GN, Barbara Robinson, Interview w/Renata
I thought I'd be interviewing author Nike Chillemi about her new release GOODBYE NOEL, a Christmas/New Year themed historic romantic suspense, but she couldn't make it. To my great surprise Renata Lenart, the mother of the book's heroine and a Czechoslovak immigrant (in the 1940s ) is here to be interviewed. What a treat! And you can find this beautiful new novel at Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.com for your Kindle or Nook. Available wherever fine books are sold. I think this is the prettiest book cover I've seen all year.
Barbara: It's my understanding that GOODBYE NOEL points out how universally Christmas was celebrated in your day in America. Was it really a time of good cheer and well-wishing across the land?
Renata: Bad things happened to good people then, just as they do today, jo. For example, in GOODBYE NOEL, a murder victim is found with her head bashed in under her Christmas tree a few days after Christmas with her infant child in the next room. [sigh] Still, in my day the Christmas season was a time of excitement and anticipation in America. Nearly all the houses on any given street were decked out. Oh, the decorations might have been simpler, or homemade, but they were there. Every town square had not only a decorated tree, but a crèche. It was generally a very joyful time of year.
Barbara: Talk about a scary Christmas, GOODBYE NOEL opens with your daughter Katrina finding a body. Can you give us an example of what Katrina, received as a Christmas present in those days?
Renata: Well, Katrina was a young woman in 1946, when GOODBYE NOEL was set and she's what you'd call a girly-girl. So, she might receive a pair of heeled peep-toe shoes or slippers, in pink, of course. Pink was one of her favorite colors. Or a pair of kidskin gloves. My husband always made each of us a new hat. My Ambroz owned a millinery shop, said to be the finest on Long Island at that time. Of course, the gift mentioned in the novel is a toboggan. That was a gift given by his parents to young Willie Brogna and Katrina was helping him try it out. When they sailed down the hill, they saw something bloody on a neighbor's property and that led to the discovery of a murder.
Barbara: Takes the joy right out of the Christmas the tree, doesn't it? Since the body was found under the tree, I mean.
Renata: Oh muj, well it was a scary time all right, especially when the bodies started piling up. Detective Ian Daltry began to fear the murderer would strike again and again. Of course, Ian felt something special for Katrina from the moment he first saw her and he feared her life might be in danger. But my daughter did not make it easy for him.
Barbara: I understand that on that first day, Katrina whispered a promise to always protect the infant that was left an orphan.
Renata: Jo, my daughter, Katrina, became quite attached to that little one. In fact, when Ian Daltry showed up demanding that the baby be given to his aunt in Bay Shore, Katrina wanted to shove him right into a snow bank. She had no trouble going toe-to-toe with him. I did mention she made him jump through a few hoops in order to gain her affection. [she chuckles, lightly]
Barbara: How does this story inspire Christian readers?
Renata: The central themes of all of Nike Chillemi's novels are love and justice. That love, the deep love God has instilled in the spirit of every human is very powerful, jo. And as Christians, the love of God that we know and that we strive to express cannot be defeated. God's love is the most powerful force on earth. In GOODBYE NOEL, as the story develops we see Katrina and Ian falling in love. They begin to share deeper intimacies. Now in your day, I know that suggests something quite different than the way we thought of it. What Katrina and Ian shared were the deepest feelings they had. They barred their souls and kept no secrets from each other. In addition, both Katrina and Ian wanted to the killer brought to justice. They both had strong feelings that there must be resolution in that area.
Barbara: As the mother in this story, describe how you decorated your house for Christmas.
Renata: I had a beloved decoration I brought from Czechoslovakia that had hung on my mother's tree...a tiny bell made of seed pearls inside a beaded wreath. When our pastor's wife told me Stewart's Merchantile was getting in ornaments from my country, well, Katrina and I got all dressed up for an afternoon out, jo. We went to the inn for a dinner of roast chicken and sour cherry compote. After that, as you say today, we shopped till we dropped. I came home with a good many more handmade ornaments from Czechoslovakia than perhaps I should have. [she looks from beneath her lashes, slyly] That year, however, I asked Katrina decorate the tree and she has a decorating philosophy that more is more. She put all the ornaments we bought on the tree next to all the homemade ones we had kept from year to year. The ones that held our family's history. Oh muj, the tree was gorgeous when she was finished.
