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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Guest Author Kitty Kroger: Dancing with Mao and Miguel

I met Kitty Kroger at my writers group, where instead of critiquing each others' work we talk shop. Kitty mentioned her novel, Dancing with Mao and Miguel, and after the meeting I read the first chapter on her website. Now that I know it might be autobiographical, I'm even more intrigued. Please welcome guest author Kitty Kroger.


Although I’ve lived in NELA for 25 years, I spend more time in Pasadena than in Eagle Rock (especially at Vroman’s, the Laemmle, the New Delhi restaurant, Pita Pita, Sabor2 before it closed, the YMCA and Grassroots in South Pasadena, and with Altadena friends). But my novel is set in Jersey City because as a first novelist, autobiographical is obligatory, right?

Upon retirement I heard about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). When it began, I was in Las Vegas getting out the vote for Obama. Each morning I arose an hour before my roommates, cloistered myself in the bathroom, and wrote at the bathroom counter. 1600 words a day on my AlphaSmart keyboard. I had my subject—problem child raised by single mom; I had my outline; I was ready.

By Thanksgiving I’d reached my target of 50,000 words. Yeaaaaa! Then came the jolt: my writing group was less than overwhelmed by the first chapter, which finds the protagonist Jenny about to give birth. “We can’t relate,” they told me. “Start further back and show us why we should care.”

So I dropped back to write a chapter about Jenny meeting the father of her baby. Miguel is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who works in the same factory as Jenny, a communist organizer. (Autobiographical? I’m not telling!) During the rewriting I got so caught up in their stormy relationship, in his experience in the Dominican Revolution of 1965, in her painful re-evaluation of the Maoist organization she belongs to and her terror of intimacy, that the infant never did make it to the light of day. (Sorry, baby.)

Writing this first novel was a roller coaster ride! On one day I’d be convinced that my writing was dreck. The next day I would know that Harper Lee should step aside. Peaks and depths. “Aha!” moments followed by thoughts of suicide (well, not exactly). It took me two years to not take every critique as a verdict on my Worth as a Human Being. I read drafts to anyone who’d listen—friends, relatives, myself, even my dog. My dad, who was senile by then, was a valuable critic because he’d nod off when the writing became too introspective (I had to repeatedly curb my tendency toward interiority), and his eyes would glow when I painted a scene and created tension.

“Tension”? That was another lesson along the way: “What do you mean I need tension in every paragraph?”

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You can read Kitty's blog, plus the first chapter of Dancing With Mao and Miguel, at KittyKroger.com.
Her other blog is at KittyKroger.wordpress.com.

16 comments:

Bellis said...

If your book's as good as your guest post, Kitty, I'm looking forward to reading it.

Susan Campisi said...

Welcome, Kitty! I love this insight into your struggles along the writer journey. The book sounds fascinating and the cover is beautiful. I will definitely add it to my list of must-reads.

Kitty and I met when we were both trying to stop the War in Iraq. We lost touch after that effort failed and ran into each other last year. It's good to see you here, Kitty. Congratulations on publishing your book!

Petrea Burchard said...

I like the post, too, Bellis. Love the image of Kitty and her AlphaSmart keyboard, locked in the bathroom and typing away.

That's so interesting that you know her, Susan! I like the cover, too. I'm making a study of book covers these days!

Katie said...

Very interesting to read about both Kitty's novel (which sounds like a great story) but also the process (and location!) of writing it. Thanks for the links -- I look forward to reading more!

John Sandel said...

"Tension in every [insert dramatic unit here]" … yeah. It's hard to build something that people will love, isn't it? When you push your own limits, the structure of your tale fairly bursts at the seams. Hopefully something—simplicity, the love of writing—keeps it intact. Bucky Fuller called this, in buildings, "tensegrity."

Hey, maybe one day that bathroom counter will be in the Smithsonian …

Petrea Burchard said...

"Tensegrity..." I like these process/progress notes.

At the Smithsonian, I want my night stand and scratch paper displayed next to Kitty's bathroom counter.

Margaret said...

Process is always so interesting to read about. Onward and upward, Kitty.

K Kroger said...

Bellis, thanks so much for the kind remark! I hope you do find time to read it. One thing I can tell you is that it's a fast read.

K Kroger said...

Hi again, Susan! It's so good to run into you this way! Yes, those were the days when we thought we could stop Bush's war. And we almost did, didn't we? My novel relates what kind of activism a few of us ex-sixties folks got involved in. Quite a different organization from our Neighbors for Peace and Justice in Silverlake/Echo Park!

K Kroger said...

Hi Petrea,
The cover is from a photo I took on a field trip at Union Station during a class at PCC in "street photography," which I love and which is reminiscent of some of the pics on this site.
I'm looking down from the top of an escalator. The picture intrigued me and I thought it might make a good cover. I perused covers at Vroman's and discovered that half of them had little to do with the content of the book so I decided to go with it. If anything, it is reminiscent of the subway stations in New York where Miguel and Jenny waited when they were dating and going to that all-night cinema on 42nd Street. Or the time that Jenny watched Miguel pull out of the station, "longing in his eyes."

K Kroger said...

Thanks Katie.
After I wrote the novel, the advice I got from writers and books on promotion/marketing was Do a blog, Do a blog. So I reluctantly started one on my website called "Lessons I Learned from Writing My First Novel." I say reluctantly, because I was wary of the time involved, but then I got to love doing it because I love to write. And the lessons I learned were so vivid for me. So I thoroughly enjoy sharing them on my webpage.

K Kroger said...

Hey John,
If I understand your comment, you're suggesting that sometimes writers are so concerned with "tension" that they throw it in for the shock value or without regard for its credibility within the context of the story. Did I understand you? I like the word "tensegrity." Tension can be subtle but it must be there, I think. Hmmm, this sounds like fodder for another blog post. Would you like to do a guest post on my website?

K Kroger said...

Hi Margaret,
Thanks. Process is interesting to hear about--a back window into an artist's creativity, something we aren't often privy to.

K Kroger said...

I've applied to the Smithsonian.

Petrea Burchard said...

Thanks, Kitty! It's been fun having you here.

K Kroger said...

Petrea, I had fun too. Thank you so much. Kitty