Saturday, February 21, 2009


This is the third post from my interview with Rebecca Cantrell. I decided to post the entire interview, rather than edit it, because I thought her debut novel A Trace of Smoke was outstanding, and also I found the answers to my questions very interesting; they showed what an incredible amount of thought and effort had gone into the creation of the novel. I hope you agree.

7] How much of your task as an author do you think is to entertain and how much to educate?

I set out to tell Hannah and Ernst's stories in such a way that the reader would be transported there, able to see what they saw and hear what they heard. By recreating the visceral experience of their lives, I hope to entertain the reader and let him or her form their own opinion. 
A novel is not a textbook, but it was very important to me to be as historically accurate as possible. I was very conscious of the amount of historical burden that the characters, and Berlin, had to carry. I constantly struggled with how much information was enough to give a sense of each place and each moment in time without overwhelming the reader.

8] Is the fictional heroine of SMOKE crime reporter Hannah Vogel based on a real person modern or historical?

Not really, although I do have a school friend in Berlin who is every bit as sarcastic and tough as Hannah.

9] Anton, the 5 -year old "Indian brave", is a charming creation is he based on a real child or a fictional character?

Anton too is fictional, but I borrowed his manner of speech from the Flying Deer character in Kastner's Emil and the Detectives. While I was writing A Trace of Smoke, I also spent a great deal of time with some very charming five -year-old boys. Anton is a smart and savvy little boy, but he is still five and doesn't quite have the same boundaries between reality and fantasy that Hannah does, which makes for some interesting interactions.

10] You managed to deal with fairly controversial subjects [gay clubs, male cross-dressing and homosexuality] in a very matter of fact way. Did you find this difficult?

Weimar Berlin was a time of tolerance and openness and Hannah is a matter of fact person, so there was no other way to deal with those issues in the book. I had a gay host brother when I lived in Berlin, and I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years. I still have friends in the gay community there. Those are simply parts of their life experiences.

It was much more difficult reading about the impending Nazi takeover and taking a roll call of the vibrant and brilliant people who would soon be dead.

11] Many regarded Berlin during the Weimar Republic as a decadent city and the subsequent backlash possibly helped the Nazis grab power. Do you think our very liberal society combined with the recent economic downturn will produce some kind of fascist backlash?

I certainly hope not. The United States, at least, has tended to lean left in times of economic turmoil voting in Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression and Barack Obama now.

It's also worth pointing out that the current economic downturn is nowhere near as severe as the one suffered by Germany after World War I. Not only was their economy failing, but they also had to deal with the huge loss of life in the First World war, the influenza and starvation shortly afterward, complete collapse of the currency, massive war reparations, and millions of unemployed young men who saw no hope for their future.

As decadent as Berlin was, National Socialism evolved in and always had as its greatest supporters in the more conservative Southern Germany. People can start looking for others to blame in any kind or stressful situation, or hope that a return to "traditional values" (whether or not those values ever existed) will solve all their problems. Let's hope that does not happen now.

[to be continued] 


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