Barbara: What was the traditional Christmas dinner like?
Renata: Christmas Eve is traditionally a meatless meal in Czechoslovakia as that night we await the birth of the Savior. It is "symbolically" a pre-Christmas fast even though the table is filled with food. [runs a red polished nail under the double strand of pearls at her neck] In Czechoslovakia, most families would serve fried carp. If I remember, the year of all those murders, we had salmon in a sour cream sauce. Now Christmas Day is quite different. We put out the good china for breakfast, Bavarian china, of course. We serve yeast breads, cakes, and homemade donuts. For dinner, it was ham, with numerous vegetable side dishes, and roasted potatoes. Of course, I bake my special walnut cookies dusted in powdered sugar for Christmas and also kolachky, you call them Linzer Tarts.
Barbara: Thanks for being a guest on my blog today, Renata. Can you explain to my readers what they'll get out of this Christmas tale? I know they'll be transported back in time to 1946, but what themes might they encounter?
Renata: I think the reader will be transported into an America that had just come out of a devastating war, WWII, where many, many American young men died. The country was recovering from that loss. Yet, there was a spirit of great optimism. Americans at that time were a roll up your sleeves and get it done type of people. It wasn't unusual for one neighbor pitch in and help another. It was as if we were all in this thing together and we all wanted to make something of our country and ourselves. I think something we had then that's missing now is that we all had a sense we were building upon American culture, expanding it. We knew we were standing on the shoulders of giants. We were so proud to be Americans. Back then, we thought that there was nearly nothing that could not be accomplished with hard work. And we did accomplish an awful lot. I don't mean to brag, but we did. I think America is facing some challenges now and that readers will find encouragement and hope in this novel.
Here's the first chapter. Katrina is the heroine and Renata's daughter.
Long Island, NY ~ December, 1946
Katrina Lenart nodded toward a break in the leafless maples and snow covered pines lining Hill Street. A fat blue jay sat on the tip of a pine branch and quirked his head at her, almost mocking. The sun, more the color of wheat than yellow, floated in the pale, cloudless, winter sky, surrendering little heat.
It might seem like we're almost there to you, but we still have to climb that hill. It wasn't high, but steep, as if a pitiless hand had gouged earth from its side. She, turned her head back and squinted against the glare off the snow, adjusting her black velvet earmuffs, stitched into a floret on one side, all the rage since the war.
Said just like a female. Willie Brogna grinned, pulling the toboggan behind him, his rubber boots stomping deep impressions in the fresh fallen snow. Pivoting, he gave her a grateful smile. I know you're just being nice, helping me try out my favorite Christmas present, with my sister on her honeymoon and all. He resumed his climb, out-pacing her.
Determined to put her best friend's teenage brother in his place, Katrina lengthened her strides and arrived at the top of the incline breathing hard. People often comment on how nice I am… and courteous. She tossed off a teasing smile.
The tall, lanky teen snorted then tugged on his hand-knit gloves, securing them, and flexed his fingers.
Shading her eyes with a cable knit glove, she gazed south, unable to see the village of Sanctuary Point or the Great South Bay through the trees. Directly below, the ground dropped away into an empty lot. Beyond that -- Hill Street and the Bauer cottage.
Are you ready? I'll steer and you take the rumble seat. Willie knelt and positioned the toboggan for the first run down the steep hill. Don't forget to hang on tight, I'm gonna let 'er rip, if that won't bruise the dignity of Memorial's most promising nurse.
Katrina gave him a playful smack on the arm. How you do go on. Just watch out for that huge bump down there.
Aw, that's not even a blip on the radar.
She hunkered down behind him and clasped her arms around his waist. The toboggan sped down the hill, her hair airborne behind her. Icy snow crystals flew into her face. They hit the bump and went aloft. Willieee, she shrieked.
