Friday, April 29, 2011

Karen Bessey Pease author of Grumble Bluff Interview

I stated reading Karen Bessay Pease’s Grumble Bluff on Slush Pile Reader and
Authonomy, two on-line sites, and finished reading it after it was published.
Karen was generous enough to let me ask her a few questions.

KJ Kron:  You really pulled me into your story when the bullies of the school
target Katherine, who is overweight.  How did your idea?  

Karen Bessey Pease:  I think every writer pulls stories from their observations and experiences.  When I sat down to write Grumble Bluff, all I had in mind to write was a simple story which might entertain-- and provide ‘life lessons’ for--my daughter, who was eleven years old at the time.  In all honesty, I didn’t know where it would take me, and I didn’t have a plan.  Each evening over the course of two weeks, I added a bit more to the story.  As I wrote, I recalled my own upbringing in the beautiful forested mountains of Maine.  I called upon the memories of the years I spent roaming the hills and valleys with my friend Patty, to whom Grumble is dedicated.  I thought a lot about friendship, and family, and about the trials of growing up.  Grumble Bluff is the story which emerged as I wrote for a young girl who was the same age I was when I first met my best friend thirty-nine years ago.

KJK:  How serious of a problem do you think bullying is today?

KBP: I don’t believe the inherent nature of human beings changes.  Nowadays, folks are better educated about issues such as discrimination and tolerance, sure.  But bullying has been a part of our lives for as long as we have had a societal existence.  Chickens aren’t the only creatures who feel the need to establish a pecking order when they are sharing the same space.  :o)

However, contrary to what many people believe, it is often the bully who suffers from the least amount of self-confidence, or who deserves the most sympathy.  Aggression is sometimes the symptom of serious problems in a bully’s private life.  All is not black and white, and learning how to deal with other personalities can be very challenging for developing children.  As the tag line for Grumble Bluff says, “Growing up is tough.”  But I came to realize something else as I wrote this novel, and it’s summarized in the rest of that tag line.  “Growing up is tough.  Katherine Anne and Greta are tougher.  Discover the awesome power of friendship in Grumble Bluff.”   When two people click, magic happens.  I’m lucky enough to know that, first-hand.

KJK: Greta is another target for the bullies.  How would you contrast her
personality / situation with Katherine?

KBP: Greta was the ‘new kid in town’.  In the best of circumstances, it is challenging for a child to have to make new friends.  In Greta’s case, she had an additional obstacle.  She had to overcome the ignorance and fear of a community which hadn’t had to confront the illness of HIV/AIDS before her family’s arrival in rural Maine.

KJK:  Is Grumble Bluff close to where you live?

KBP: The fictitious ‘place’ of Grumble Bluff was inspired by a quiet and tranquil spot here on The F.A.R.M., my 70 acre homestead in Lexington Township.  Originally, my husband and I purchased 50 acres when we bought this abandoned and ramshackle farmhouse.  A few years later, we were able to purchase an abutting parcel on the back side of our acreage.  Pease Brook (named after an ancestor of my husband’s, we later discovered) winds through a ravine which is surrounded by mature and verdant forest.  Since the piece of ground was ‘land-locked’ (meaning no deeded ‘right of way’ existed connecting it to a public access point) the trees had not been harvested for generations.  It’s as close to an ancient, pristine forest as we can get, nowadays.

KJK: What do you feel is more important to Katherine, Grumble Bluff or Greta?
KBP: Wow.  What a question!  Grumble Bluff is a place of solace for Katherine Anne, and has always been a sanctuary where she could go to think, and feel, and heal.  The Bluff is an intricate part of her life.  However, Katherine Anne’s life changed—dramatically and for the better—once she befriended Greta. I hope she’ll never have to choose between the two, but I’m pretty sure Greta would win in any contest! 

KJK:  I read on your blog a post about windmills.  Are windmills threatening to
go up in / near Grumble Bluff?

KBP:  May I say “Wow” twice in the same interview?  Heh… Around these parts, folks know enough not to mention the topic of mountaintop industrial wind to me unless they have a day or two to sit and ‘jaw’.   Yes, grid-scale wind facilities are threatening the wilderness and mountains all around my home, here near the Bigelow Preserve and the Appalachian Trail.  When I first began to study this issue, I had no idea the scope and scale of Maine’s Wind Energy Plan, nor did I know that the arguments used to promote it were based on misinformation.  I thought, like many people, that ‘wind’ must be ‘green’ and good, and that it would counter the effects of global warming and reduce our dependence on fossils fuels.    After doing some independent investigation, I knew that wasn’t the case.  And when I decided to oppose the Highland project (proposed for five mountains in a neighboring Plantation) this issue wasn’t quite so ‘personal’.  I was being an ‘active citizen’ because after all my research, I believed it was the right thing to do.  But now… this rural area has been targeted by no less than four wind developers, and the closest proposed project will be directly behind my home.  Even more challenging-- the corporation proposing it is the biggest ‘wind’ developer in the world.  It’s a daunting task, but I’ve been amazed at the groundswell of citizens who are getting educated and stepping forward to protect Maine’s renowned “Quality of Place’.  (Aren’t you glad you asked THAT question?  Sorry, pal.  I can’t help myself!)

