“Shelter From the Texas Heat” Author Tells All!
No, she does not pull a Shirley Jones on us, but she does answer some of our burning questions…
I recently read Shelter from the Texas Heat and found it absolutely fascinating (for full review see this post) and I could not wait to grill the author Bobbi Kornblit all about it. She was kind enough to cooperate and our email conversation follows…
But first—let me tell you that she is not only talented and cooperative—but also very generous! She’s offering a brand new copy of her novel, Shelter from the Texas Heat. For your chance to win, simply leave a comment at the bottom of this post by November 20 to be entered into the drawing.
Now back to our regularly scheduled author interview…
Book Club Cheerleader: What inspired you to write “Shelter”?
Bobbi Kornblit: Shelter from the Texas Heat started out as a short story in a writing workshop. It was a “fish-out-of water” tale about two friends, which became an award-winning short story. The instructor suggested I expand the work into a novel, and so it began.
The inspiration has several sources. I wanted to create a friendship between two women that reflects the one I have with my longtime BFF from childhood. I’m not Rachel and she’s not P.J., but the essence of the characters’ bond hits a familiar note.
The aspect of spousal abuse became a prevalent theme after a friend’s daughter selected a women’s shelter as her good deed project for her Bat Mitzvah. I became aware that domestic violence occurs in all economic and social groups, and I wanted to give hope to women in peril.
And finally, growing up in Dallas, the JFK assassination “in my own backyard” affected me greatly. Although the book isn’t an autobiography, the chapter with Rachel on the playground when she hears the news about the shooting is close to my experience. The novel gave me a place to voice my feelings about the loss of our nation’s leader . . . and of America’s innocence.
BCC: Well, you certainly give book clubs much to discuss between the characters, setting and themes!
There are many books out lately that deal with the JFK assassination since we are nearing the 50th anniversary of that national tragedy—everything from Stephen King’s 11/22/63 to Vincent Bugliosi’s Parkland to Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln. How does your book fit into the collection?
BK: The fascination with John F. Kennedy didn’t diminish after his untimely death. Many books (some of which you’ve listed) have been written about the conspiracy-aspect of the tragedy. My novel stands apart in that it is the story of the effect of the assassination on a schoolgirl and her family—and the aftermath during her adulthood. Readers tell me that the novel unleashes their memories of what that fateful day meant to them, and they often share their recollections during book club sessions. If they weren’t born yet in 1963 (I have a broad age-range of readers), the parallels to 9/11 are often discussed.
BCC: Good tip for book club facilitators! As a fellow baby-boomer, of course, I remember exactly where I was when certain historical events occurred in the book. But how much of the fiction in the book is realistic? Were these experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life? Also, what other kind of research did you have to do for this book?
BK: I did what Pat Conroy often suggests: to write about what you know. I grew up in Dallas and lived in many of the places where my fictional main character, Rachel Frank, exists—but this is her story about keeping secrets and the power of friendship.
I was an art major as an undergraduate, so two of my characters are artists, which allowed me to include details about ceramics, sculpture, and paintings. I adore foreign languages, so some of my characters speak Spanish or Yiddish.
I attended The University of Texas at Austin and also went to summer camp that’s much like the fictional Rio Bravo. These settings are used in the work of fiction, and the incidents are from my imagination.
The exception that actually mirrored my own life was the chapter about Rachel on the elementary school playground when I heard the news about JFK—very close to what I experienced in Dallas on the fateful day in November 1963.
As far as the makeup of Rachel’s family, it’s not my own. Although I have two sisters, a gorgeous and vivacious mother, and a late father who was a math whiz, they are not the people who inhabit my tale of three generations of women. Snippets of events and the essence of relationships are translated into the characters I created.
The research was the icing on the cake for me. I used a variety of sources: books, websites, photographs, periodicals, site visits, and interviews—all this for fiction! For the assassination, I read the stash of yellowed copies of The Dallas Morning News that I had kept wrapped in plastic for decades, to glean details about the tragedy in Dallas. Over and over, I watched the YouTube of Walter Cronkite delivering that sad message on November 22, 1963, and I visited the Sixth Floor Museum in Dealey Plaza in Downtown Dallas.
The historical events in the novel weren’t merely time-markers, but provided physical and emotional settings in which my characters carried on their lives, amid tumultuous times in our nation’s history. I enjoyed fact checking and learning more about the historical aspects of my book. In fiction, if a real location or event is mentioned, the references should be spot on. I verified the clothes, songs, foods, and other elements of popular culture from the decades I described. Remember Peter Pan collars and The Twist?
