I’ve thought for years that I had a novel brewing inside of me. Then one snowy Boston day 3 years ago, I sat down to my computer and started writing.
What came out was a story about the kind of life my late mother, Jeanne Brooks Kitaj, could have had, if she had had the gumption to live out her dreams. My mother is pictured below with her flapper friends, 3 sisters named Fritzie, Ella, and Margie, who were Hungarian refugees; Mom’s on the far right.
I didn’t set out to write about my mother; no, she and I weren’t the best of friends. We came to an accommodation later in life. But, as I got older, I recognized some of her in me and no longer cringed about that. I have some of her spunk, her energy, her desire to self-actualize, and, sorry to say, some of her attraction to “famous” people. I’m told that many first novels are semi-autobiographical, so this one has some family markers. But, it’s entirely fictional, believe me.
Miriam, the protagonist in Beguiled, bears little resemblance to Jeanne. But, my mother’s story inspired me to write about Miriam, a girl who grew up with a Pop who sewed gowns for upper class women, who introduced her to the finer things in life. To theater, poetry, art. and the homes of the fancy women. Much like my mother did.
Jeanne went to college after having three children. She became a high school English teacher, who reveled in her students’ praise of her, who delighted in acting out Shakespeare plays for her kids, and was not at all like Miriam. But, she could have been someone who yearned to go on stage, for all her histrionics and love of romance and drama. So, Miriam in Beguiled became a girl who dreamed of going on stage, having been introduced to theater by her pop at age three or four.
I decided to cast the story in the early 1900s, but in Boston where I live, rather than Cleveland where my mother lived as a girl. So, it became a “historical” novel and required that I learn a lot about that period for historical verity. In later posts, I’ll tell you about that process, but for someone with a PhD who hardly had taken any history courses, it was a surprisingly happy journey.
Stay tuned for the next installment.