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?”
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.