Miss Sally is a portrait of a young girl growing up in Texas in the 1930’s. Why was this an important book for you to write?
Primarily because I was living in Texas when I wrote it and my three daughters, though not yet in their teens, faced the hazards of adolescence, the coming of age which always is difficult and which Sally Halm, the protagonist of his novel, confronted in exaggerated form. I spent my boyhood in a small predominantly Protestant rural community and felt it important to portray what rural life was like for a contemporary audience.
The 1930’s are one of my favorite eras because of how much was going on across the country. Why did you choose this as the time period for your story?
My parents were severely affected by the “Great Depression”: they lost everything and had to start life anew in very changed circumstances. Texas was one of the states most affected by migration and the social changes that the Great Depression triggered. Mere survival became the primary preoccupation of millions of people. These are basic ingredients for the making of a novel.
Sally is a simple minded girl, she is not beautiful, and her family treats her this way. How did you set about capturing the thoughts and emotions of a young girl in the 1930’s?
I had a clear impression of Sally, who she was and what she was like, before I began and in the process of writing became Sally, at least to the extent of feeling what she felt, seeing the world as she experienced it, incorporating my own background of growing up in a socially restricted rural community where failed crops and tent revivals were a reality.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
I’ve just completed a novella about how an incapacitating illness affects a marriage. It’s being considered by several editors. Also in the hands of editors is a recently compiled book of published short stories about Mexico. This fall I’m issuing as an ebook a nonfiction account of government repression of a teachers’ movement in Oaxaca, Mexico, which includes firsthand reporting. It’s to be called Kill the Teachers! And I’m beginning work on a freewheeling journalistic appraisal of the confused political and economic shenanigans involving the United States and Mexico.
This is the story of a young girl’s painful initiation into womanhood: the discovery of sex without hope of love, and grief without the release of tears. The setting is rural Texas in the 1930s, a rough and tumble environment in which the thirteen-year-old Sally Halm questions but tries to appease her authoritarian mother’s religiosity, appeasement that leads to misguided attempts to seek a salvation that her environment ruptures
Sally’s father has distanced himself not only from his wife but Sally and her two older brothers and two older sisters. The mother’s ally is the son who hopes to become an evangelical minister; the rebel is Sally’s oldest sister, who Sally and the middle sister Hill’ry discover in a lovemaking tryst with a neighbor boy. Hill’ry is the family’s child protégé who is given privileges that Sally is denied and who Sally both envies and admires, attributes which tumble her into misadventures than Hill’ry sidesteps.
As Sally struggles to reconcile the concepts of “sin” and “salvation” that seem to dominate her life she ricochets between hope and rejection. Inspired by the testimony of a woman evangelist who recounted rising from degradation to achieve happiness and prosperity thanks to accepting Jesus as her personal savior Sally tries to emulate her but realizes “everything I do I do backwards, I can’t even sin without people laughing at me.”
Sent to live with relatives in another part of central Texas, Sally becomes infatuated with an older cousin whom she helps to milk and to breed a mare. Though supportive he’s a man who seems to hate himself, a hard drinker who has no use for religion and prefers the company of prostitutes than that of “churchy people.” Again Sally does things backwards and alienates him as she’s alienated others. Her decision to run away from family, from the she’s leading and has led, thrusts her into even greater entanglements, entanglements that make her realize how difficult it is to have one’s immortal soul saved, even when that’s all that one has left.
A reviewer cautioned, “You’ll love Miss Sally, but she’ll break your heart.”
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Miss Sally by Robert Joe Stout is a portrait of a young girl growing up in Texas in the 1930’s. Through trial and error 13-year-old Sally Halm finds out about sex, relationships, and what it means to engage in this behavior without love. She painfully learns what it’s like to be a woman in rural Texas during the great depression and how the church expects women to behave. After patterns of abuse, devastating discoveries, and misguided adventures she learns what it means to be saved and accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
My initial reaction when I began reading this book was one of excitement. I love history, and the 1930’s are one of my favorite eras because of how much was going on across the country. The Great Depression left a tremendous impact on the families affected. After getting a few pages in, however, it was difficult for me to place myself in the characters shoes.
This story gets better as it progresses and when I was further in I was unable to put it down. The writing style while not my favorite was engaging as the characters started to come to life. I especially enjoyed how Mr. Stout wrote Sally’s relationship with her mother. The relationship felt realistic to me because of my own experiences as a 13-year-old and how my mom and I got along.
Sally is a simple minded girl, she is not beautiful, and her family treats her this way. While her sisters, Judy and Hill’ry are thought to be beautiful. As a result of the treatment, she receives Sally has a low self-esteem and her sisters, lovers, and her imagination can quickly persuade her into things she doesn’t want to do. Through all of this, I noted that Sally still seeks the approval of her family and loves them very much.
Sally eventually becomes more curious and finds herself in trouble. After being landing in a church revival, one woman’s story sticks out to her in a way so profound she doesn’t feel she has done wrong enough to be saved by the Lord. She paints her own picture of this woman and believes she has to be like her to be truly saved. This event along with her sister’s encouragement lead to Sally’s dark fate. After what seems like years of abuse and bad decisions Miss Sally goes with her mother to be saved but is once again given the short end of the stick.
