“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Have you ever heard the expression that books let you escape to faraway places? I’ve always loved that idea; that books transport you to other parts of the world. That’s exactly what my friend Britt Skrabanek does in her books. She and her ever-expanding cast of characters take us to different parts of the world.
For a change of pace, I thought I’d interview Britt about her books and their locales.
When did you begin writing?
When I was about 10 years old, I got really into writing. My parents encouraged me to write regularly in a diary and Anne Frank was my hero. I had this amazing white diary with colorful hearts on it and a lock and key. I shared some embarrassing highlights from this diary in a blog about six years ago…
Today I whispered into Jeffrey’s ear…I love you. Then he said…what? So, I said it again but everybody in class heard me. I was embarrassed.
…on my way to a Pulitzer already at such a young age.
I kept up with a journal into my college years, practicing my craft by whining about angsty moments from life. But, the interesting thing was that I have always created stories in my mind in bed before falling asleep. My hope was that the story would continue on in my dream, and oftentimes it did.
Eventually my husband Mr. H dared me to write my first novel. I had no idea what the hell I was doing, but I did it. That novel was Beneath the Satin Gloves.
What inspired you to write each of your books?
For Beneath the Satin Gloves, one of my bedtime stories turned into a surreal dream where I time-traveled and woke up in WWII Berlin as a lounge-singer spying for the Allies.
I had always been intrigued by WWII and I visited Berlin shortly after beginning my novel. I’m also a horrific singer, so this was my chance to live out a jazz-singing fantasy while spying safely from my desk in my pajamas. It was like this film playing in my head that I wanted to see, so I forced myself to learn how to write a book to bring the story to life.
For Everything’s Not Bigger, I had some dark times I was still hanging onto and I had to get everything out of my system. I wrote about a young woman who ends up in the witness protection after escaping a troubled past.
She then travels solo to Prague, where her family (and my family) is from to find herself. This book is my underdog, but I had to write it since the story was very much like a two-year therapy session.
For Nola Fran Evie, this story found me. I discovered clues from 1954 in a woman’s vintage handbag: two baseball tickets and a voting receipt with a shopping list on the back. I feel confident in saying I can recite most of the lines from the movie A League of Their Own on command.
Because the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League folded in 1954 as well, it was all very serendipitous to see this story come together. I wrote about three very different women who might have owned the handbag I discovered.
Their common bond was playing in the league together, and what happens to their lives afterward. The story still makes me smile when I think about how it all started. And, I love Chicago in the 1950s…a great city to work with.
Your books aren’t about travel, but I’ve heard you say that the city in each of your books is a character all its own. Tell me more about that.
If anyone else is a diehard Sex and the City fan like I am, you’ll recall that there were actually five (not four) main characters in the show: Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha, Miranda…and New York. There is something to this, especially with cities which are such a vibrant composition of life experiences.
I love setting up a scene, and I try my hardest to make the location as accurate as possible. I would never attempt to write about a city I have never visited. Which is why I only focus on cities I have spent time in, so I can capture the real smells, sounds, and visuals that really enliven fiction.
For my three books, Berlin (Beneath the Satin Gloves), Prague (Everything’s Not Bigger), and Chicago (Nola Fran Evie) carry their own weight as characters.
Has travel influenced your writing?
Absolutely. Traveling to faraway places and writing fiction are my favorite escapes. It only makes sense that travel would impact the stories I create. I get such a release from going to places I don’t understand. I get lost in unfamiliar words and cultural traditions.
I am moved by the differences in other parts of the world and the striking similarities we all share. We are humans and we all want the same basic needs to be met, along with some extras like love and happiness.
Is there a place you’ve traveled that you think you’ll include in a future book?
Havana…during the 1920s. We visited Cuba a couple of years ago and it left such a beautifully raw mark on me. My next book project will be The Artist meets Bonnie and Clyde. Havana will be a fantastic setting to explore.
What’s next on the book front?
I self-published my other three novels. For my fourth novel, Virasana, I’m going through the rather arduous process of finding a traditional home with a publisher or agent.
Virasana is a total departure from the historical fiction I love to write. It’s a fantasy dystopian novel set in Port City during a time when love has been outlawed. Virasana harnesses this secret power to command nature, and she learns she must become the hero that saves Port City.
Port City is a futuristic Portland, Oregon…where I’ve been living the past five years. So, there’s your city as a character concept shining through yet again.
I also wanted to play with nature reclaiming spaces. Have you seen those images with malls and school buses being invaded by trees and vines? They are so hauntingly beautiful and I knew I wanted to play with that in a dystopian setting.
Beta readers have called Virasana a cross between The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale. Seems like this story has potential based on the crazy success of my novel’s counterparts, but of course, I don’t expect miracles to happen as an unknown author. We’ll see what happens.
What’s next on your travel calendar?
Jamaica. Lucky us, my sister-in-law is getting married there. The coolest part is that this trip is turning out to be a family reunion for my husband. Even though we have traveled internationally together, this is the first time we’re going to an exotic place with his family. It’s a special trip, likely a once in a lifetime opportunity for everyone.
Just for fun: if you were the main character for a novel, where would you want that book to be set?
Cairo. I recently traveled to Bali, which was the farthest, most exotic place I have ever experienced. Since returning home to the real world, I’ve had this itch to see Egypt. You’ll see me there in the next few years, for sure. I imagine another novel will spring up from that travel experience too.
I want to thank Britt for sharing her stories and backstories with us. If you have a chance to read her books, do! We’ve tried to make it easy for you to do so through this post. And just for fun, I’ll pose the same question to all of you that I did to Britt: If you were going to be the main character in a novel, where would you want your book to be set?