Category Archives: Writing

Occupied: Vienna is a Broken Man and Daughter of Hunger

In my collection of poetry Occupied: Vienna is a Broken Man and Daughter of Hunger, I explore the time period in which my mother grew up in post-WW2 Austria. The book became an idea after I wrote “Hunger,” a poem based on her stories of that time period. My mother was declining with Alzheimer’s, and because she was losing her memory, I conceived a book based on the few stories I remembered and research. I focused on the children. The main sources I used were After the Reich by Gile MacDonagh, Wir Besatuzungskinder: Toechter und Soehne Allierten Soldaten ERzaehlen by Ute Baur Timmerbrink, interviews, and online sources. 

From MacDonagh I learned about how the Allies responded to the victory of the war not as liberators but as conquerors. They put soldiers in prison camps and treated them similarly to the Jews.  Rheinwiesenlager was one of them, where the prisoners were set in barracks, fed little, and forced to endure the cold out in the hail. They ate little out of their tin cans of food and slept on wooden bunks with no mattresses. Mock executions tortured them. America exercised its revenge and felt justified. The women during the war fended for themselves because most men were away on the battlefield, and food was scarce. The Russian soldiers often raped the women and some children were left homeless. The first section of my book explores the experience of people, mostly children, during these hungry postwar years.

The Austrians suffered more hunger than the Germans because Germany had more infrastructure and industry and was able to recover more quickly than Austria, which had an economy based more on agriculture. An entire bartering system started, where people traded their watches, shoes, cuckoo clocks, etc.  for food. I perused antedotes and characters that MacDonagh wrote about to understand, for example, how many apricots were worth how many bottles of schnaps.

I also interviewed Helmut and Ingvild Birkhan and my uncle in Austria. Helmut grew up with a socialist father who never fought in the war. They stayed outside of Vienna in a village. He had to wear an old pair of his mother’s high heels to walk a mile to the school. They gathered nettle, berries, and mushrooms in the forest. When the Russian soldiers came during the occupation, they hid and built shelters out of brambles because the other women hiding in a shelter in order not to be raped wouldn’t let his family join them, since his family had a young baby who cried and made noise that would alert the Russian soldiers. Ingvild Birkhan told me stories of how she and her mother and siblings moved several times. When they left their first shelter, they buried half their belongings. They, too, gathered food from the forest and desperately tried to hide from the Russians.

Some women became pregnant and gave birth to Besatzungkinder, “Occupation children.” Some came from loving relationships, women who fell in love with Allied soldiers who took them out to see music, dance, and drink schnaps. Many of the Americans were African American, and the children born through these relationships grew up in a still racist country where they were frowned upon for being “Negerkinder.” Some were from Russian soldiers who were kind. Some were fathered by rapists. These children usually grew up fatherless, and the mothers were frowned upon.

My mother began declining from Alzheimer’s when she turned sixty. When she resided in a nursing home and lost all her memory, then her language, it was then that I wished I had asked for more stories. What I did know was that they lived in Russian-occupied Leoben, Austria, and my grandmother died of Lupus at thirty-five, leaving my nine-year-old mother and her three siblings to an abusive stepmother and years of hunger.

In the Midwest, where my mother immigrated with my mentally ill father, I grew up as an American. My mother labored all summer in the garden, and our fridge was always packed. The second half of my book explores my life growing up in a family with an immigrant mother and a mentally ill father, who in 2010 committed suicide by throwing himself out of a window in Vienna. The metaphorical broken man of Vienna became the literal broken body of my father.

We need to look at the period after the war as a warning.  Immigrants are separated from their families on the border of the U.S. and right-wing countries are gaining traction throughout the world.  If we do not address history and learn from it, everyone will suffer. If we project our shadows onto the very bodies we share as the human race, the cost could be tremendous, and we will all pay the consequences.

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Kika Dorsey is a poet and fiction writer in Boulder, Colorado and lives with her two children, husband, and pets. Her books include a chapbook Beside Herself (Flutter Press, 2010) and two previous full-length collections, Rust and Coming Up for Air (Word Tech Editions, 2016, 2018). She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize four times. Currently, she is an instructor of English at Front Range Community College and works as a writing coach and ghostwriter. In her free time, she swims miles in pools and runs and hikes in the open space of Colorado’s mountains and plains.

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Kari Bovee

Kari Bovee is the author of the historical novels Girl with a Gun, Peccadillo at the Palace, Folly at the Fair, and Shoot Like a Girl from Bosque Publishing.

Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

Kari Bovee: I’ve journaled and written stories for as long as I can remember. When I first started writing novels, no, I didn’t write historical fiction, but I’ve always written mysteries. My first few novels (that shall remain nameless) were contemporary mysteries. I’ve always had a love for anything historical, so I decided to take my two interests and merge them.

M.A.: I’ve always had a fascination with Annie Oakley. How did you come to write about the girl with a gun? What makes her a good topic for historical fiction?

