I love everything about this book from the title to the evocative cover to the wonderful story inside and most of all, its author, Karen Halvorsen Schreck. I’m not sure when Karen and I first became acquainted, but we met in person for the first time last fall. I instantly connected with her and her style of writing and passion about story. I’m thrilled to have her here today to talk about her book which just released. Read all the way through – there’s a sweet giveaway at the bottom.
You have a beautiful lyrical voice, Karen, and I so loved Sing For Me. What drew you to write about the Depression-era time period? Are any aspects of the story drawn from your own experiences?
My parents came into their young adulthoods during the Depression, and my father, in particular, gave me the great gift of telling me stories upon stories from that era. It was a ritual we had after dinner—I’d say, “Tell me a story, Daddy,” and he’d launch into some wonderful tale about Oak Park or Chicago, Illinois, or his summer trips to visit his aunts, uncles, and cousins who lived in northern Wisconsin. Some of those tales have wended their way into Sing for Me, or have provided me with details or contexts that I was able to mine for the novel.
My mother died when I was fourteen; she was a quiet, reserved woman, and after her death, I realized how little I really knew of her life. So I took it upon myself to search out her stories, asking relatives, studying photographs, reading as much as I could in between the lines of journals, letters, newspaper articles, and in this way, piecing together a sense of life—her life, in particular—during the Depression.
Almost, the early part of the twentieth century feels like an era in which I’ve lived, I’ve come to know it so will. I have spent much of my life in the Chicago area, and it’s like this for me when I walk down certain streets: it might be 1937 as much as 2014. Parts of the city and the remaining swatches of rural land that lie on its far outskirts can seems as much “then” as “now.” I love this kind of time travelling, which the imagination can so easily provide when we remember stories we’ve been told, histories we’ve inherited.
Stories of forbidden love always promise such rich conflict, and yours certainly had me from the first page. Talk a little bit about that—the religious and social mores of the era, your decision to have Rose fall in love with an African American singer. What challenges did you face in writing this story?
Early on in the writing of Sing for Me, I realized that I would have to do a lot of research in order to confirm what might actually be possible during this era in Chicago—in terms of the love between Rose and Theo, and in terms of their working relationship. It’s all very well and good to say let’s have my main character sing with an integrated jazz ensemble and then have that same character fall in love with a musician who doesn’t share her skin color, but beneath that simple “why not have it happen like this?” lay a whole bunch of other more difficult questions. Like, would there even be integrated ensembles? When and where would they perform? Would a white woman be able to make it on stage to sing with them? Where would two people in an interracial relationship express their affection safely? Did they have any hope for a future together? I wanted to do justice to the experiences I portray in Sing for Me. That was my biggest challenge. And so I had to really try and understand not just what was believable for my characters, but what was believable for their time.
Is there a particular scene that’s your favorite? (Share, if you’d like!)
When I’m writing a scene, I’ve found it’s best to believe it’s my favorite. Perceiving it like that, I’m more fully present to the story, experiencing what the characters are experiencing. So it’s really hard for me to pull out one scene; I feel connected to them all. I guess if I really push myself, I’d choose as my particular favorites those scenes that are rich in setting, but then setting figures in all the scenes—whether the setting is Garfield Park, or the Danish Baptist Church, or an apartment bedroom filled with mounted butterflies, or a gathering by a lake in Luck, Wisconsin.
Oh, my. You name it, I delved into it. I read books about Chicago, jazz and jazz musicians, and the immigrant experience. I read letters, blogs, journals. I studied photographs. I interviewed people who lived in the places at the time I was writing about. I watched other peoples’ home movies on YouTube. I listened to a lot of music. It was all a joy.
What do you want the reader to take away from this novel?
Can you give us any hints about what you might be writing next?
Well, there’s so much more to unearth about the Great Depression. Or to put it another way: the 1930s have yet to loosen their hold on me.
And as for hints, how’s this?
A last goodbye. A woman gone west. Protest amid the harvest.
Where can we find Sing for Me and you on the web?
Sing For Me available at:
As promised – the sweet giveaway. Karen has autographed a copy for me to give away. What was the first song you remember hearing on the radio? Please leave a comment below with your answer to be entered in the drawing for Karen’s book. I’ll draw for the winner on Friday, April 18 at noon. US and Canada residents only.
Thanks, Karen, for sharing your heart and your book! I can’t wait to see what you come up with next. For now, I’m off to listen to some jazz tunes!Read More
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