Sex and coming of age are two major themes in this story, and Mr. Stout’s rural writing style helps with the setting. Had this story been written any differently the plot wouldn’t have made sense. It was compelling and painted a strong picture of life for a young girl at that time.
Pages: 291 | ASIN: B071HL6YMJ
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Wayzata takes place in 1930’s suburban Minnesota, but the tale still carries all the trappings of a 1920’s era LA noir. What was the initial idea behind this story and how did that transform as you were writing the novel?
Erm…most L.A. noir stories actually take place during the ’30s, and my story is set in 1939, perhaps for the reason that this time period concerns the end of the so-called “roaring ’20s” and the eventual fallout from that decade (or so) of overindulgence and decadence. During this period, the Great Depression was still in full swing, war was imminent, most people had to scrounge to eke out a living, and crime was on the rise. Dirtbags and seedy establishments permeated society. I thought it might be interesting to set a story in a place insulated from most of that, so why not set this story in a remote, resort town town in the Midwest? It’s also helpful to narratively remove all coincidences, as, in such a provincial locale, everybody knows or at least has heard of everyone else; it wouldn’t be strange for people to run into one another on the street. Then I guess I have to divulge that I grew up near to Wayzata, spent time there, and was familiar with many of the locations, some of which I used in the novel.
I think that the story has roots in classic hard-boiled detective stories. Do you read books from that genre? What were some books that you think influenced Wayzata?
Indeed it does, and indeed I do. As a teenager I was a huge Coen brothers fan; Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing were just great, and I seem to remember seeing an interview with the Coens (who are from Minneapolis), talking about how the latter film sprung from reading their favorite author, Raymond Chandler. Fortunately for me, Chandler was not incredibly prolific, and I was able to devour all seven of his novels during my stint at college. Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain soon followed. These three are pretty well all you need, though there are certainly other excellent pulp writers out there. When I found out I had a knack for constructing similes, this genre seemed like a natural fit. Double Indemnity, the novel and the movie, was definitely an influence. I pay homage to it several times. The novel was written by Cain and the screenplay by Chandler. Coincidence?
Detective Carroll LaRue is an intriguing character. What were the driving ideals that drove the character’s development throughout the story?
Thanks for saying so. LaRue, like most private dicks portrayed in this type of novel, is a kind of highly moralistic individual who has to drink to cope with reality. He, like Marlowe, like Spade, is a kind of non-judgmental angel, slumming it by choice, yet exhausted and saddened by the depravity that surrounds him. (SPOILER ALERT) In Wayzata, when LaRue allows himself to be led astray by a pretty face, it turns out to be his undoing, and the tragedy of the story is that he is, for the most part, aware of it, but does it anyway.
I find a problem with well-written stories is that I always want there to be another book to keep the story going. Is there a second book planned?
At the moment, no. Since so much noir does tend to carry on with a character appearing and reappearing throughout several novels, I probably should have thought ahead. I have toyed with a notion of a prequel, a story in which LaRue still works in Los Angeles and how he comes to leave that place. He alludes to it in Wayzata. There’s probably something there, but, for the nonce, I am chosen instead to work on a couple collections of short stories and a novella.
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Part of the Family examines the experiences of the children who came to England from the Kindertransport during the Holocaust. I believe you delivered a compassionate view of this dark time in history. Why was this an important book for you to write?
Before this book, there was one document that attempted to set out in detail the Christadelphian involvement in the Kindertransport––and that was Dr. Chana Kotzin’s thesis that evaluated the reaction of a handful of Christian groups to the Jewish refugees in the 1930s. She was able to go through a lot of the correspondence that took place and really examine the refugee committee side of the Christadelphian involvement––but she was not able to look into the individual stories themselves and how the children lived when they eventually did come to a family. When I attended the Belfer Conference in 2015 at the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum, the instructors emphasized 10 methodological principles when teaching about the Holocaust, and one of those standards very much resonated with me: translate statistics into individual people. History is not simply about statistics and generalities, but is rather about the lives of individual people. We constantly hear about the six million, and yet so often, the number loses its meaning, not simply because it is such a huge number, but because it is not focused on the individual. When the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust is mentioned, it should be remembered that these people were fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters. When we realize the individuality of the people that we are learning about, it makes them much more relatable and the lessons from their experiences become much more relevant and powerful for us. This was huge for me, and being a writer, lecturer, and teacher, I very much feel a responsibility to tell their stories. A number of the stories told in this book have not been recorded in any way before. As I interviewed the “children,” one of the major things that stood out to me was that they constantly used the phrase “I was part of the family.” Over and over, they emphasized to me that they felt loved and cherished. There were certainly exceptions, as there always will be––but I was amazed at the things that I heard from them. One man, whose story will hopefully be included in volume 2, when I asked him what he would say to the family that had housed him, if he could say one final thing to them, without hesitation, said “I love you.” Though he had not seen them for decades, he still felt that feeling very acutely and strongly––he had become part of the family. Thus, I began to ask myself why these people had such experiences–and the answer came out very clearly, as you mentioned in your review. The Christadelphian families did this and cared for these children because they felt a kinship and a love for the Jewish people. Their beliefs brought them to action––and for me, that was a very powerful statement about the importance of beliefs. In today’s world, it feels as though beliefs are often downplayed and that many are trying to put our the statement that doctrines and beliefs don’t matter––as long as someone is good. While I certainly stand for the idea of tolerance, I think that in attempting to all get along, we cannot lose the lesson that beliefs really do make an impact, and that they can influence us for good or for ill. Therefore, I hope that this book will not only inspire others to help one another, but will also encourage all of us to look at our own beliefs and ask ourselves what kind of influence our beliefs have on our own actions.
