Sunday Interview #27 – Gabriele Goldstone

Good morning everyone! I have another Canadian author to introduce to you, today. Gabriele Goldstone wrote ‘The Kulak’s Daughter’, based on a true story. To read my review of her book (if you haven’t already) you can find it here. I’d like you all to give her a warm welcome. (Resounding applause and enthusiastic whistles!)

Hi, Gabriele, would you please tell my readers a little about yourself?

Hi! I’ve spent the last twenty-odd years focused on raising my three kids while working as a letter carrier. In my BC (before children) life, I travelled (spent a year in Europe), studied, (have a master’s degree in German lit and a B Ed.) and dabbled in writing. The one constant in my life has been reading. It’s how I connect and make sense of the world. 

I understand that this story is based on true events. What made you decide to write The Kulak’s Daughter?

Back in 2000, some distant relatives sent my mom a calendar with photos of ‘the old days.’ I’d never before seen an image of my mom as a young girl. What really caught my attention was that my mom found the photos too painful to look at. In fact, she hid the calendar under a tablecloth and I’d have to sneak a peak at the photos when I’d visit, without her knowledge. Eventually I made copies of two of the photos. I was so intrigued with the pre and post exile images and just had to know the details. Gradually, and gently, I got the story straight. It was difficult to watch my mom re-live what she had repressed for so many decades.

That sounds really hard, but I’m glad you managed to hear her story. There are many things I wish my mom had told me before she passed on. Finding pictures of her afterwards brought up many questions about her childhood that she never discussed.

Would you please tell us a little about the story line of ‘The Kulak’s Daughter’?

The story happens around 1930 when Stalin forces landowners (the kulaks) off their land and exiles them to remote parts of the Soviet Union. It was part of his First Five Year Plan and set the stage for the Holodomor. The protagonist, eleven-year-old Olga, is based on my mother. The story is told through her eyes. It’s a story about surviving loss and moving on.

The Kulak's Daughter back

Could you please tell me about the family picture on the back of the book? When was it taken? Is it your mother’s family? Did the little boy die on the way to Siberia?

The back photo is my mom in the back right corner. The youngest, on my grandmother’s lap, did die enroute to Yaya, Siberia. I did a Nov 11/12 post on what happened to her other brother. He was reported missing Jan. 1/44 in the war. I just got confirmation of it in the last month. So, yeah, I’m figuring out my family’s story because when I was growing up it wasn’t talked about and I always wondered what had happened to my grandparents.

I’m glad you’re still finding out facts about your family. I hope you eventually discover answers to all your questions. 🙂

What kind of historical research did you have to do for this story?

I read many books, studied maps, and carefully listened to my mom’s stories. I also talked to other people with similar backgrounds. In 2004, I visited her childhood village. That trip let me add realistic sensory detail to the story.  It was a profound experience both for me and for my mother. I was also able to read (with a translator, of course!) former KGB files and learn firsthand what happened to the rest of our scattered family.

map

That’s fascinating!

I didn’t quite overhear the conversation you had with someone at the last book signing regarding the rock you had with you. Is it from your grandfather’s windmill, like in the story? I’d like to learn more about it.

Fedorowka 03

In [this photo] with the white van, we’re visiting the village of Federofka (my mom’s home village) and asking to speak to the oldest woman in the village because she might remember 1930 and my mom’s family.

IMG

She does!

Then in the photo (below) she’s guided me to the rock base of my grandfather’s windmill (which was dismantled and the wood used to build the new collective manager’s office.) And yes, I have a piece of that granite base which I held and I think it helped me to write.

 

Fedorowka 08

Wow! To have a tangible piece of that history is so cool!

How long did it take you to write the novel?

I’d written bits and pieces – anecdotes that my mom had shared – throughout a couple of years. One of these pieces, I sent to the Writers’ Union annual short story competition – and it was short-listed. A contest judge, in his critique, suggested that the story should be part of a longer work. So I worked at completing the stories as a complete narrative. Once I got going, the novel poured out of me over the course of a couple of winter months. It was a wonderful experience. After that, I struggled with several re-writes. I’m one of those people who find revision harder than the first draft. It might be partly because I’m so darn insecure. In the first draft I’m just letting the story happen. In subsequent drafts, I’m paying more attention to what other people (like readers, editors, etc.) think.

I’ve met so many insecure writers. I think we all have a little voice inside us saying we’re just not good enough. It can be hard to beat back that voice and let our confidence shine. I’m glad you had the courage to send your story off to the publisher. 🙂

Speaking of that, what was the publishing process like for you? Did you need an agent?

I never tried for an agent. Instead, I started with the big name publishers (naive!) and collected six rejections (including a lovely invitation to re-submit by Atheneum in NYC that I should have followed up on!)  The work then caught the interest of a small publisher down in Texas. I re-wrote the story into a first-person narrative, at their request, before it was accepted. Unfortunately, my experience with the small American publisher was not a positive one. It took five years for the book to get published and then the publisher closed down. I’m still grateful, though, that the book came out while my mom was still alive. She died in 2011 at the age of 92.

