Author Interviews

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Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Author interview with memoirist Fiona Gold Kroll (revisited)

Back in February 2014, I interviewed author Fiona Gold Kroll for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...

Welcome to another of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author Fiona Gold Kroll. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Fiona. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
FionaFiona: Hello Morgen. Thank you so much for having me! My name is Fiona Gold Kroll and I live in Toronto, Canada. I’m a married mother of two adult children and a grandmother. Before retiring five years ago, I was a corporate researcher. Writing came naturally to me even as a child and I frequently added pictures my stories. Though my work entailed writing reports, I didn’t begin writing for myself until five years ago. An editor friend suggested that I write a memoir about my search for my great-uncle Benjamin. People were fascinated with the story. So, I sat down and wrote. The novice in me said “get an editor” before submitting the manuscript to agents and publishers and it was a very smart move. I chose the perfect editor. She is not only a consummate professional, she understood the story. Her contacts in the publishing industry were instrumental in finding a publisher interested in my book. The manuscript was also in good shape when they read it.
Morgen: A very wise novice. Having an editor is the most costly part of self-publishing (eBooks are uploaded word processed documents and covers are fairly easy – and free – to create – I have a guide here) but it’s certainly the most important aspect. Sure, a cover, title and blurb entice the reader but have an average or below-average book and your reader will not only make it to the end of your book and certainly be unlikely to read any more but these days, authors rely on positive word of mouth (it’s how ‘Fifty Shades’ got so big). To-date, 95% of my editing clients have been self-published as it’s very encouraging that they are so willing to make their product the best it can be before sharing it with the wider world. I do know of someone who finished writing their novel on a Friday and published it online the following weekend. I’ve never read it but even the best writers need editors. Even though I’m an editor, I still hire one for my writing because she spots things I haven’t (because I wrote it and knew what I meant by something) and comes up with great suggestions.
Fiona: I also took a creative writing course, when I had almost finished writing A Stone for Benjamin. I loved it and began writing short stories including The Butterfly Effect. Encouraged by my instructor to submit the story for publication I was surprised when it was accepted by our national newspaper The Globe & Mail. I was told that I had a voice and I realized that I loved writing. I write every day, it helps distract me from winter. Then I get distracted walking our dog through the forest and beside the river during the summer months! Joking aside, ideas are constantly drifting through my mind and I can’t wait to write each day.
Morgen: That’s lovely. I started with short stories and they’ll always be my first love. With your non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Fiona: This was an easy decision for me. I spent several years searching for my great-uncle who disappeared from Paris in 1941. I travelled to Paris and Poland in an effort to find the truth about his disappearance. Once I had all the answers, I knew I had to write about Benjamin and the effect the research had on me.
Morgen: It does sound like a great story. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Fiona: Stone for Benjamin was published by Iguana Books in November, 2013. I contributed to Un train parmi tant d’autres a French memoir and wrote The Butterfly Effect, a short story published in 2013. No, I don’t use a pseudonym.
Morgen: I mentioned self-publishing a moment ago. Is it a route you’ve ever considered?
Fiona: I was prepared to self-publish A Stone for Benjamin however I was fortunate in finding a publisher interested in my book. That said, I would consider self-publishing in the future.
Morgen: It’s a great option. Is your book available as an eBook? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Fiona: A Stone for Benjamin is available as an eBook and paperback. I still prefer a paper book but I can store three or four books on my reader versus packing those books when travelling. One way or the other I think electronic books are here to stay.
Morgen: I’d say so. I subscribe to a couple of newletters, one of which is http://digitalbooktoday.com which emails me a list of free titles (updated daily) so I have about 2,000 eBooks (I do buy some too!) on my Kindle so I need never run out of material, especially as I generally only have time to read a book a week. I mentioned the importance of a cover, title and blurb, did you choose the title / cover of your book?
A Stone for BenjaminFiona: That’s a good question. I didn’t choose the title of my book; my editor came up with the name though ultimately I had the final say. As it happened I was very pleased with it. I had something else in mind when it came to the cover design but I agree with my publisher that it works well with A Stone for Benjamin.
Morgen: It’s certainly intriguing and the cover is charming. Which authors did you read when you were younger and did they shape you as a writer?
Fiona: That depends on how far back you want to go. :) Yes, they did to some degree. I loved the classics, Kenneth Grahame (The Wind in the Willows), Louisa May Alcott (Little Women), and Jane Austen (Pride & Prejudice) to name a few.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Fiona: I have two or three story lines that I’m working on at the moment. All are fiction based on fact, some are historical. It gives me the opportunity to use my research skills and write. I’m a bit of a stickler for historical accuracy. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy Downton Abbey… it’s all about the details!
Morgen: It certainly is. I – as I often am – was late to it; mid-season two, but was then hooked and bought season one so I could catch up. I don’t watch much TV (usually too busy – see aforementioned one book a week) so am selective. You said you “can’t wait to write each day”, do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Fiona: Yes, I’m suffering from writer’s block at the moment! That said I make myself write everyday whether I feel like it or not. I’m confident that the words will eventually flow and they usually do.