The Christadelphians were a small christian group who helped many children during this time. Do you think their compassion and determination were reflective of their religion or their personal moral character?
I think that the answer is certainly both. Recently I had the privilege of interviewing a woman who had come to England from Germany––and who had actually lived with two different families after coming to England. I think her story helps to explain the way in which the Christadelphians acted both based off of their strong beliefs about the Jewish people, and also personal moral character: This woman told me that when she first came to England, she was chosen by a family and completely ignored. This was not a Christadelphian family––and the woman didn’t know what religion they were, if any. But, they brought her to their house, put her in her room, and never spoke with her. Eventually, she said, she went hysterical. She started screaming, banging on the floors, banging on the walls––because she had no interaction with anyone. Because of that experience, the Jewish refugee committee was contacted, and she was removed from that family. From there, she went to live with a Christadelphian family in Birmingham. She stated that the first day that she met them, they had a German/English dictionary and tried to talk with her.
When she got to the house, they tried to help her learn English––pointing at their dog and saying “Billy” (subsequently, she thought that all dogs were Billys…).
She stated that she felt like part of the family. I think that the dichotomy between her two experiences can show what life with Christadelphians could have been like if they had acted simply out of a belief that they should help the Jews. When the Jewish children came to England and lived with the Christadelphian families, they did not have to treat them like family members. They did not have to try to learn German. They did not have to tell them bedtime stories. They did not have to try to correspond with the child’s parents back in mainland Europe. But they did. I think that housing the children and in that sense “saving them” could have been considered enough to say “I helped the Jews.” But, the Christadelphian families, for the most part, out of their moral character, attempted not only to help the children, but to give them the best life that they could provide––just as they did with their own children. We were privileged enough to get together with a professional videographer and put together brief interviews (5 minutes each) with Mrs. Ursula Meyer and Mrs. Rella Adler. Both of them share how the treatment that they were given was as though they were daughters:
Part of the Family is not only well written but it’s also well researched. How much research did you undertake for this book and how much time did it take to put it all together?
Oddly enough, I began the research for this book last December. I was simply blown away at how well things came together. Ursula Meyer was the first person that I was able to contact, and we conducted our interview on January 19th. From there, the project just came alive. I had Christadelphian families from all over the world contacting me to tell me that a Jewish refugee had lived with them throughout the war. One of my major rules, however, is that I don’t write about someone and publish it unless I can get their approval for what I have written. And thus, hearing about all of these Jewish children that had lived with Christadelphians presented a problem––how to contact them? A number of Christadelphian families had kept in contact with the Jewish children, and so they could actually get me in touch with them, but in other cases, once the Christadelphian parents passed away, and sometimes the children, the younger generation only knew that their family had housed a refugee, but sometimes didn’t even know their name. Attempting to find the refugees and interview them about their experiences was simply amazing. I’ve called all over the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. I’ve had conversations with people in Israel, Australia, Spain, and Sweden. Yet, perhaps one of the most exciting experiences was when I was presenting on the Christadelphians at a meeting of Kindertransport survivors, and one of the men seated at my table explained that he come to this very meeting because he had lived at Elpis Lodge, the hostel set up in Birmingham by Christadelphians! I had no idea––and here I had been having lunch with him! This book came together in a matter of months––something which still astonishes me. Yet at the same time, as things kept coming together, I found myself working at it all the time––often getting up at 4:30, just because I was so excited that another survivor had emailed me, and so I couldn’t sleep anymore.
Part of the Family is the first volume in a series. What will the next volume be about and what will the whole series encompass?
Lord willing, I hope to have the second volume finished this December, as well as an audiobook for this first volume at the end of August. The goal of the entire series is to tell the individual stories––and thus, my hope is that I can keep contacting survivors and their families to tell about their experiences when they were saved from Hitler by coming to England and living with Christadelphians. Thus, volume 2 will be more stories, and so will volume 3. I currently have about 35 testimonies that I would like to write!
In 1938 and 1939, via a movement known as the Kindertransport, thousands of Jewish children were taken from Nazi-occupied territories to safety in Great Britain. They came to a new family, a new country, and a new life. Approximately 250 of these children were sponsored by Christadelphians, a small Christian group. Often the Holocaust is considered in terms of statistics: how many perished and how many were affected, so much so that at times the individual stories are lost in the numbers. This series examines the experiences of the individuals who came to England as children, and lived with Christadelphians. Ten of these child survivors, and their families, participated in the effort to bring about this first volume. These are their stories.
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