KJK:  Maybe that can be another plot in a future book.  Any way, how long have you been working on Grumble Bluff and the series?

KBP: As I said, Grumble was written during the evenings over the course of two weeks.  I’ve completed two sequels, and each took a similar amount of time.  However, with the second and third, I had an editor-- who made my life quite… interesting.  Heh… he’s now my best friend; and he taught me a lot about how to graciously take criticism.  He’s also made me (I believe) a better writer.

KJK: I first read your book on authonomy when you got an agent or was it a
publisher?  Did that lead to your publication?

KBP: Grumble Bluff was actually published by a small, new publisher a month before I put it up on Authonomy.  My marketing coach suggested the site, because she believed the novel had the potential to attract a larger, more established publisher.  And within days, I was offered a representation contract by Bonomi Associates in London.  However, after presenting Grumble to 13 publishing houses in Britain, they weren’t able to get a more lucrative offer for the novel.  Nonetheless, I was very flattered and grateful to have a reputable agent ‘pick me up’.  Such things give a gal a little confidence!

KJK:  I read a little more of your book on Slush Pile reader.  How would you
contrast SPR with authonomy?

KBP: The two sites are worlds apart.  I stayed with Authonomy for awhile, even after my agent asked me to make Grumble ‘private’.  I thought maybe I could help other writers by offering suggestions about their manuscripts.  But—and this is just my opinion—I didn’t like the environment very much.  Manuscripts were being ‘backed’ as favors, or as swaps.  Books were advancing to the top which didn’t seem to be nearly as well written as others authored by people who refused to ‘play the game’.  So, while I made some great friend on the site, I decided that it was not a good expenditure of my time and effort to offer honest comments when all that really seemed to be desired was a ‘spot on the shelf’.
Slush Pile Reader is different.  The owners of the site have worked hard to avoid the mistakes made on Authonomy.  There is less pressure for writers on the site, and not so much personal drama.  The people there genuinely seem to want to improve their writing styles and techniques.  Over the course of the last year, I know I’ve learned a lot from the other authors at SPR.  And by the way… I’d like to congratulate you again for making it to the top of the Slush Pile!  St. Peter Killed God is a worthy manuscript, and I’m very happy for you. 

KJK:  Is your book available as an e-book?  If not, any plans to make it

KBP: No, it isn’t.  And yes, it’s an option- but one I haven’t taken advantage of.  Not yet.  To be honest, I’m in a bit of a quandary.  My lifelong dream has been to be a published (and successful) author.  And finally, I’ve been granted a chance to fulfill that dream.  But my writing (and marketing) has taken a back seat for the last few months as I’ve thrown myself into this citizens’ movement.  This is not the direction I ever expected my life to take, but I made a choice to fight for something I believe in and I feel obligated to stay involved until it’s over, one way or another.  I believe that Grumble Bluff and its sequels have an enduring quality, and that they will ‘speak’ to people tomorrow as well as today.  Life is full of surprises and unexpected turns, and I know that this effort I’ve dedicated myself to will prove to be a blessing.  I only hope I’m not too exhausted at the end of it to pick up a pen (or tap at a keyboard) again!   Thank you, Karl, for the honor of participating in this interview, and for opportunity to talk about my story of friendship.

KJK: I completely enjoyed Grumble Bluff.  You have a knack for pulling the
reader in and getting me to root for the underdog.  It was a roller coaster of
emotions.  Well done.  If you have a chance you should read this book.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Why Can't Life Have a Pause Button

I wish I could get the “young” Karl to do some of the things the “current” Karl needs to do.  I envy my former self. That youthful guy of years past would be bored looking for things to do.  If only he could baby sit – he’d have plenty of time.  I’d even let him watch Dancing with the Stars with my wife.  I’d really like it if he could grade papers, but he wouldn’t know how.  Maybe he could read Saint Peter Killed God and scan it for errors. 

I’m jealous of people who have time to write.  In the past, I searched for jobs where I could write as much as I wanted.  I volunteered at a drug rehab for juvenile delinquents.  All I had to do is listen to teens read for one hour, play basketball with them for another hour, and drive them to AA meetings.  That’s it.  Plenty of time to write or read.  I took another job working overnight at a psych hospital.  For four years I had about five hours or so per night where I could write.  I only needed to do a couple of hours of work per shift.  And twice I went part-time as a teacher.  Every other day off.  Every weekend was a three-day week. Now that’s the life.  Of course I used that time to write SPKG.