Morgen: Sometimes we just have to push ourselves. As you say, once you get going, you settle, and out it comes. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Fiona: I used to write and edit, write and edit until I lost the flow and became discouraged. I now prefer to edit when I reach the end of my story.
Morgen: Me too. I think it’s a case of getting the idea down on to paper then worrying about the finer detail. Being a “stickler for historical accuracy”, do you have to do much research?
Fiona: I’m a big proponent of research and it shows in A Stone for Benjamin.
Morgen: It’s worth it. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Fiona: Yes, I think all authors do!
Morgen: I certainly have, although I like to think that if the story is good enough, it can be whipped into shape. Do you pitch for submissions and / or are you commissioned to write?
Fiona: Being a new author, I have to pitch for submissions.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Fiona: Yes, I received two rejections of A Stone for Benjamin. I was disappointed but not disillusioned! It lasted for perhaps ten minutes and then I ploughed ahead with trying to find an interested publisher. I leveraged everyone I knew in the industry and it worked. 
Morgen: Definitely third time lucky then. I’m up to thirty-something (for one novel and numerous short stories), although I remind myself that Dean Koontz had 500+ before his first novel was published so I have some way to go. :) Do you enter any non-fiction competitions?
Fiona: To be honest I haven’t had time to enter competitions, although I do intend to in the future.
Morgen: I’d always advise being careful with competitions; just enter reputable ones that don’t cost too much. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Fiona: Currently, I don’t have an agent. I don’t believe they are vital but I wouldn’t dismiss having one either. 
Morgen: Me neither. :) Do you do much marketing for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Fiona: My publisher expects its authors to assist and I do a lot of on-line marketing for A Stone for Benjamin. I also market myself as an author. Its hard work and the part of writing that I don’t particularly enjoy.
Morgen: Having a website is certainly important and out of all the authors I’ve interviewed, only two have said they do no marketing yet they’re active on Facebook and Twitter. Marketing is usually the answer to the second part of this next question (mostly because of the time)… What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Fiona: I love writing but dislike the interruptions of daily life. It’s solitary, yet I never anticipated such pleasure at being alone with my thoughts.
Morgen: Me too. As you say, having more time to write would be great. If any of your books were audiobooked, whom would you have as the narrator(s)?
Fiona: That’s a very good question.
Morgen: Thank you. It’s one of the newer ones. :)
Fiona: A Stone for Benjamin is a powerful story. Meryl Streep or Ralph Fiennes would make excellent narrators.
Morgen: I’d listen to them (I love audiobooks). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Fiona: There are probably hundreds of thousands of unpublished manuscripts that have been destroyed or are languishing somewhere because authors lost confidence in themselves. Believe in yourself and never give up!
Morgen: Absolutely. I nearly did following my first creative writing class (as a new student) but I wrote a short story for homework and ping… <light bulb moment> and here we are, nine years later. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Fiona: Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. I love to cook, in particular French style food. That said, there would probably be very little time to eat… we’d be too busy talking!
Morgen: I’d love to come up with some 6-worders with Ernest. Do you write fiction? If so, are there any differences or similarities between writing non-fiction and fiction?
Fiona: I lean towards non-fiction but I am writing a novel at the moment. If the story is fiction based on fact then research is the common denominator. However, fiction gives your mind the freedom to explore characters in an in-depth way. 
Morgen: It certainly does. The only non-fiction I write is about writing, although the topic for my next Beginners class is non-fiction so I’m looking forward to preparing for that. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Fiona: I get an idea and run with it.
Morgen: Most people do. I plotted my first novel and it sort of stuck to the plan, but it made me realise I didn’t need to figure too much out in advance. That’s something my new students find reassuring. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Fiona: No I’m not. Writing has become the joy in my life.
Morgen: :) Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Fiona: http://janefriedman.com/ http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/blog-interviews and the Elements of Style by Strunk and White.
Morgen: Ah, thank you. I’m in great company. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Fiona: Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, RebelMouse, Linkedin and Pinterest. Twitter and Goodreads are great at spreading the word. RebelMouse is an extension of all of my social networks and does bring in additional followers. Facebook and Pinterest are a waste of time for me, but I maintain the sites anyway. Linkedin is good for networking but not for selling books.
Morgen: I’m on RebelMouse but I do little with it. I should. <note to self: find more time for things like RebelMouse> LinkedIn has brought me a few editing clients and I enjoy answering other writers’ questions. As you say, it’s a good networking tool, probably the best. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Fiona: I believe the future for writers will be challenging, especially in light of computer-generated books.
Morgen: It will, although I do think we have more opportunities now. Agents can find us… the ones that are looking online, anyway. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Thank you, Fiona. It was great chatting with you.
*
I then invited Fiona to include an excerpt of her writing…
Introduction
My father is dying. He has slipped into a coma, and I hold his hand as he rests peacefully in his bed. He is in a private room in the hospice on the ground floor of a hospital near Toronto. Two Canada geese stand like sentries outside the window, and the sun shines brightly into the room with a promise of spring and life, exactly as he would have wanted it.
