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Susan Krawitz


Holiday House sat down with Susan Krawitz to talk about her first novel, VIVA, ROSE!, an adventure set in the twilight of America’s Old West.

Susan, please tell us about the story of Viva, Rose!

When thirteen-year-old Rose sees a newspaper photo of her brother Abraham with the notorious outlaw Pancho Villa, she’s outraged, because Abe had told her he’d gone off to be a cowboy, not a bandit. When she takes matters into her own hands and tries to get him to come back home, she’s kidnapped by Villa’s men and taken to their secret desert hideaway. As Rose learns to lie, hide, and ride like a bandit, she discovers the real meaning of freedom and what she's willing to risk to get hers back.

Where did you get your inspiration for this book?

My great-aunt Hannah’s house in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, was a central gathering place for our family during my early childhood, and the place where the idea for Viva, Rose! was born. Even though we were told not to, my cousins and sisters loved prowling around the mysterious third floor where our most-elderly relatives lived. During one snoop, I spotted a curious item draped over a chair in my great-aunt Edie’s room—a colorful Mexican serape.

Because I wasn’t supposed to be in that room, I couldn’t ask anyone why the serape was there, but my uncle Sheldon had told us kids stories of red-headed cousin Rose Solomon who, with her brother Abraham, used to visit from their home in San Antonio, Texas. The wildest tale he told us was that Abe had left his family to ride with Pancho Villa’s gang during the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s. Were these stories true, or was Uncle Sheldon just entertaining the kids?

Thirty years ago, I gave my sister, a historian, a T-shirt with a picture of Pancho Villa’s gang on it, and we joked about which bandito might be our cousin. Soon after, she came back from a trip to San Antonio with a copy of an article she’d found in the library about Abe himself. Amazingly, it confirmed our family legends and created some new ones as well.

What makes this book special to you?

Of course, the family history that inspired the story makes the book very special. But in the writing process, some core messages rose up that became very significant to me as well. There are themes of self-definition and maturity, and of pushing past perceived boundaries. But most important to me, Rose discovers that in spite of dissimilarities in appearance, language, religion and culture, everyone experiencing the human journey is in some way struggling with some kind of personal liberation from bondage, however large or small. And that’s a concept that can potentially connect instead of divide us.

What inspired you to become an artist and author?

Miss Eisenstein, my second grade teacher in Chicago, was the first person who encouraged my writing. Wherever I moved after that, there was always a teacher who appreciated my ability to write. They told me I’d be a writer someday, not that I really believed them, because I knew that was anything but an easy path. And then, in my last year in high school, I won third place in a national writing contest for a humorous short story. I was heading to college, and so I asked my creative writing teacher if she thought I should study writing there. And she told me no, she didn’t. It took a while, but eventually, I decided not to believe her either. I realized that the choice to do what I wanted with my life couldn’t be based on anyone else’s support or condemnation, but on my very own desire, decision, and determination.

Have you always had pets?

As a child, my silver tabby cat Pitter Patter was my first favorite pet. My horse Echo held this position for 23 years, but he’s passed on, and my two orange tomcats Tiger and Harry are currently tied for that honor.

Who was your hero growing up? Who is it now?

Hm. Can’t say I remember having a hero growing up, but if I did, it would have been either a redheaded Olympic show jumper rider named Rodney Jenkins (the only person on earth I’ve ever asked for an autograph), or the protagonist of whatever book I was currently reading. As for now, it’s my neighbor Mary Louise Wilson, an actress who in her fifties decided to give her career a fabulous second act and wrote a one-woman play called Full Gallop to perform that won several awards. She then went on to win a best supporting actress Tony award in her seventies. She’s made me believe in the power of never-too-late.

If there is one thing you could tell your young readers about life, what would you say?

Follow your heart and trust your instincts. When you decide what you want to do with your life, try to be as undiscourage-able as possible.

MORE ABOUT SUSAN KRAWITZ

Susan Krawitz is a freelance writer and editor who lives with her daughter, two orange cats, and a small flock of affectionate chickens on an old farmstead in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her work has been published in several magazines including Practical Horseman, Upstate House, and NY House. Viva, Rose!, winner of the Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award, is her first novel. For more on Susan, visit her website and follow her on Twitter, @wineberriez.

Books by Susan Krawitz

Viva, Rose!, Trade Binding