Today, I have an interview with George Chronis, author of Sudetenland, which the synopsis states is a “suspenseful and sweeping historical fiction set against Central European intrigue during the late 1930s leading up to 1938’s Munich Conference.”
With smart characters and a great story, George’s debut novel is one you’ll want to consider if you like the 1930s/WWII era! In the interview, George will talk about how he came to writing, the era he’s writing in, and even his favorite films. It’s very interesting!
Hi George, and welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! How has the launch for your first novel, Sudetenland, been for you? Such an interesting historical book.
George: Thank you very much for having me! The launch has been new and exciting. This is my first novel, and it is self-published, so you do your research and discover all of these wonderful options available. The e-book version came out in October, and I just put out a print version with CreateSpace this month. In-between I have worked with some delightful people to get the word out about Sudetenland.
Erin: That’s so wonderful! New and exciting! Come in and have a seat. I’m sure it’s not snowing in California, but alas, in Ohio, we have snow again. I’ll glad you wore your coat. Let’s heat up with some hot tea or a beverage of your choice?
George: Tea would be wonderful, thanks. Well, my little slice of California is atypical. We are 6,000 feet up and three weekends ago a big storm rumbled through and dropped a foot of snow on us… so I am sympathetic. But you are right, it’s very hot right now. We’re getting mid-60s during the day and mid-40s at night. But in Los Angeles you can add 20 degrees.
Erin: I’ll pour that tea, still very chilly here. I forget sometimes that parts of California have different weather conditions. I’m so far removed. How about we get started!
Q: You’re a former journalist turned author. I talk to many fellow journalists who end up writing historical novels. I suppose it’s the research component? What do you think? (Or maybe the urge to write more than what’s allowed in the ever-decreasing news space? Ha!)
George: When I was a kid I devoured history books with a passion, so I guess it all started back then. I arrived at journalism from a weird angle. In college I was on the speech and debate team, which teaches you research, structure and delivery skills that mirror those needed by a journalist. My first love was film, but when that did not work out as planned, I landed a writing opportunity and ran with it. But working as a journalist and editor gave me the further skills and experience that made it possible for me to consider writing a book.
Q: Your bio says that you are lover of old cinema and world history. When and how did you become inspired to start researching your first novel? How long did it take to research?
George:The kernel for Sudetenland had been germinating for a long time. In addition to reading history, back as a teen I was a scale modeler. There was a national association that helped with a lot of networking, including pen pal matchmaking. During the 1970s I ended up with a pen pal in Prague. I would send him model kits and he would send me books and magazines. Naturally, I could not read any of this material, but there were plenty of color plates and you got a good sense of the topic context. Think of it as a window on 20th Century history from a Czechoslovak perspective. After that I was interested in that perspective and began picking up sources in English. Somewhere in the mid-1990s I came across a wonderfully well-researched magazine article that was a what-if examination of what might have happened had Germany and Czechoslovakia come to blows in 1938. That got me thinking on taking a fictional approach and I started directed research to that goal in 1999.
Q: How did you conduct your research, for instance, did you do it just online, go to various libraries, or travel? How did you compile it all?
George: All of those! So much has changed since I started this project. Most of the primary research was done via used books acquired at local shops or found and purchased online. Two books were pivotal. There was Master of Spies by Frantisek Moravec. He was the person in charge of Czech military intelligence and it is a fascinating read with amazing details. Then there is Berlin Diary by William Shirer. He was an amazing journalist that worked for Hearst and went on to be one of Edward R. Murrow’s radio broadcasters in Europe with CBS. Both of these fellows had these amazing first-person observations and anecdotes. There was so much wonderful material between the two of them that the only way I could avoid guilt in using it all was making them both characters. I also spent two weeks in Prague in 2000 to try and soak up as much background and ambiance as possible.
