Kennedy never gave in to despair, despite the tragic losses she (and we) suffered. Nor does our Rose, an orphan of the Holocaust.

And of course we spoke of violence and the terrible crime that catapults the story from a carefree walk in the park to a tale of recovery and loss. So many readers write to me about violence they’ve suffered, either as children or adults. They tell me the ways the book touched and helped them. This is gratifying. I didn’t set out to do this. I only meant to tell one woman’s tale. But that tale is universal. Violence against girls and women, unfortunately, is part of our lives; it is not just on our TV screen, in faraway places. It is in our homes and schools, in cities, in suburbs, on farms, in factories, and, as we well know, on military bases and in churches.

I was thrilled to donate my stipend to Arm of Care, a  local organization that uses creative arts to restore and empower girls who have been exploited. ARM founder and president Amy Lynch joined us for this fine evening.










Thank You, Dear Readers

“I spent yesterday afternoon absorbed in your profound book. I read it in one sitting. You have such well-drawn characters I feel I know them and understand their inner lives. I like the way you wove throughout the plot inner thoughts and memories that give insight into the characters’ responses. The reader was at once a confidant and observer . . . Thank you for such a fine, reflective read.”


“I love how you weave the back stories of the characters. And as for describing the permanently single life — glad to know there are others feeling as I do. Loved the line about some women needing to be validated by a man. I’m with Agnes on that one.” [The reader refers to: I was never defined by men. Most of the women I knew needed the validation of an admiring male eye, even if the other eye was wandering.]


“I LOVED Brenda Corrigan. Great read. Disturbing subject well handled and so important, so important to the conversation.”


“Thank you sounds trite for such an exciting read!!!”


“Finished Brenda and am looking forward to the sequel. You truly captured the horrors of violence against women . . . and the healing that close friends and family provide one another.”


“Well constructed and crafted, with page turning intrigue and suspense, wonderful, natural dialogue, soulful and heartfelt. . . What a challenge and journey for you and a pleasure for your readers. I’ll enjoy sharing it with others….”

Contra Costa Times

Excerpt from an interview with Janice De Jesus

Contra Costa Times, October 4, 2013

Just after Kaulkin moved to the East Bay from Washington, DC, she heard about a woman who had been raped and killed on one of the local trails.

“The news shook me,” she said. “My heart ached for her and her loved ones, for women and girls everywhere who are raped, maimed, battered, murdered. I didn’t know this would be a theme in the novel I would finally write but that is what happened.”

Read complete article in Contra Costa Times


Book Launch Party Announced

the publication of
Brenda Corrigan Went Downtown
by Donna Brookman Kaulkin
Orinda Books
Sunday, May 19, 1 pm

Champagne and Nibbles
Reading / Signing
Hope you can come / Please invite friends

Orinda Books
276 Village Square
Orinda, CA 94563
(Orinda Books is near Lafayette Reservoir and
other heavenly places for walks and outdoor beauty.)

Let’s Face It

That’s this pretty girl, second from right, at 17.

A pretty girl grows accustomed to being the center of attention. She is on the A-list, selected for teams and sleepovers, to star in school plays, and to go to ritzy beach houses on summer weekends and on ski trips in winter.

A pretty girl grows accustomed to being sought after by A-list boys, and longed for by boys on society’s fringe. If charm accompanies that pretty face, she often is teacher’s pet, with latitude granted for missed homework and poor quiz scores.

When I was in school in the 50s, a pretty girl believed it wise to compete with girls for boys, and not to compete with boys. Collecting varsity pins of stars who vied for her attention trumped any desire she may have had to pursue academic excellence.

A pretty girl who attended college in the early 60s, often on a quest for an M.R.S. degree, received high grades for work that might be mediocre, from professors (they were mostly men then) who primped as she entered the room, hoping to gain her admiration. Accustomed to “getting by on her looks,” a pretty girl sometimes felt bewildered by changing expectations of the era, but found that a pretty face serves as hard currency in any world.

A pretty girl is accustomed to being noticed as she enters a room. The waters part for her. She is fawned over by plain girls wanting to share the glow of her aura, and men are courtly. In the office or lab, she is offered raises and promotions (to a point), foreign travel and prime assignments. In marriage, her failings are happily forgiven by her besotted husband.

Woe to this pretty girl as she ages. We all know her story. Often her position at home or at work is usurped by a younger woman. She doesn’t quite get why her status has changed, because disappointment is a strange bedfellow. And when she looks in the mirror, she still sees a pretty face. She feels pretty. Her Gestalt is “pretty.”

Over time, this self-image wanes. The faces of her friends become lined and she may muse, “Is that how I look?” Then, one morning the face that greets her in her mirror is not the pretty girl.

I was a lucky pretty girl, in that I had it both ways. I never fully incorporated a pretty-girl persona because by the time my swan emerged, in late adolescence, I was used to being ignored by boys and had developed other interests.

My mom is on the left, Aunt Clara on the right.

But in the end, I am that woman looking in the mirror wondering where the pretty girl went. Because my pretty mother died young, I no longer see her face in mine. I see my Aunt Clara, who lived a long life.

I am sharing these thoughts because my friend wondered if the novel I’m writing addresses metaphorically my preoccupation with aging and the loss of physical beauty. My protagonist, Brenda Corrigan, is attacked and undergoes facial reconstruction. As she tries to cope with the reality that her pretty, though aging, face has been usurped by one misshapen and scarred, she is determined to rely on other strengths, noting that the blind hear everything, the deaf see all. Wit remains her mainstay: When a group of women enter a posh Beverly Hills restaurant, Brenda observes their plastic surgery results. “Were those faces all cut from the same stencil?” she asks her daughter. “They all look like gaping fish.”

Aging indeed is a theme of this novel. We all confront the loss of physical beauty and learn to rely on other strengths, if we are lucky.

The Past Holds Sway

Today is the third anniversary of my novel in progress, Brenda Corrigan Went Downtown. I began the writing on February 1, 2009, prompted by a walk on the trail near my home and finding it devoid of the usual rambunctious Sunday afternoon activity. Having lived through 9/11 in Washington, DC, I felt a sense of foreboding.

As does Brenda, when she comes upon:

. . . a nearby field where dogs usually romped off-leash, bounding after Frisbees, barking wildly, ecstatic to run free, then saw it was empty. Where was everybody? She felt disoriented now. Where were the walkers, the bikers who usually swarmed over the trail on a Sunday? Had something terrible happened? A terrorist attack?

Then she remembered. The Super Bowl. The whole world was nestled on couches, watching warm-ups and wrap-ups, stuffing itself with nachos and salsa. And here she was, alone . . . .

I’d been noodling an idea for a novel for a few years. I thought it would be interesting to imagine the life of someone who had been subjected to childhood abuse. Calamitous childhoods are so much more common than we like to think, but often are well hidden. Most people vigorously put an unpleasant past behind them, never realizing how much energy this fruitless task consumes. For the truth will find its way to freedom— through pores, temper, an inability to cope with life’s vicissitudes, post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Brenda is a determined woman. She has overcome her roots, she believes, the facts of her foundation. She would not consider herself one of the walking wounded, that she is owed something. If she were to think about the past at all, it would be with a sense of victory. She lives in the present, enjoying her days to the fullest among family and friends, partaking of all that life has to offer.

Until she is struck down with unimaginable force. Then the past holds sway. Her hard will bends to dreams and nightmares, memories, and she is steered away from recovery.