Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Kitty Gogins Author Interview

Kitty Gogins Author Interview
I would like to welcome Kitty Gogins, author of My Flag Grew Stars and Hometown Minnesota Author in the Spotlight.  

1.  Please tell us a little bit about yourself?  I grew up in Minnesota surrounded by a mix of the traditional Minnesotan “you betcha” and the unique traditions of foreign-born. I married a friend from high school in a wedding that resembled “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” with his parents of reserved Minnesotan stock and mine infusing Hungarian traditions in all they do.  While I have had lots of opportunities to travel and live in other lands, I have also had stability―I even serve on the school board of the same district where I went to school. Professionally, I have worked for several Fortune 500 companies and non-profits in leading strategic change efforts ranging from new ways to go to market, to entering new businesses or introducing new products. I now consult on strategic and project leadership for small and medium-sized companies and non-profits.

I’m always game for visiting a new place, eating a new food ― even if it can still stare up at me ― or trying a new activity. When I turned forty-five, I knew just how to celebrate. I jumped out of an airplane. Granted I did it tandem, strapped to the front of an expert like a baby kangaroo, but I got to feel the air rushing by, the freedom of zigzagging through the clouds, the sensation of dropping at racing speeds. After two weeks of saying, “Could you please repeat that,” since my ears were still plugged from the dive, I acknowledged that I wasn’t likely to do it again. But it was worth it.

  1. This book is a biography/autobiography of your parent’s journey to America, can you tell us what inspired you to write and publish a book about their experiences?

I have been fascinated by my parents’ story since I was a child.  Whenever neighbors or friends heard about their journey, their usual response was, “That’s amazing. What an inspiring story. It shouldn’t be lost!”
Once I grew up, the longer I worked in leading strategic and cultural change, the more appreciation I got for their incredible cultural journey and wanted to capture it on paper.

  1. How did you gather the information and research for your book?
I started with an intimate knowledge about their lives and built on this base, spending over a thousand hours on research. I was lucky and had a lot of original material to work with: my father kept a diary for several years, there were a thousand pages of letters my parents’ exchanged over a three year period, and they saved numerous documents and pictures. I supplemented this with dozens of interviews, library and internet research, and digging into historical events, so I could recreate their lives---the events, the atmosphere, the feeling, the tone of conversations.

  1. Did you travel to Hungary to meet relatives and visit the places where your parents grew up?

I have had the opportunity to travel to Hungary many times visiting the places were my parents grew up and my extended family. I didn’t need to go nearly as far to talk to the relatives most familiar with the story, all my parents’ siblings and several cousins live in Canada. One of my father’s cousins even contributed his father’s post-war diary, filled with interesting facts and impressions of the refugee camp and the cement tile factory where both families lived.

  1. Why did you choose to share your family story with the public?

It provides an interesting perspective on history, as many reviewers and readers have said ‘it brings history to life’. It looks at World War II and post-war events from an average citizen’s perspective on the losing side, a view not broadly published.  I wanted to share this view, as well as their inspiring story of how they successfully adapted to dramatic change.

  1. Can you share a traditional Hungarian recipe mentioned in the book?

Go to for a good recipe for Hungarian Chicken Paprikas.

  1. Do you like to read? What authors or books influence you?

I love to read and read a wide variety of books. Refugee’s stories have been a large part of my reading since I decided to write down my parents’ refugee journey. My favorite is The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang. - # Kalia lyrically relates the moving story of her family from the war-torn jungles of Laos, to the overcrowded Thailand refugee camp, and ultimately to the United States, beautifully weaving in Hmong folklore and culture.

  1. Do you encourage others to write their stories down? Do you have any great suggestions for people who want to do this?
I strongly encourage folks to write down their story. I recommend they start by writing what they remember. Their memory serves as the seed, which they should nurture and grow into a full story by talking to others who share the memory, looking for relevant family papers or mementos, conducting research on the internet and in libraries, and interviewing others who have had similar experiences.

When my mother shared a memory, I would write it down and read it back to her, which triggered more memories. I would then do research, adding the new learning into the story, which triggered even more memories for her. I found the final story was ten times richer than the first version.

9.     9.   How did you decide on the title? Publisher? Cover Art? Etc.

I used a mini-market research process to select my title. With help from friends and family I generated a list of ten possible titles, then surveyed fifty people leaving a bookstore who expressed interest in the topic of the book. I found the titles that created a vivid picture in people’s mind did the best.

I would strongly recommend anyone interested in publishing their first book hire an editor to take their writing to a higher level. My initial product was really a compilation of stories, not a book, but with my editor’s general comments on flow, pacing, sensory detail, etc., I was able to create a book. While my editor definitely thought the final product was publishable, my research indicated that it is extremely difficult for first time authors to be published in today’s market. Unless I was willing to patiently send it from one publisher to another for several years, I needed to self-publish.

While I published through Amazon’s self-publishing arm, I did the inside block myself and hired a professional designer for the cover, since I did not like the quality of the self-publisher’s sample products.

  1. In one sentence, tell us why we should read My Flag Grew Stars?
My Flag Grew Stars, reading like a novel, brings history to life and relates an inspiring story of adapting to world-shattering change.

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