What came out of this primary research was a day-by-day timeline running between 1937 and 1938 with significant historical events. There were less frequent date entries running all the way back to 1932. The end document was huge but it gave me a roadmap of where characters could be on any given day and insight on what I could have them do. After I started writing I found online sources to be a fantastic tool for contextual research. You can know where you want a character to be and what you want them to do when you sit down to write a scene, then you realize you need a hotel or bridge, etc. That’s where quick online searches helped a lot. What started out in a collection of physical documents and volumes ended up as digital storage.
Q: Why do the 1930s in particular intrigue you?
George: My wife says it is a past life and she might be right. But when you grow up in Los Angeles in a certain era with revival houses, local TV stations showing old flicks in the wee hours and a cable network called Z Channel dedicated to cinema, you have all of these windows on past eras. The ’30s was a decade of tremendous upheaval and technological change. People had to think quick and land on their feet to stay ahead. That’s why I think you see so many smart and sassy characters coming out of that decade. There’s also a great sense of adventure that permeates the era. You can call it escapism for people who wanted to forget their troubles for a while, but you see these delightful adventure stories and screwball comedies coming out of the 1930s that I simply adore.
Q: Secondly, your novel is set in this time of war, leading up to the Munich Conference, and focuses on the political aspects of the time and the role of the French. Can you talk about why this point in time was crucial, important, or interesting?
George: Beyond this being a fascinating period in history in its own right with critical implications to how the world is today, it all goes back to that what-if scenario I mentioned before. What happens if the crisis does erupt into conflict before there can be a Munich Conference? In reality, it would not have taken very much and I insert a plausible incident in late September 1938 that careens history in a different direction. The world becomes a very different place. The other important reason is that in making this change I would have the opportunity to establish a very different Cold War with very different dynamics. Cold War fiction was a genre I really enjoyed but the genre lost its steam with the fall of the Berlin Wall. I wanted my own Cold War to play with that no one else would have. Sudetenland was the best and most factually supportable route to this end.
Q: Why did you choose to focus on the characters that you did in your novels? How much of a role did the foreign correspondents, diplomats, intelligence operatives, etc. play in your novel and in history?
George: Originally, Sudetenland was a much less ambitious story. The book was going to be more of a spy thriller with far fewer characters. But what I have found is that your best characters write themselves. That was the case with Ros, the only correspondent I envisioned early on. I fell in love with her and wanted to give her more to do. That required throwing out the second act and crafting a whole new one. Then I needed some other correspondents for her to play off of. The whole bunch pretty much ran off with the show. Yet in addition to getting some wonderful material out of them, the correspondents added this whole chaotic element to the narrative that was very fun to work with. They also made it possible to add in some screwball comedy for tension relief. Another benefit is that with all of these characters I could put more first-person experiences into the story by taking them to more locales where something critical was happening. I used real people in much the same way by having them play the part they lived. Jan Masaryk, for example. He was the Czechoslovak ambassador to the United Kingdom. By all accounts a very colorful character. You read up as much as you can on where he was and what he said, and then fill in as plausibly as possible when you extend the person when necessary in the fiction.
Q: How do you feel that the thirties decade ushered in important changes within the United States? And in comparison, how do you feel that they changed the world?
George: Perhaps in a display of national dynamism.In many ways the United States in the 1930s is a country attempting to find its way – staggering, trying to right itself from a major body blow. There is a lot of shared trauma and solidarity to pull together and get ahead. So the focus is primarily domestic. But in the world at large there is a lot of nasty stuff happening that keeps interrupting that focus. World War II forces the U.S. to take a commanding lead in global affairs. But 1930s America is a much more tentative player on the world stage. The question I will be developing in the sequel is how does the U.S. react when there is no World War II and the country is now faced with an early Cold War.
Q: Why did you decide to write Sudetenland as a historical fiction as opposed to a non-fiction? You’ve shared a lot of factual information, so where is the line drawn for you?
George: On the one hand there is a great deal of under-appreciated history that I wanted to share with others but I was more driven to tell a good story. The history gives you the conditions and context to tell a good story.
Q: Will your next book be a sequel and continue on in time chronologically?
