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The Story Transformed

Karma Kitaj Author Interview

Karma Kitaj Author Interview

Beguiled follows young Miriam as she struggles to follow her dreams through a turbulent time in history. What was the initial idea behind this story and how did that transform as you were writing the novel?

Initially, I had the idea to write a story of the kind of life my mother, born in 1910, might have had, if she’d had the gumption. Which she did not, so the story of Miriam Levine, 1st generation Russian-Jewish girl, is entirely fictional. There are a few biographical markers, e.g., Miriam’s Pop was active in the leftist-unionist organization called the Workmen’s Circle. My maternal grandfather was as well. Similarly, he was a cultured fellow, albeit not formally educated, and introduced my mother to cultural events from a young age. The character Miriam developed her aspirations to go on stage from the experiences her Pop exposed her to from a young age.

The story transformed itself immediately from anything biographical to an exciting adventure of Miriam and her girlfriends as they make their way through a difficult time in history punctuated by WWI, the “Spanish” flu, women’s getting the vote, the Roaring 20s, the relationship between young people and their immigrant parents, and the status of women.

Miriam is a well developed character that I grew attached to. How did you capture the thoughts and emotions of a young woman in the 1900’s?

Research, research, and more research helped me to describe a girl of the early 1900s. I read many books about the times, including novels of women of that period.

Perhaps more importantly, I’ve been a psychotherapist and life coach all my adult life, so am accustomed to hearing people’s stories and helping them to make sense of their lives. So, the emotions of a woman of this period seemed little different to me from my clients’ stories. Yes, women have approached the glass ceiling and many are in marriages that are fundamentally equal or mutually enhancing, but with the outing of many in the MeToo movement, it’s clear that women’s place has not appreciably changed vis a vis powerful men.

I liked how the politics and drama of the time was not front and center, but served as a backdrop to Miriam’s story. Did you do any research for this story to keep things accurate?

As stated above, I pored over many historical books of this period, as well as historical novels about the early 1900s. Having been in graduate school for a PhD back in the 1980s, I learned how to do research and to enjoy it. I was not, however, a big history buff, so my becoming absorbed in this research was a surprise to me. One funny thing: in one of my last drafts, I realized that NO character ever was described as smoking. So, I had to go back and add smoking Lucky Strikes, Camels, pipes, and cigars to many scenes.

WWI was certainly in the background only in Beguiled. Miriam and her friends barely seemed to register that there was a world war going on in Europe, until Miriam arrives home and discovers that her father’s Workmen’s Circle is having an important emergency meeting to discuss US entry into the War. Then a young German boy barges in to say that his family was beaten bloody right in their neighborhood, an unthinkable thing in their multi-ethnic close community.

Many people have suggested I write a sequel to Beguiled, but that would take me into the Depression of the 1930s and I don’t know if I want to go there, particularly since our country seems liable to get there itself.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

Beguiled was just released on May 1st 2018, so I’m devoting some time to publicizing it before embarking on my next story. But, I’ve had the idea of locating an appealing news story of a woman who lived in another era. I enjoy researching historical fiction and being an archaeologist in searching out details of a bygone period. In order to find this appealing person, I’ll need to immerse myself in the Boston Public Library’s newspapers from the last century or even before. There are also archives of women’s letters housed at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard, where I’ve done research before. I look forward to being able to do this, once my initial marketing campaign is over.

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Beguiled is about every person who ever had dreams that were interrupted by cultural mores, by discrimination, or by their own shortcomings. Miriam Levine, born in 1900, dreamed of going on stage, until an almost fatal mis-step forced her to postpone her “real life.” A serendipitous offer compelled her to confront her inner demons and society’s expectations. As Glinda, the Good Witch of the South in the Wizard of Oz, she recites at age 16: “You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”

The story is inspirational for young people and their parents who dearly wish to access the American dream. The historical context of the decades before the Great Depression, the role of immigrants and women’s suffrage parallels tough political dilemmas that the US faces today.

Will Miriam have the gumption to follow her dreams? Will those dreams yield her the happiness she seeks? Or will she find that her childhood fantasies “beguile” her to seek ‘fool’s gold?’

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Beguiled

Beguiled is about every person who ever had dreams that were interrupted by cultural mores, by discrimination, or by their own shortcomings. Miriam Levine, born in 1900, dreamed of going on stage, until an almost fatal mis-step forced her to postpone her “real life.” A serendipitous offer compelled her to confront her inner demons and society’s expectations. As Glinda, the Good Witch of the South in the Wizard of Oz, she recites at age 16: “You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”

The story is inspirational for young people and their parents who dearly wish to access the American dream. The historical context of the decades before the Great Depression, the role of immigrants and women’s suffrage parallels tough political dilemmas that the US faces today.

Will Miriam have the gumption to follow her dreams? Will those dreams yield her the happiness she seeks? Or will she find that her childhood fantasies “beguile” her to seek ‘fool’s gold?’

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The Hazards of Adolescence

Robert Joe Stout Author Interview

Robert Joe Stout Author Interview

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.

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Miss Sally: and the Sinners That God IgnoresThis 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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End of the Roaring 20’s

Ted Korsmo Author Interview

Ted Korsmo Author Interview

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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