Although writing can help decipher history, it’s our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Inspiration behind How the Water Falls: South Africa's legacy



Is still the apartheid a subject of interest? What history teaches us?
There are two reasons that the subject of apartheid prevails: One, there is a strong correlation of what occurred in South Africa to what is happening now in Israel (Perscription for Gaza). I understand it's not identical because no history is identical based on politics and landscape, but here is the one fact which they have in common: Segregating a population, denying them citizenship, displacing that population into ghettos or refugee camps, and the violence that precipitates mirrors the two countries in hardships and failures. When laws can’t and don’t protect all people living on the same land, it opens up abuse and injustice. Two, it’s only been twenty years since the eradication of apartheid, and we’re continuing to understand what all of that meant. Although political emancipation has succeeded, but discrimination and corruption resumes. The aftermath of apartheid endures a legacy of unresolved issues. What we all should learn from history is that a true democracy, one that is not dysfunctional, is all inclusive, and that education is best method to make it so. Ignorance and greed is what makes war; education and uniting people for a common goal is what saves our future.


Where do the ideas for your book come from?
From real people and real events.  If a person is to become socially conscious as a means to understand the world around oneself, then exploring the past is a good way to start.  For me, it began with the movie Cry Freedom, which was based on the friendship between Donald Woods and Steve Bike.  The inhumanity shown in the movie left me horrified and emotionally displaced.  I was only fourteen.  Then, years later, I came across a documentary, the name I don't remember because I missed the beginning, about a white South African couple who had nothing in common. The wife was a liberal reporter, and the husband was a former army personnel and police officer who had been fired as a scapegoat for apartheid's problems.  They struggled with understanding each other's past.  The other inspirations came from the book Kaffir Boy and A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Woman Confronts the Legacy of Apartheid.  In dealing with how to come to terms with violence and poverty, these two books opened up a world history books didn't touch.  


How much fiction / non fiction is in How the Waters Falls?
The first chapter begins with the Truth and Reconciliation where I abstract real stories from those who testified at these events. From there, I doused the novel with historical events and references to fuse with the development of the plot. Several of my main characters, such as Joanne, Lena, Wanda, Jared, Hans, Father Mulalo, and Topsy are inspired by a mesh of people I’ve researched. I wish to preserve the integrity of the historical significance as much as possible while maintaining a strong story. If I had to calculate between the two, I would put fact and fiction at 50/50.


Why take such important historical events and transpose them in fiction stories?
There is more freedom in fiction. Although I do my darndest to uphold historical continuity, sometimes I need to bend the actual timeline or combine few real people into one person, thereby fictionalizing that character, as a means to represent either an archetype in fiction form or to establish the attitudes of that era.


What is the writer’s responsibility when approaching such themes?
Honestly, John Steinbeck wrote it best: “The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit—for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.” And within the same context, he also wrote, “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”


How did you come up with the title of your book?
I wish to have a symbolic connection with the titles to the meaning of my stories. How the Water Falls is meant to represent the ideology of power and corruption through the structure of waterfalls, and how a system can fall by the pressure of united power. One of my characters, Lena, explains it all at the ending of the book.


How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?
I chose names based on both the way it sounds and what it represents. Because my novels tend to be researched inspired, I often abstract names from books I’ve read to uphold authenticity. For my South African novel, I have a link of my characters here with descriptions of their purpose to the story on my indiegogo site.


Which of your characters do you think is the most like you?
So I'm going to need to flush out my multiple personalities! I would have to be a split between Joanne and Lena.  Joanne is close to her family and seeks to have the truth be known. Lena struggles with depression, but finds a way out of it through trusting people.  As I have mentioned before, I am both an optimistic and pessimistic.


What have you learned creating this book?
I've learned that apartheid was entirely more convoluted than I could wrap my head around.  It was insane.  And while trying to reinterpret it as I wrote in fiction form was the greatest puzzle I had yet put together.  Because the system was so corrupted, it wasn't as difficult to establish a plot.  Each character had a purpose to fulfill and fit naturally according to the development of the story.  I loved it!


Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?
Adults who love a hybrid of historical fiction and thriller. And this is a very adult book based on content and language. The writing pulls you into South African struggles while full of suspenseful action and mystery. This novel is certainly political and ethically explorative, but it doesn’t suffer from its big concepts making it too lofty and inaccessible – inarguably. How the Water Falls is about people. The human experience is the main character, and for the reader, an understanding of what this group of people had to endure is the best lesson to inherit.


What do you think your readers will take away from this book?
A haunting impression that still leaves you with a sense of hope.  For those who never really understood what had happened during that period will at least have an inclination of why the system was so evil, and how it affected everyone, both black and white.  If change is going to be resurrected, there needs to be an ambition of hope.


What other books are similar to your own? What makes them alike?
If you have read and savored over The Power of One, Cry the Beloved Country, Waiting for the Barbarians, and Bloodlines, then you’ll hunger for How the Water Falls. They all are about stories that take place in South Africa and combine a human story with the corruption, bigotry, injustice, and violence surrounding apartheid. But it’s more than just that. There are lessons to be learned. There are introspections to be evaluated. There are empathy, rage, and sorrow to embrace. Whether the message is hopeful, tragic, or both, regardless, it should be influential.


What makes your book different than others that fall under this genre?
Although I have it marked as a thriller, sub genre of psychological, historical, and political, despite of its backdrop, the story is about people and how they relate to one another.  It's an intense journey that does have moments of humor and tenderness.  If the reader cannot connect to any other characters, then the author has failed to make that connection.


What inspires you most?
I'm greatly inspired by stories that deal with struggle for freedom, searching for identity and purpose, and have some sort of message that forces you to contemplate.  John Steinbeck best made the claim: "The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit - for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love.  In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation.  I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature."  And within the same context, he also wrote, "I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists.  Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit."


Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?
I worry about maintaining authenticity within the time period and about the particular cultures.  As much as I love delving into another world, I agonize over whether I can or do preserve the integrity of these issues.  I have to keep reminding myself that people are people, regardless which time period and location: focus on the people first, and let the rest come naturally.


What do you think makes a good story?
Show that each and every character is imperfect, and that those characters have personal conflicts to overcome, whether they actually do, or try to, or fail to do.  Within these sentiments, a storyline is surely to unravel before your very eyes.


What is the biggest trap to avoid in a psychological thriller? But in one based on real events?
My concern, when I wrote my second novel, was not to feel cheated after reading it from start to finish. And what I mean by “cheated” is by making sure each of my characters felt real, had an authentic voice and purpose to the story, that there was a reason for their existence. I also wanted to make sure I didn’t “cheat” the historical accuracy while allowing the plot to prevail. The two had to “tango” well together in order to understand the psychology of each of the character’s mindset. Based on where the characters were born, what families they were born into, had influenced how they reacted to their environment and toward each other. I hope nothing felt forced and had a natural experience through it all- even though the violence as well as the tender moments.

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Even though I am from Kansas, I enjoy venturing into other worlds from around the globe which is why my writing focuses on diversity. With fluid accessibility to modern media and traveling opportunities, my Midwestern world can expand and explore beyond my own backyard. In addition to studying cultures, I take pleasure in studying history. Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

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