Jaynie Royal sits down with Carol Hebald to talk about her latest Regal House release A Warsaw Chronicle.
- Can you tell your readers a little bit about how A Warsaw Chronicle came about? What prompted you to write this work?
My notes on day-to-day life in Poland, and my responses to it, were published in a two-part series in the New York Tribune. A former English professor of mine at the City College of CUNY, who had seen my newspaper accounts, observed that they read like a novel. When he suggested I write one, I began it on a dare. Up until then, my fiction had centered round my characters’ relationships and inner states of being. I seldom described them or their physical surroundings. Where and how they lived felt secondary because my sense of time and place was defective. Here was an opportunity to correct that. As an American exchange professor at Warsaw University, I was paid in zlotys rather than dollars and lived, like a Pole, with ration coupons for food, a tapped telephone, and censored mail. It was not until I realized that what rendered my newspaper accounts of Poland alive were not descriptions alone, but evocations of time and place through feeling the daily obstacles I endured. These I hesitated to remember; but not until I allowed those memories to resurface did I find the subject of my novel.
- Can you tell us how much of it is autobiographical or is that a secret?
I’d rather keep secret what is factual and what is invented in the novel. Nevertheless, I’d call it completely autobiographical because I exist in all the characters. What I altered were their immediate circumstances. Why did John Fowles write: “If you want to tell the truth in fiction, start lying about the reality of it?” Because such “lying” liberates the imagination. If we stick slavishly to facts, we might fear consciously or otherwise that our unsympathetic characters will recognize themselves. However, if we disguise them, we are free to strip them down before we flesh them out, or personalize them as human beings. Trained as an actor, when I had to create a “thoroughly despicable woman,” my first task was to find at least twelve things about her that were good.
- Did you have a particular character within the novel that you loved writing about (other than Karolina)?
For Karolina, and her brilliant student Marek Maciesz, sympathy is presupposed. I enjoy challenging reader sympathies. In writing about Marek’s father, the loathsome Lieutenant Maciesz, I had to achieve consistency of character without sacrificing the element of complexity. The reader might hate him; I could not. I had to find him; to search him inside out like a robber for intimate thoughts, persistent memories, and dreams. What was the daily crawl of his existence? What exalted, depressed, bored him? Only by a thorough investigation of his inner and outer realities could I hope to find his nature in mine. Then I had to reveal, by means of verbal, physical, and psychological actions that advanced the course of the narrative: what he said, how he said it, what he left unsaid, and what he lied about. This was a great deal of fun.
- What literary project are you currently engaged upon?
I am working on my play, MARTHA, about Watergate heroine Martha Mitchell, for an off Broadway production.