Thursday, June 15, 2023

Q&A with Kathryn Crawley




Kathryn Crawley is the author of the new novel Walking on Fire. She also is a retired speech pathologist.


Q: What inspired you to write Walking on Fire, and how did you create your character Kate?


A: Similarly to my protagonist Kate, I worked in Greece as a speech pathologist with cerebral palsied children in the northern port city of Thessaloniki in 1974. The Greek dictatorship had recently fallen, and anti-Americanism was rife.


Coming from conservative small-town Texas, I was unprepared for the life-changing cultural, political, and emotional transformations that awaited, in addition to needing to learn Greek to help the children at our Center.


Several years after my return from Greece, I began writing in earnest about my experiences. As my sessions progressed, a planned memoir morphed into fiction, and Kate introduced herself to me. Embracing feminist currents and reacting to a previous romantic betrayal, she gallops headlong into a dangerous love affair with Thanasis, a charismatic Communist student.


I must admit that my early reading life with Nancy Drew was a subconscious plot generator, however with the addition of a complex political, moral, and social environment.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Kate and Thanasis?


A: Reeling from a devastating divorce, Kate finds in Thanasis the sweetness of a relationship where she feels seen and known, despite language and cultural differences. He is handsome, sexually compelling, idealistic, and is a fascinating vehicle into Greek political life she could not access otherwise.


Gradually, she begins to suspect a darker side to her lover, and her dreams of an idyllic romance dissolve. Kate struggles to escape his magnetism and their unrelenting passion, despite the danger a relationship with him will bring. Still, she cannot resist being drawn back to him.


Q: As you mentioned, the novel is set in Greece in 1974--how important is setting to you in your work?


A: The setting of Greece in 1974 is, in some ways, a character in this novel. The seven years of dictatorship (1967-1974), covertly supported by the CIA, was a dramatic and precarious time, with exile and torture of political opponents; extreme censorship of literature, music, film; and the murder of university students attempting an uprising.

With the downfall of the junta in 1974, democracy was reborn and free thinking came streaming into the country, overflowing with possibilities for a new, reimagined society. Alongside, however, came an appetite for revenge, leading to political assassinations and a threatened response of right-wing security police.


These, along with an ever-present anti-Americanism, brought unforeseen experiences for a naïve young American woman who must learn to navigate the cross-currents of loyalty, patriotism, and her own foundational beliefs.


Q: The author Sean Murphy said of the book, “This tightly-written, compelling tale of a young woman's awakening to a larger and far more complex world than she'd ever imagined just may awaken the reader as well.” What do you think of that description, and what do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: I was grateful that Sean captured the essence of my novel quite accurately. As noted above, my protagonist was unprepared for what she would find when her plane touched down in Thessaloniki. Although our world today is dramatically different in terms of political realities from the 1970s, I hope that readers will broaden their understanding of the view of our country from beyond our shores.


I also wish for either a new view or a revisiting of the landscape of the mid-1970s feminism, when “girls” were becoming “women” and the possibilities of choices, other than traditional roles, became widely available. And what happens to a burgeoning sense of feminism when one falls completely and totally in love? Can you ever really go home again?


The transformation of my character in those political and cultural times may remind readers of painful yet necessary transformations in their own lives.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Truthfully, at this moment I am working to navigate the landscape of publishing and book publicity, something that was another entirely new land to embark upon.


Of course, I always keep my pencils sharpened. My father, a professional musician in the 36th Engineer Army Band attached to General Patton in World War II, was witness to many historic occasions, including being the first musicians to play the “Stars and Stripes” on German soil after the surrender.


I have 13 notebooks of his letters home and two annotated photographic albums. My wish is that this history not be lost. Whether memoir or fiction are hiding inside those notebooks remains to be seen, or rather imagined.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: My connection to some of the real-life characters in my novel remains strong. I visit Greece when possible and follow the twists and turns of the lives of my friends. The young boy with cerebral palsy in my novel is now an adult who has written several books of his own; his brother is a tenured philosophy professor at Aristotelian University in Thessaloniki.


Although the relationship of Kate and Thanasis is fictional, my own charismatic Communist boyfriend exists for me only in snatches of rumors from my friends. Perhaps it's better that way.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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