Right now, I’ve never been busier.  My baby is coming up on his first birthday and crawling around. My back aches as I’m constantly picking him up.  Man, why did I wait until I was 42 to have my first baby?  When Xavier goes to bed at seven, I’ve got papers to grade.  OK, here’s a stupid thing I did – in the 10th grade, students have to write a research paper to prepare for the big on in the 11th grade.  I assigned the one I always do, but this year I’m teaching the biology track students (it’s our high school’s forte) and they have to do a biology research paper.  So now I have to grade back-to-back research papers two months apart.  Ugh!

Which gets me to where I am in the editing process.  I’m almost done.  I have to do a few micro edits – mainly about the musical allusions I’ve added.  Johanna has given me good advice about not needing to mention the groups – and in some places I don’t even need to name the song if the lyrics are familiar enough.  Then I need to go through and read the entire thing to make sure it’s to my satisfaction.  After that Johanna is going to look at it again.  I can’t believe I’m so close – and I hope SPR doesn’t get too mad that I’m not doing this a little faster.  After this weekend, I should be finished grading the research papers and ready to tackle the edits. 

Have you ever seen the movie Click?  I don’t understand why the Adam Sandler character always pressed the fast-forward button.  I’d hit the pause button and try to catch up.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Who Not to Follow on Twitter

 I teach at Osbourn Park High School.

Osbourn High School is just two miles away.  You would think that they could 
come up with more original names.  I guess Osbourn was a very important person 
in this area. 

A couple of years ago, a teacher at Osbourn named Karl died of a heart attack 
while teaching.  As the story broke on the news, my friends’ wife pulled over 
her car crying because she thought it was me.  
That’s touching.  Thank god that didn’t happen to me, although I once passed out 
in front of my class (I had forgotten to eat breakfast that day.  When it 
happened, my students thought I was joking).  It sounds like a horrible way to 
go though.  In front of your students?  Sad.  I can’t help wondering if his 
students thought he was joking too.
This summer, another teacher at Osbourn got fired after getting students drunk 
and taking advantage of them. Horrible story. I credit Osbourn for being the 
school that finally caught him.  He’d been doing it for 20 years 
bouncing from school to school until he was finally caught. This teacher was 
friends with many of his students on Facebook and followed others on Twitter 
We’re told not to friend our students on Facebook.  It seems pretty obvious, but 
every year a couple of students send me friend requests.  I politely refuse.  

So when I took my students to the computer lab and heard, “Google Kronlage,” I 

Would Facebook come up?  My Twitter account?  Would I get a barrage of friend 
requests the next day?  I tried to think of something intelligent to say, don’t 
you have anything better to do than Google your teacher, but said something 
like, “The paragraphs are due at the end of class.  Until I get yours…”

“Mr. Kronlage, you wrote a book!”

“Are you sure that’s not the Mr. Kronlage that teaches at Osbourn?” I asked.

“Very funny.  What’s it called? You never told us that you wrote a book.”

“Of course I did.  Don’t you remember when I told you about my first book, 
Pinkie System.”

“This one’s called Saint Peter Killed God,” another student called out.

We are not supposed to preach to our students.  When I bring up the rumors 
surrounding Psalm 46 in the King James Bible and Shakespeare, one of my students 
usually complains that I'm teaching religion.  That’s not preaching, but my book 
does.  I could imagine my student’s parents complaining about how Mr. Kronlage 
is promoting his book in class, etc.

I looked over one of my student’s should and saw that he found my interview in 
the school paper, which now posts our newspaper online.  What do you say when 
half of your 32 students are suddenly looking up your interview?  Before words 
came to my mouth, I hear, “So you’re KJ Kron?”

“Look, he has a Twitter account and a blog.  Too bad the school blocks it.”

“Yeah, but according to this interview he feels awkward about having a Twitter 

So now they’re reading Slush Pile Reader.  I notice a couple of students pulling 
up Saint Peter Killed God on SPR and Authonomy.  “Is your book any good?”

“It’s the best one I wrote,” I said.  “But I’m not sure what you’d think of it.  
After reading 1984 and Brave New World, how can my book compare?”

“I hated those books Mr. Kronlage.”  

I tried.

I teach pre-AP students.  Most of them are in sports or some after school 
activity.  They have a couple hours of homework a night.  They text or play a 
video game whenever they get a free moment.  I doubt they have a lot of extra 

My fears were unfounded.  I’m sure they forgot about my book shortly after the 
bell rang.  Only one student decided to follow me on Twitter.  When I looked at 
his tweets, he tweeted something disparaging about his math teacher. 

I usually follow people who follow me on Twitter, except for some porn site that 
decided to follow me.  And now I’m not following my students either.  After all, I’m 
not like that former teacher at Osbourn. 

To read OPHS article about KJ Kron, click the link below: