Karen Casey Fitzjerrell

Author of award-winning Forgiving Effie Beck

Category: Depression stories

Whose Story Is It?

Saturday, March 14, 2015  Forgiving Effie Beck, a novel that took me two years to write, received the EPIC Award for Best Historical Fiction. Five months earlier it had won the Will Rogers Gold Medallion Award. Since I wrote the story without regard to most of the shoulds and shouldn’ts writers are hammered with daily, the EPIC announcement left me stuttering with confusion.

The Will Rogers Award: A fluke? I had to wonder. But a second honor: The EPIC?

I never, ever felt comfortable with anyone reading drafts of Forgiving Effie Beck. I wrote it in a style or voice I’m most comfortable with – like writing my journal entries about everyday observations. Agents, editors, publishing houses would probably label it “too colloquial.” The characters are far less than perfect, dreamed-up combinations of family members, old friends and past enemies. I put them in a setting familiar to me, then placed them in difficult situations. Words flew off my finger tips and onto the computer screen. I worried writing it had been too easy, probably not worthy of much. It was too elementary, too simple, entry-level work. Worse, I couldn’t name an age group or audience who’d want to read it. I’d always believed that trying to control reader’s perceptions stifles one’s particular writing voice. But I also believed my real story telling voice wouldn’t hold a novel together.

And yet . . . Awards? 

It’s true that authors can never be sure how their work will be read or interpreted, or what readers will glean from it when they’ve read to the last page.

We’ve all heard “write what you know.” Forgiving Effie Beck is what I know, some of what I’ve lived. I worried most about keeping personal agendas at bay – a point I believe vital to writing decent fiction. Especially if it is to have any universal meaning whatsoever. To guard against having my agendas seep into the story I gave the task of telling Effie Beck’s story to the characters. Characters like down-and-out Mike LeMay, heartbroken Red Kasper, lonely and isolated Effie Beck herself and ostracized Jodean Travis. They told my fingers what they thought, felt, how they perceived troubling events. All I had to do was set them free on the page. The voice, the writing, belongs to them.

I’ve often noticed I say, “Forgiving Effie Beck won an award.” Then I’d wonder why I don’t say, “I won an award for Forgiving Effie Beck.”

Now I think I understand – It’s not my story.

The Next Big Thing Blogarama

Today I’m taking a trek down a Back Road that leads to the Next Big Thing Blogarama. Helen Ginger, author of Angel Sometimes and the soon to be published, Dismembering the Past invited me to participate by answering ten questions about my Next Big Thing novel.

Question 1: What is the working title of your book?
The title of my work in progress is Forgiving Effie Beck. I’ve always known that would be the title which is unusual for me. My last book didn’t have a title, other than a way for me to identify it in my computer files, until the day I hit the launch button.

Question 2: Where did the idea come from for the book?
A woman was reported missing from her ranch in a very small central Texas town many years ago. I had just moved to the area and felt like a fly on the wall as I watched the town’s reaction to her disappearance. I have several file folders of newspaper clippings of actual events like that. Some day I’d like to turn each into a work of fiction, let my imagination run away with “what ifs.”

Question 3: What genre does your book fall under?
Forgiving Effie Beck is definitely historical fiction because the story takes place during the mid 1930s. However, there are elements of suspense and mystery but without a murder or gore. There are love interests too, but again, that is not the driving force of the story.

Question 4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Wow. That’s a hard one. The main character, Mike, is a down and out fellow who finally lands a job as an FWP interviewer assigned to a small town in the southwest. He is thin as a rail, has hitch-hiked across the country to report in to his job. Leonardo DeCaprio would be a good “Mike.” Anne Hathaway or Amanda Seyfried would be great as Jodean, the central female character. And, without a doubt, Kathy Bates as Cora Mae Travis, Jodean’s mother.

Question 5: What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Effie Beck, who has moved through the lives of a small town’s populace “like brown smoke,” walks out of her house and disappears with dark secrets that elude town officials.

Question 6: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
WKMA Publishing will launch Forgiving Effie Beck in mid to late March 2013.

Question 7: How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?
One year. However, I work and re-work a novel until I think it is right then set it aside for about 6 months and read it through for clarity again. I change and edit myself right up to the last possible minute. I drive myself nuts that way!

Question 8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
This is a harder question to answer than the movie characters. My story is more a compilation of themes similar to many other books. For example: Cider House Rules, Some Days There’s Pie, A River Runs Through It. But that sounds so lofty. I’m not at all sure how to answer that question.

Question 9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I think the answer to the second question pretty much covers this one. Shortly after I moved to a small community in Central Texas an elderly woman was reported missing. I was fortunate to actually be a “fly on the wall” and could observe the town’s response to her disappearance. While everything about the story (except the reported disappearance) is fiction, the reactions, emotions, intentions of the those involved are what I saw, heard, read and deduced from my vantage point.

Question 10: What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?
The over all themes in Forgiving Effie Beck are universal. All of us tend to misjudge others at one time or another to fit our own misguided needs. We deal with feelings of guilt, dread, and hopelessness everyday like the characters in the book. Effie Beck’s story shows how some people – fictitious though they may be – gained valuable insight from the string of events in the story.

And that’s it. My answers to the Next Big Thing Blogarama’s ten questions. I send out a special thanks to Helen Ginger for inviting me to participate and to Morgan Mandel – the brain behind  Blogarama. Be sure to skip over to these ladies’ links to see what they’re up to.