Alumna conveys college life in debut novel

By Chase Myers, @chasemyers_DE

While many recognized authors from SIU are professors who have written textbooks, fiction writers who got their start here and broke the mold into the professional world tend to be overlooked.

Kate Dierkes, an alumna from Chicago, published her first novel “Finding Dell” in May, a project three years in the making.

The plot follows protagonist Dell Hewitt, a 19-year-old sophomore at a fictional northern Kentucky university. She believes she has the world figured out, until she finds her supposed perfect boyfriend out with another girl. This launches a dramatic chain of events and flips her world upside down.


Dell finds love elsewhere in a young film major, which throws her into a new life journey and more honest relationship.

“I knew that I wanted to write about the college experience, just knowing that the college years are such a pivotal, emotionally-charged time in life,” said Dierkes. “I wanted to draw from that setting for a coming-of-age story.”

Dierkes said her time as a Saluki heavily influenced the novel, even referencing Thompson Point dormitories in her dedication page.

“I think that anyone who reads the book and is familiar with SIU would definitely see some similarities,” she said. “I really love SIU’s campus and I think I tried to capture the outdoorsy essence of campus in the book.”

She said the writing process began about two years after she graduated in 2009 with a degree in journalism and minor in creative writing.

“The aspect of journalism that helps a lot is being able to think, because I think in fiction it’s just easy to get carried away forever,” she said. “In journalism, you really have to get to your point a little bit faster.”

She began writing in November, which is known in the writing community as National Novel Writing Month, where writers are encouraged to produce about 50,000 words in one month, she said. 


“I started writing it a little bit as a hobby during that, set it down for a while and then I kept re-reading it and rewriting it,” she said. “Three years of revisions later, it kind of came to where I wanted it to be.”

When developing the characters in “Finding Dell,” she drew inspiration from people she met at SIU, slowly changing their characteristics over time.

The characters became increasingly fictional as she read more about the different psychologies of people as they progress, she said.

“Some of the real people know [about their characters] and they’re excited about it, but I don’t know if they’ve read the book yet so we’ll see how they feel about it later,” she said.

She said she worked as a full-time consultant while writing, which posed as difficult when searching for time and creativity.

“I would work all day in data and not in a very creative environment, so I would have to come home to decompress before I would write,” she said. “Actually finding the time and energy to do it while working was tough.”

The length of the story became the hardest part because she was used to writing short stories for class, maxing out at about 20 pages, she said.

“When I really started getting into it I was dealing with 300 pages of writing,” she said. “While doing edits, revisions and moving things around, it was so hard to keep track of everything.”

She said although the process took more than three years and the novel was published only about a month ago, the responses from peers, family and those who have read it have been positive.

She is in the process of marketing the book to a large audience, she said.

“The library in my hometown decided to carry it and so they just put it on the shelf the other day, which is exciting for me to see,” she said. “I wanted to go take a picture of it myself, but someone had already checked it out so that’s a good response I guess. I’m pretty optimistic.”