That is a very familiar publishing story. I think it’s great that your mom was able to see the book come out in print. 🙂

Are you working on anything else at the moment? If so, would you be willing to give us a sneak preview? I’d understand if you are superstitious about revealing too much about a Work In Progress.

I have a stand-alone sequel to ‘The Kulak’s Daughter’ that I’m about to send out. (Originally, Blooming Tree was going to publish it.) The story’s set in the former East Prussia in the mid 1930s. It’s a story about transition – in my opinion, one of the most difficult stages of life.  I’ve also got a ghost story and a brain injury story that I want to shop around. Trouble is, every time I get a rejection, I shrivel up and it takes me months to get my courage going again. Writing is hard on insecure people!

Whenever I hear about the effect rejection letters have on insecure writers, I remember a quote I read on Rachelle Gardner’s blog. Hope this helps:

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘To the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.” by Barbara Kingsolver 🙂

What words of wisdom do you have for other aspiring writers?

Wisdom? Ha! Let me see. Read, write, connect with other writers, and never stop trying. Seriously. This is a tough business and persistence really does work. Now if only I could take my own advice!

Are there any social media sites you’d like to share with us?

I subscribe to a variety of online blogs. (Great way to procrastinate!)  My current three favorites would be: The Children’s War, http://thechildrenswar.blogspot.ca/ 
All News, No Schmooze,http://lauriewallmark.blogspot.ca/ 
and CanLit for Little Canadians  http://canlitforlittlecanadians.blogspot.ca/

I’ve been avoiding Facebook and Twitter, preferring to spend my spare time reading off-line material.

Do you have any final words before we close?

Life is short. Enjoy it and don’t be so hard on yourself. Read the books you want to write. Write the books you want to read. Follow your passion, not someone else’s.

Wonderful advice! Thank-you for taking the time to chat with us, Gabriele. 🙂

Review of The Kulak’s Daughter by Gabriele Goldstone

The Kulak's Daughter

If you like historical fiction, you’ll love ‘The Kulak’s Daughter’ by Gabriele Goldstone. It’s based on a true story and although it’s aimed at younger readers of the Young Adult market, it is still entertaining for older readers, as well.

The blurb on the back of the book states:

Olga likes little things – especially the tiny apples in the orchard in the spring, or her baby brother’s little toes. But when her family is labeled ‘Kulak’ and exiled to Siberia, she starts to hate little things – especially the bedbugs that overrun the barrack at night, or the lice that carry the dreaded typhus. Suddenly Olga’s little world is overwhelmed by Stalin’s big plans.

Gabriele nails the tension, the fear and the tragedy of the era. Her main character, Olga, experiences the gambit of emotions from elation at getting a beautiful doll for her eleventh birthday, to grief at leaving her home and dog when her family is branded ‘kulaks’ and sent into exile.

One part that gave me chills was this scene, described by Olga:

“It won’t be long before they come back to take me, for good this time,” Papa says this quietly. matter-of-factly, after he’s pushed his dinner late away.

I see that even he can’t finish his food.

“Papa? You didn’t . . .” Marthe’s noticed, too.

I cover her mouth.

“I’m a kulak. They don’t like my kind.”

Kulak is a Russian term meaning ‘tight-fisted’. Stalin used the term for affluent farmers and peasants who would not turn over their produce, livestock and lands for the ‘greater good’, in other words ‘Collective Farms’, which were supposed to increase food production for the urban populations. Those who did not go along with the Bolshevik policies were taken from their homes and sent to Siberian work camps. Many did not survive. Those who did live were permanently scarred by the experience.

The Kulak's Daughter back

Another scene describes how Olga feels while talking to her best friend:

“Olga, we can’t be friends anymore. My mamma says I should have nothing more to do with you.”

Marissa’s words feel like a slap, their iciness a visible cloud between us.

Having a friend say that is like a knife to the heart. To lose a precious friendship because of something that’s beyond your control would be hard for a child to understand. I remember when my own mother told me not to be friends with someone she considered a bad influence. I defied her and would sneak out to meet with her anyway, but in Olga’s case it’s the friend herself who is ending the friendship. That is so harsh!

When describing her painful exile, Olga states:

My hunger sits in my stomach like a hard rock of pain.

How many young people in North America know that kind of hunger? While there are probably too many, I would think that the majority of school kids today would have trouble imagining it or the cold Olga felt in that poorly heated, uninsulated building where they were forced to live after leaving their home.

I highly recommend ‘The Kulak’s Daughter’ to anyone who is interested in a child’s perspective of the time of Stalin’s communist rule. It is heart-wrenching and eye-opening. Gabriele really does a wonderful job of presenting the emotions and difficulties of the time. Olga is a very sympathetic character, despite her typical childish self-centered moments. She is a child, after all, and she brings history to life. Her story should make most kids in North America today realize just how lucky they are. 🙂

If you want to get to know Gabriele and the story behind the story, tune in on Sunday for her interview. 🙂