My name is Karla M. Jay and I live in Salt Lake City. In WHEN WE WERE BRAVE, we find a conflicted SS officer, Wilhelm Falk, who risks everything to escape the Wehrmacht and get out the message about the death camps. Izaak is a young Jewish boy whose positive outlook is challenged daily as each new perilous situation comes along. American citizens, Herbert Müller and his family, are sent back to the hellish landscape of Germany because of the DNA coursing through their veins. In the panorama of World War II, these are the high-stakes plots and endearing characters whose braided fates we pray will work out in the end.
The real-life stories behind the books are these: 1. An SS Officer named Kurt Gerstein tried to tip off other country’s dignitaries about the atrocities in the extermination camps. He was hung in France before the war ended but his notes helped indict many SS officers during the Nuremberg trials. 371,000 German POWs came to America during the war and were housed in 500 labor camps. 2. Terezin (Theresienstadt) Czechoslovakia was a walled city turned into a propaganda camp for the benefit of duping the Red Cross workers when they inquired about the health of their deported Jews. Art and music were encouraged, and it appeared to be a happy village town. Today, a museum displays the artwork of the children who were almost all eventually gassed in Auschwitz as the war drew to an end. 3. 12,000 German-Americans were arrested as enemy aliens in America and sent to internment camps. Many accepted repatriations to Germany as bombs fell on their major cities.
My creativity is inspired by finding a story (or several stories) I’ve never read and immersing myself first in the research, and then visualizing what it would be like to follow along in their shoes while those events were happening. I almost see it as a movie and then just report what I see.
I agonize over a title. I’m actually worthless in beginning the story until I get one on the page. The title should be easy to remember so a friend can tell a friend, but it should convey the over-riding theme of the novel. Boiling 400 pages down to a few words is extremely hard. The cover needs to be uncluttered. The image should be recognizable when it’s viewed in a size just bigger than a postage stamp because that’s how people are seeing it when they scroll on their phones or on the web. Add the name of the book, and the author’s name. That’s it.
My creative process has improved the more I write. The cumbersome editing process teaches you not to do those things again and I find I edit more along the way and try not to make the same errors. Not that my final draft is ever perfect. I rely on Beta Readers and a couple of great editors to do a final read-through. I’ve come to believe it takes a village to get the book in perfect shape.
Do I tend toward personal satisfaction or aim to serve a reader? I do both by following one clear rule I learned from novelist Hugh Howie. Write a book you would want to read! If you are enthralled by the story, your readers will be, too.
I’m currently working on another historical fiction story set in America 1920. Behind that I’m leaning toward a WWII book set in Hungary. I’m always on the lookout for a story that begs to see the light of day.
Quirky facts: I’ve hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu before they had guides. Concord grapes are my favorite food and if I ever find myself on death row, they’d be my last request. I’m a two-finger typist and I’ve gotten over the shame once I had lunch with R.L. Stein and learned that he is a one-finger typist.
Readers can find me in these places: