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Maggie KastWhy did you want to write about the 1930s? It wasn’t exactly a great time.

It was the worst and the best. People were out of work and poor, but rallying and organizing for change. Lynch mobs threatened black people, but black and white marched together in protest for the first time since legal segregation was enacted in the South. Gay people, labeled “inverts,” were closeted and threatened with violence, but “pansy clubs” proliferated in the cities, a new one springing up every time the Vice Squad closed one down.

 

Sounds like your book is a political novel. True?

Political and personal. The 1930s is the time of my parents. My mother died in 2005, and her letters were given to me, many written in her college days. They revealed a sassy, smart, and daring young woman, quite different from the responsible, stable mother who raised me. I wanted to give that girl a new life on the page, to take her places she never went and never would have wanted to go, to expose her to all the thrilling and dangerous events of her time. I’ve used the background of my parents’ lives, but please note my disclaimer: Henriette Greenberg, my protagonist, is not my mother.

 

How did Henriette grow from the seed of your mother’s letters? What was this process like and how long did it take?

First I used the letters and then I had to put them aside, so that fact wouldn’t interfere with fiction. From seed to published book, it took seven years, with many twists and turns, many pages in the trash. I had immense critical help from my writing group, Fred Shafer and his novel group, Kevin McIlvoy’s novel workout, and numerous friends who read and commented on drafts.

 

Why does Henriette make so many mistakes and missteps?

Her abusive home for starters. Her mother doesn’t think much of women and her father is way too fond of young girls. She craves her parents’ approval, fears she may never escape, and mixes up freedom and foolishness.

 

Does she ever get away?

No spoilers.

 

You must have done a lot of research. What did you find most interesting about the ‘30s?

They were so different from today and yet so much the same. No one said “sexual abuse” then and so, unnamed, it lost its right to be recognized. Victims still suffered, but no one knew. Today the term is commonly used, but still, too often, the crime is concealed and denied. In the ‘30s it was progressive to consider sexual “inversion” a disease rather than a crime. Today, forward-looking people consider homosexuality a normal variant, but gay people still suffer misunderstanding and discrimination.

 

Do you care about historical accuracy?

Yes, especially where well-known figures are concerned. When I quoted them I tried to use their published speech as a source. But more than that I wanted to bring the best and the worst of that time to life through the rhythms and melodies of its jazz and pop music, the smells of its cooking, the sound of its radio, (“the visitor in the living room,”) the outrage of its border blasters, the stink of its Hoovervilles, the hope of its demonstrations and rallies, and its slang, its movies, its shows.

 

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MAGGIE KAST’S first novel, A Free, Unsullied Land, was published by Fomite Press in 2015. An excerpted story, “The Hate that Chills,” won 3rd prize in the Hackney Literary Contests and was published in the Birmingham Arts Journal. She is the author of The Crack between the Worlds: a dancer’s memoir of loss, faith and family, published by Wipf and Stock. She received an M.F.A. in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has published fiction in The Sun, Nimrod, Carve, Paper Street, and others. A chapter of her memoir, published in ACM/Another Chicago Magazine, won a literary award from the Illinois Arts Council and a Pushcart nomination. Her essays have appeared in America, Image, Writer’s Chronicle, and elsewhere.

 

 

 

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