They landed so hard her teeth clattered.
When they came to a stop, Willie jumped off. While we were in the air, I saw something near Mrs. Bauer's cottage. Does she have a cat? It looked like a hurt animal… something bloody.
He trotted across the street. It's not in the yard. It's closer and to the side of the road. He hastened down Hill Street, slipping and sliding, to the edge of the Bauer property.
Katrina hurried down the sloping street after him, her arms stretched out for balance. If this was his idea of a practical joke, she'd let him have it.
Willie bent over the object on the ground. Rising, he twisted toward her. Well, it's not an animal.
Rushing to his side, she tried to catch her breath. It's blood on a kitchen towel. Not a lot, but sufficient to warrant concern. Please, let everything be all right.
Do you suppose Mrs. Bauer cut herself out here?
We'd better check on her. Katrina raced back up the hill after Willie along the length of the lot, as fast as she could. She slipped but regained her footing on Bauer's icy walk. When she reached the stoop, her breath came in short painful gasps.
Willie hurdled the two steps and came to a stop on the miniscule porch. The front door stood ajar.
Uneasiness halted her halting gait. Yet, Katrina followed and called. Mrs. Bauer, hello.
Willie nudged the door and shouted. Mrs. Bauer, are you in there?
She peered between the door and its frame into dimness. Mrs. Bauer… Noel, it's Katrina, your neighbor.
This is getting us nowhere. Willie gave the door a shove.
The living room was chilly and silent -- something definitely not right. Mrs. Bauer wouldn't leave the door open on such a cold day, not even a crack. Katrina eased in. Hello, anyone home? She stepped around the couch and froze.
Noel Bauer lay on her living room floor, in front of a decorated Christmas tree. Blood pooled beneath her head.
Oh, my Lord. Katrina rushed to the woman and knelt, applying two fingers to her neck. Willie, she has no pulse.
I mean, I know you're a nurse, but are you sure?
She's dead. Katrina's voice shook in her throat. She's not breathing and her body temperature isn't warm.
The telephone lines come up here, so I'll bet she has a phone. We'd better call the police. This is awful. His eyes darted around the room. There… in the kitchen.
Katrina took a deep breath and calmed herself. How strange and brutal life could be. Yesterday, gay and carefree, she stood as maid-of-honor in Willie's sister's wedding. Today she'd found Noel Bauer's corpse.
She hurried to the phone, dialed the village operator, and asked to be connected to the police station. After relaying the information to young Officer Classen, whose mother worked with her at the hospital, she sank onto a chair at the table and held her head in her hands. There was something peculiar about the position of Noel Bauer's body Katrina couldn't put her finger on, as if she were reaching for something.
Cries of an infant came from the bedroom down the hallway.
Standing by the Christmas tree, Katrina rocked the infant wrapped in a pink blanket. She took a small green and white glass ornament from the top of the tree and dangled it before the baby's face. Look how pretty. Your mommy made such a lovely tree for you. Her eyes misted and her gaze slid to the lifeless form on the floor. A lump formed in her throat.
Detective Daltry's here. Willie turned from the window and hurried to open the door.
Ian Daltry entered with rookie-officer Robert Classen at his heels. The detective removed his brown fedora freeing a riot of salt and pepper hair. He nodded toward Katrina. Miss Lenart, you phoned the station?
Yes, Willie and I found Mrs. Bauer. She glanced at the teen, who stood by the front window, a stricken look on his face. She's gone.
Detective Daltry placed his hat on the coffee table and bent over the still form. The blood on the floor, dark and thick had begun to coagulate. Straightening, he looked at Katrina, his lips in a tight line. You're right. She's dead. I'd guess less than an hour.
Katrina took a halting step toward the body, but the detective put up a staying hand to stop her. She cleared her throat. Severe trauma to the head. She couldn't survive a wound like that.
That's my take on it. I'll phone the medical examiner.
Willie pointed. Phone's in the kitchen.