BCC: I DO remember them both—in fact, I tweaked my back a few weeks ago showing my 11-year old nephew how to do The Twist! (Guess I’m not 11 anymore…)
You sprinkled many Yiddish words frequently throughout the book (in addition to some Spanish), but as a shiksa (and a gringa) I still felt I was able to understand what you were talking about. As an author, how were you able to accomplish that?
BK: Mission accomplished, for your comment about making the Yiddish understandable! I purposely didn’t include straight translations after foreign phrases. My goal was to nudge the reader into understanding by creating a context. If Michael donned a yarmulke, the next sentence mentioned his prayer cap. I let the words create flavor without a struggle for meaning.
BCC: I’ve heard authors say that they fall in love with some of their characters, and they have a difficult time of it when the book is done, because they don’t want to let them go. This is probably why many authors write sequels. Have you ever fallen in love with a character, and if so, who?
BK: I felt very connected to Rachel, a redheaded Texan. (I’m a redhead originally from Dallas.) I rooted for her, as her journey unfolded. During the writing, I fell in love with little Miracle. That fictional child touched my heart, and I could see her sweet face and indomitable spirit in my mind’s eye. Rosemary, the pop psychologist, was also a blast to write. She reminded me of a female Dr. Phil, but she “allowed” me to show her quirky, outrageous nature . . . and l was crazy about her turquoise jewelry and embellished cowboy hats!
BCC: Yes—Miracle was adorable!
This book seemed to be almost a love letter to Texas—in fact, Texas is practically one of the main characters. Was this your intention, or did it just evolve. And if you love Texas that much—what are you doing in Georgia?
BK: I grew up in Texas and I still have family in Dallas and Austin. People are rarely neutral about the Lone Star State—it seems to be larger than life: Everything’s bigger and better in Texas, as the phrase goes.
After college at UT Austin, I moved to Los Angeles and worked in advertising (I had attended UCLA and fell in love with the West Coast). My late husband and I moved to Atlanta after we were hard-hit in the 1994 earthquake in Los Angeles. Atlanta has proven to be a great home for me, and the literary scene is vibrant. All this means that life is an unpredictable journey. I try to keep moving forward, and the publication of this novel has taken me to wonderful places. I like compare my book to a passport: it tells where I grew up, reflects places where my characters live, and has taken me to locations of book conventions that I have attended, including New York and even Jefferson, Texas, at Kathy Patrick’s Girlfriends’ Weekend!
The title of my novel has layered meanings. Shelter: a women’s shelter and the protection of love and friendship. Heat: the soaring Fahrenheit, emotional strife, and the heat of passion. Texas: a state rich in history and style.
BCC: Yes—I loved the symbolism of your book title, as well!
If Shelter from the Texas Heat were made into a movie, who would you cast to play the primary characters?
BK: Recently I was thrilled to see my novel go from the page to the stage. A full adaptation that was movie-length was produced as a fundraiser for the Kennesaw State University Department of Theatre and Performance Studies.
Many readers comment that it should be made into a movie, and I hope Hollywood is listening! There are so many wonderful actors, but I think Kathy Bates would be a perfect fit for Rosemary, the outrageous psychologist guru. I’ll let the professional casting agents in Hollywood come up with the rest, but I can dream of Julia Roberts as Rachel, right?
Many writers hate this question (as in “Can’t we focus on the book that’s out now, you ADD audience? Why must you look for what’s next?”) but for your newly found fans—what can they look forward to in the future?
BK: I love this question, and thanks for asking! My next manuscript is set in Hollywood, where I walked the red carpet with my late husband, who was a movie executive. My cast of characters is trying to climb the ladder to success, set around the glamour and chaos of the Oscars. They follow the golden rule of Hollywood: It’s not enough to win; your competition must fail.
BCC: Wow—sounds like you’re writing what you know, again!
What is the question that is asked of you at almost every book talk you give? And, conversely, what question do they NOT ask—that you wish they did?
BK: The question that is always asked is: How long did it take you to write the book? I find this is a common inquiry for all works of art. I think everyone has a story, and perhaps they are gauging what kind of effort is needed to create something or there’s just a general curiosity about the writing process. My answer: two years for the first draft and many subsequent revisions.
I have appeared at dozens of book clubs, and I give an introduction about my background, the writing process, my inspiration, and the historical aspects. I provide a little show-and-tell (either PowerPoint or photographs) to illustrate the locations mentioned in the book. I’m always open to questions, so if something isn’t asked that I think is important, I’ll include it in my talk. The book club sessions have connected me to fascinating women who have shared their love of literature, laughter, and wonderful meals!
Yep—once, again—the value of Book Clubs! Whoot!
Bobbi, thanks so much for visiting with the readers of the Book Club Cheerleader blog, being generous with your answers—and with a copy of your book for one lucky reader! (Readers—be sure to comment below by November 20 for your chance to win)