K.B.: I love learning about amazing and empowered women in history and those are the types of women I want to feature in my novels. We’ve seen depictions of Annie Oakley in plays and movies, but I always thought they portrayed her as rather one dimensional. Several years ago I saw a PBS American Experience special on her and I realized what an incredible person she was. Her life as a child was not an easy one, but she discovered early on she had a talent for something. Shooting. She shot game to help put food on the table and to sell to local merchants. After she won a shooting contest against Frank Butler, who became her husband, she started utilizing her talent and eventually became one of the most famous women in the world excelling at a sport that was dominated by men. And she did this without compromising herself in any way. She didn’t try to bend to anyone else’s ideal of what it was to be a celebrity, or a performer, or a person. She made her way in the world without being anyone other than herself, and that was tough for women in the 1800’s.

M.A.: What makes your book(s) different?

K. B.: I’ve taken an iconic woman in history and used her self-empowerment, celebrity, and integrity to make her a really good amateur detective. I think I’ve also put some fun into writing about historical people and events. I’ve tweaked some of the history for the sake of the story, but I think I’ve stayed true to who Annie Oakley was as a person, even though I’ve put her in some interesting situations.

M.A.: All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like?

K.B.: Long! I’ve had a couple of agents throughout the years, but couldn’t break into the world of traditional publishing. I opted to go with a hybrid publisher to get my feet wet, but now have my own imprint and publish my own books. That said, I didn’t go into independent publishing without thoroughly investigating it and learning as much as I could about it. And, I would never put a book out into the world without having a team of professionals helping me with editing, cover design, etc. It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy having ultimate control over my books and career.

M.A.: What are the joys/challenges of writing historical fiction for you?

K.B.: I love doing research, and I do quite a lot of research before I work on a particular project, but it makes the writing a little slower. Things come up when I’m writing and then I will have to stop and look into it to make sure I’m not completely off base. Right now I am working on the second book in my Grace Michelle mystery series and I find that I have to stop writing and look something up for historical accuracy. If I’m not careful, it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole and get completely distracted. I think the enjoyment I get from writing historical fiction comes down to learning about people, places and events I might not have explored before. It’s a constant education and I love being a student!

M.A.: What is the research process like for you?

K.B.: When I decide what it is I’d like to write about, I start looking into things like historical setting, the clothing of the era, word usage and slang words or phrases. I usually have real-life historical figures in my books, whether they are the protagonist (like Annie Oakley) or secondary characters. Even if they make a cameo appearance, I need to do a little research on them to make sure I get their “essence” correct. If the book centers around an event in history, like the second and third books in the Annie Oakley series, I need to look into those events. Folly at the Fair takes place at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. Most of the buildings that were built for the fair are no longer there, so I had my work cut out for me. I was able to find a great book that explained the history of the fair, the layout of the grounds and the buildings, and what each attraction was like. It was great fun to go back in time and imagine myself participating!

M.A.: Do you travel for research? If so, what role does travel play in your writing process?

K.B.: I have not traveled specifically for research, but I’ve been to many of the places where my stories are set. So, I guess it works in reverse for me. But with the internet it’s pretty easy to get whatever you need for research. For the book I am working on right now, I had planned to go to Los Angeles/Hollywood for research but then COVID-19 happened. I’ve been to LA many times, but I was looking for specific buildings, streets, neighborhoods, etc. so, I decided the next best thing was to find a map of Los Angeles in 1924. I was thrilled to find one in mint condition on Etsy. Saved me a lot of time, money, and my health!

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

K.B.: I’ve been inspired by so many. In my writing life, of course the Grande Dame of mystery, Agatha Christie, is a great source of inspiration. I also like Elizabeth George, Phillipa Gregory, C.W. Gortner, Anne Perry, Deanna Raybourn, Rhys Bowen, and the works of Larry McMurtry.

When I’m in the mood to completely escape reality I like to read some of the 19th century classic authors like the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, and Elizabeth Gaskill. I never get tired of them!

 I’ve found Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic a wonderful source for inspiration and creativity, and I’ve been working through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way this summer.   

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

K.B.: Like with any genre, I think you need to be emotionally invested in it to do it well. If you don’t love history, or love reading historical novels, it might not be the way to go because the research is so integral to the process. And if you are one of those writers who love to do research more than anything else, keep in mind that you are going to have to sit down and actually write at some point!

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know?

K.B.: I’d love to hear from them! If they want they can go to my website at www.Karibovee.com and subscribe to my newsletter to become a part of my community (and get the prequel novella to the Annie Oakley series, Shoot like a Girl, for FREE.) There is also a contact form where they can send me an email.

I also have a Facebook Group called the Kari Bovee Fan Club https://bit.ly/3533tqR  and I’m building a community there, too. In both places they can find out about all of my news and upcoming releases, get to know my horses and dogs, and I also have a lot of fun giveaways, so some come on over and join me!

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/karibovee_writer/?hl=en

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KariBovee/

Twitter: https://bit.ly/2KWUoay

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/karibovee/

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