The detective nodded, turned on his heel, crossed the living room, and disappeared.
Katrina followed stiff legged part way across the room. She wanted to do something, but didn't know what.
Officer Classen stepped forward and blocked her path. You can't go into the kitchen.
She stopped in her tracks, stroked the infant's soft hair, and held her closer. I had no idea Mrs. Bauer had a baby. She closed the house in early spring last year and was gone over six months. She's been back only about three months. Since then, she'd been reclusive, but why?
The baby grabbed for the ornament and cooed.
Katrina lifted the glass bulb away from the tiny hand. Oh no, you don't. You're a quick little lady, aren't you? Yes you are. She made an exaggerated smiling face and shook her head.
The baby started fussing.
Are you cold? Katrina pulled the blanket tight around the infant, rubbed her tiny hands, and blew warm breath on them.
I'd like to throw a log on the fire for the baby, but can't touch anything until we complete our investigation. The young officer shifted from foot to foot.
Detective Daltry emerged from the kitchen and advanced toward her. He touched the pink blanket. A girl. A tremor ran through his fingers and he dropped his hand to his side.
Isn't she pretty? Katrina stroked the infant's face. When she glanced up, she thought she saw pain flicker in the detective's eyes, and then it was gone.
Her mother was lovely. Such a shame. Officer Classen stood over the body with a camera. Detective, do you want me to start taking photographs?
He cleared his throat. Yes, begin with the body and work out to the periphery of the room. Don't spare the film.
The child gurgled, squirmed, and kicked her legs against the coverlet wrapped tight around her. Aren't you a feisty one? Katrina kissed the baby's little fist. You're going to be fine. Somehow, I'll make sure. I promise.
The detective rocked back on his heels and raked his hand through his hair, mangling it. He cast a quick glance at the hearth. With the fire nearly out and the door opening and closing, perhaps the child shouldn't be here. I can phone my neighbor. She watches my daughter when I'm working. I'm sure she'd look after the little one until we figure out what to do with her.
The baby made a face and fidgeted, her knees pumping.
No. That's not necessary. Katrina held the baby tighter, her need to protect this infant growing by the second. I live down the street, and I'm a maternity nurse. If you consent, I'll take her home. I'm sure my mother will agree to mind her while I'm working at the hospital.
A huge wail came from the tiny mouth.
Maybe she's hungry. Willie took two quick steps. Let me see if there's milk in the kitchen.
The detective shook his head. Sorry, off limits. You can't touch or remove anything. We haven't done a walk-through yet and they'll want to brush for finger prints.
Katrina placed the baby on her shoulder and rubbed her back in a circular motion. This child can't drink bottled milk. I'm sure her mother nursed her, most do. We'll have to make formula from evaporated milk. What did men know about babies?
Won't you need a baby bottle? Willie plunked both hands on his hips.
Yes, or something similar. I need to get this baby home where Momma can help me. Katrina bounced the fussing infant in her arms and checked the seat of the diaper. She's dry and didn't leave us a present in her pants.
Detective Daltry moved to Katrina's side and stroked the baby's back. Officer Classen can drive you home. He turned toward the rookie cop. Wait up on the photos and take this young woman and the child down the hill. When you get to the edge of the Bauer property, drive on the wrong side of the street. I'm calling the troopers station to see if they can get any tire impressions near where we picked up the bloody towel.
If Lorne Kincade was finished with trooper training, we'd get that done right quick. Robert opened the door and held it for Katrina.
You bet you would. Willie tried for a grin, but only one side of his lips lifted. Thing is, he won't even start the training until he and my sister get back from their honeymoon.
Katrina rocked the baby whose face had turned bright pink. Heavens to Besty, let's not rush the newlyweds home in our talk. She tried for a smile and managed a small one.
The detective pivoted toward the window. Mr. Brogna… Willie, I'd like you to stay. I have questions for you. Miss Lenart, I'll question your later.
The infant emitted a piercing cry.
Katrina hurried toward the door. Our house is the first one on the right side.