Orphaned by the age of ten, my father faced life with enthusiasm in spite of his loss. Whenever challenges presented themselves, he would get back up on his feet, choose to see the glass half full and move on. My parents remained married for almost sixty-five mostly-happy years, until my mother died ten months earlier. Following her death, my father’s rapidly failing health came as no surprise.
I had an exceptional relationship with my father. If he refused to do something my mother wanted, she would say to me, “You speak to Dad. He’ll listen to you.” His love and encouragement remained unconditional throughout my life. When I began searching for my great-uncle Benjamin, who disappeared in 1941, my father became my biggest supporter and sounding board. Although Benjamin was my mother’s uncle, my parents viewed both sides of the family as one. For my father, Benjamin was also his uncle — end of story.
Sitting beside my father a few days before he slipped into the coma, I held his frail hand in mine. His voice was weak as we discussed my search for Benjamin. He turned his head towards me and said, “You have to write this book.”
Chapter 1
I ran into her bedroom every morning, waiting patiently for Sheva to hand me a biscuit from the packet she kept tucked away in the night table beside her bed. We lived with my grandparents. My grandmother was a powerhouse, in personality if not in stature — she stood four feet, ten inches tall. I was too young to understand, and I didn’t realize that Sheva was ill; she passed away when I was barely two years old. Despite my age at the time, I still remember some incidents that occurred back then, and my grandmother’s face is etched in my memory. My grandfather’s, too.
My mother and I visited my grandfather each week at his factory in the East End of London. Scooping me into his arms as soon as he saw me, my grandfather called me mamela (“little mother” in Yiddish). Sometimes I climbed on his lap while he brought his big, gentle hands around in front of me. He would carefully peel, core and slice an apple, and we would share it. Then he would take my small hand, covering it with his large, calloused fingers as we walked across the street together to Mr. Roumania’s shop.
Standing on my toes, I would crane my neck in an effort to see the contents of the huge, clear glass jars of sweets lined up like soldiers on the shelves behind the counter. My grandfather waited patiently while I chose a mixture to take home with me. Mr. Roumania weighed the sweets and carefully poured them into a small, white paper bag. He held the two corners of the bag together then quickly tossed the bag over several times to create twists at each end ensuring the bag stayed closed.
My grandfather paid him, but he accepted the money under protest — Mr. Roumania had known my grandfather since before the war. My grandfather did not enjoy living alone and he remarried one year after Sheva died. He adored his grandchildren, and I loved watching him smile when I walked into a room. I always looked up to him; he made me feel safe. He died when I was eight. I wish I had known him longer.
My grandparents carried passports that identified them as Russian Poles, though they were Polish Jews who immigrated to London, England, where my parents, my brother and I were born. My family never discussed the Holocaust during my childhood, and the Hebrew school that I attended didn’t teach the subject either. Though I knew that something terrible had happened to my grandparents’ families during the war, I sensed that I was never to ask my mother about it. My father and I shared a common interest in history. An avid reader, my father had several books pertaining to World War II, though none of them were specifically about the Holocaust, a subject we never discussed in front of my mother.
My mother never read a book or saw a movie concerning the Holocaust, and whenever a documentary about the subject came on television, my father would quickly change the channel so as not to upset my mother. Privately I sought out documentaries and movies about the Holocaust and read as many books as I could find on the topic, though never at home.
I was just a toddler at the time, but I remember the first time I saw my grandmother’s family photo album. Most of the photographs of her family in Poland had discoloured, while others had a sepia hue to them, but I could see my ancestors’ faces clearly. The musty black album was tied together with a tasseled gold cord, and I used to flip through the large book, trying to figure out my relationship to all the strange faces that peered back at me. I constantly asked my mother to tell me about the family, but when I asked what happened to them, she simply said they’d died. Relating the age of the photographs to the people pictured, I readily accepted her story.
I always returned to one photograph in particular: a picture taken in Paris of my grandmother’s brother Benjamin with his wife and their baby daughter. Benjamin had his arm wrapped around his pretty young wife, who held their first-born child close to her face. Drawn to Benjamin, with his bright eyes, slight smile and thick, dark, curly hair, I intuited his strength of character and sense of self-worth.
Copyright © Fiona Gold Kroll
**
And a synopsis of her latest book…
Chasing Holocaust shadows across Europe and beyond, Fiona begins her powerful journey searching for clues with nothing more than a misspelled name, old photographs and family stories. Determined to uncover the truth about Benjamin’s life and death and France’s betrayal of its Jewish population, Fiona pieces together her great-uncle’s life, elevating Benjamin’s legacy from a number tattooed on his arm at Auschwitz to a more complete memory of the vibrant man he was.
***
Fiona Gold Kroll was born in London, England where she attended university before immigrating to Toronto in the 1960s. She married and had two children. After the death of her husband, Fiona pursued a career in corporate research. In her spare time, Fiona began investigating her family tree.
Fiona wrote a summary about her great-uncle in 2009, later published in Un train parmi tant d’autres, a French memoir of Convoy 6 destined for Auschwitz. Fiona later published a short story The Butterfly Effect, in March 2013. A Stone for Benjamin, is her first book.
Happily remarried, Fiona continues to write in Canada.
***
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