Becoming Samantha Colt is book 4 in the Larkin and Colt series. What did you want to accomplish in this book that pushed the series into interesting places?
When I began this series, I developed a detailed backstory for the main characters of Larkin and Colt. It was just for myself, so I would know who these people were, where they came from, and how they got to be who they were. Over the course of the first three books, I made passing allusions to some of the things in their past, like Larkin mentioning that Colt grew up homeless, their team being wiped out on a botched mission, things like that. Larkin also occasionally mentions some of the missions they’d done, if it happened to relate to something that was happening in the present. I never intended to write a detailed account of their pasts, but eventually it became inevitable. I felt the need to tell Sam’s story from her point of view, in her own words, to more fully explore the character. It was also an opportunity to fill in some of the details of things that had been mentioned in passing.
What was the initial idea behind this story and how did that transform as you were writing the novel?
Through the process of writing the other books, the character of Colt became clearer in my mind as I found out more about her. In the end, she wanted to have her story told, and I just had to do it. Once I started, the story almost seemed to write itself, as if she was telling it to me and all I had to do was write it down. I had the starting point and I knew where she ended up, so what I had to do was fill in the details of how she got there. With this book the story comes full circle, as the final chapter is identical to an early chapter in the first book, but this time told from her perspective.
Samantha is a strong character that is meticulously developed. What were the driving ideals behind the characters development throughout the story?
Many people who have read the books have said they were intrigued by the Samantha Colt character. Some have even said she was their favorite and wanted to know more about her. I had deliberately kept her sort of in the background, to make her more mysterious, and to keep her personality somewhat ambiguous. She was the main hero’s partner and sidekick, but there was always the sense that you weren’t quite sure what she would do. I think it made her seem just a little bit dangerous.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be published?
I am currently working on a book entitled Intrepid. It’s a sequel to my previous book Pegasus, which is set about a hundred years in the future. In the previous book, the crew of Pegasus traveled to the moon and back. This time they’re going to Mars, and when they get there things go horribly wrong. Then they’ve got to figure out a way to get their crippled ship home before their food and air run out. It’s kind of a cross between The Martian and Apollo 13, and it should be out sometime in the Fall.
A nameless, homeless girl grows up on the streets of Baltimore. From a painfully young age she must learn to take care of herself, feed and clothe herself, and defend herself from those who would do her harm. When she’s arrested for shoplifting as a teenager she’s recruited by a mysterious organization, where she meets David Larkin and everything changes. He becomes her teacher, her mentor, her partner and eventually her best friend. This is the fourth book in the exciting Larkin and Colt adventure series, this time told from her perspective, in her own words, as she learns who she is, what she can do and who she can become.
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Ken Cressman, author of Becoming Samantha Colt, has succeeded in creating a character who evokes both pity and something dangerously close to reverence. A “Jane Doe” in every sense of the word, Colt makes her way through life the only way she knows how and does so from a frighteningly young age. Surviving on her own for almost ten years, she educates herself, uses the nooks and crannies within Baltimore’s streets and stores to find refuge, and is virtually oblivious to the passing of time. Colt’s life is forever changed not once but twice when she accepts a job offer from the mysterious Ralph Browning.
Becoming Samantha Colt captivated my attention within the first lines of paragraph one. Ken Cressman’s main character is gradually revealed as Chapter 1 unwinds. He skillfully describes a character I visualized as the polar opposite throughout his opening chapter. The sudden revelation about her age and gender are extremely powerful and spur the reader to continue. Cressman, several times throughout the book, keeps the reader in check by revealing vivid descriptions of self-named Samantha Colt. I loved the tiny adjustments I was forced to make in my visualization of the character. Colt is as strong a character as I have ever seen–strong in both the skills Cressman has given her via his writing and strong as in memorable.
Cressman’s first-person narrative is truly compelling. I found his description of Colt’s life on the streets breathtaking. Her struggle to teach herself to read is touching and true-to life. She states, “No one was going to teach me, so I had to teach myself.” Environmental print plays a huge part in her self-education–learning from street signs, advertising, and packaging–she succeeds. Colt’s description of the effort involved in maneuvering the intricacies of the English language is spot-on.
Readers are allowed to see Colt experience a myriad of firsts, thus adding to the appeal of her story. From her first car ride to her first sexual experience, Cressman has included it all. My heart ached for the young girl when she realizes that she is sleeping on clean sheets and has clean clothes for the first time.
The suspense and action Cressman has developed fascinated me from beginning to end. Becoming Samantha Colt is much more than the story of how a young girl survives despite being one of Baltimore’s young “Jane Does.” Her natural survival skills make her the ideal candidate for a job and extensive training with a mysterious group of people working undercover for the FBI, the military, and other government entities. Somehow, Cressman has circumnavigated the typical avenger-type action plot and created a crystal-clear, endearing character in Samantha Colt.
I feel that Colt’s first-person account is compelling and contains all the right elements to make it appealing to a variety of readers. Cressman has succeeded in writing an action story without excessive cursing and vulgarity which I appreciate as a reader. I would like, however, to have seen more character development with Larkin and Cora. Both were strong influences in Colt’s newfound family. This is a definite reread for me, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fast-paced book with a memorable main character.
Pages: 162 | ASIN: B01MT8IICG
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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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