George: There is a sequel in the works that I am doing primary research on, and yes it will continue on chronologically where Sudetenland leaves off. The next book, however, is a Film Noir that I am very fond of. The story started out life as a screenplay I wrote years ago that actually got some traction with a producer at a major studio for a time. Most people who read it back then thought it was enjoyable more like a book despite the script form. So I am updating the narrative and crafting it into a novel. It is a much smaller story than Sudetenland yet I am enjoying breathing new life and depth into it.
Q: Do you have advice for other journalists who jump the fence into novel writing? For instance, I have to always remember to switch between AP style and Chicago Manual of Style!
George: Again, my path to writing a novel is a little weird. I was a film student in a screenplay program. Inside my noggin the voice of my thesis advisor still intones directives on narrative structure and character development. Then there is the journalism experience that helps me adapt all of that into a novel format. Most days, however, I have this poignant feeling that I am simply channeling Howard Hawks. My advice is that there is no singular way to write a novel, or skill set to get there. People can argue about whether internal threat or external threat is more compelling, of whether more dialogue or less dialogue is appropriate, or whether prose is written for the sake of grammatical flourish or driving the narrative – these are all personal tastes. Yet everyone appreciates reading a good story. So if you have a good story to tell, write it, the rest will attend to itself.
Q: What other time periods in history interest you? Will you write about any others?
George: The next book takes places in the late 1940s. There are a couple of contemporary stories I’d like work up, as well as a number of other stories that are set around the Civil War and the Spanish American War. One of the contemporary projects has historical hooks going back to the 4th Century.
Q: As stated, you like 1930s cinema. What are some of your favorite movies of that period and why?
George: Oh my, I could go on a bit answering that one but I will try to be concise. Only Angels Have Wings: at its heart its a rewarding relationship movie about a group of pilots with a dangerous job and how they cope. Arise My Love: what a girl has to do to get her props as a correspondent with lots of heart and humor. The Adventures of Robin Hood: simply an all-round perfect film. His Girl Friday: one of the best flicks ever made set around screwball reporters. Too Hot to Handle: a mostly outlandish but fun romp about newsreel reporters who will stop at nothing to get the story. If I Were King: an endearing and touching take on poet François Villon matching wits with King Louis XI.
Q: What books and authors interest you? Have any other authors inspired your own writing?
George: Probably most of my inspiration comes from director Howard Hawks in the kinds of stories I want to tell and the way in which I want to tell them. From the literary side, Tom Clancy proved you could dive deep into detail and craft a hard charging narrative around the facts. Umberto Eco for the beautifully arcane circumstances that he fashions. Dashiell Hammett and Edgar Rice Burrows for their deeply personal and compelling pulp adventures. Jules Verne, for if you actually read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea you are introduced to a seething political commentary on the British Empire that is haunting. For a consecutive set of the most imaginative stories: James P. Hogan.
Erin: Thank you so much George for doing this quick interview with me. I wish you success! I’m always happy to support new writers! Do stop back by anytime! 🙂
George: The pleasure is all mine, Erin. Thank you very much for the opportunity.
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Sudetenland is the premiere novel by author George T. Chronis. The book delivers suspenseful and sweeping historical fiction set against Central European intrigue during the late 1930s leading up to 1938’s Munich Conference. Having swallowed up Austria, Adolph Hitler now covets Czechoslovakian territory. Only France has the power to stand beside the government in Prague against Germany… but will she? The characters are the smart and sometimes wise-cracking men and women of this era – the foreign correspondents, intelligence officers, diplomats and career military – who are on the front lines of that decade’s most dangerous political crisis. If Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš ignores the advice of French premier Édouard Daladier and refuses to give up Bohemian territory willingly, then Hitler orders that it be taken by force. The novel takes readers behind the scenes into the deliberations and high drama taking place within major European capitals such as Prague, Paris, Berlin, Vienna and London as the continent hurtles toward the crucible of a shooting war.
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Praise for Sudetenland~
“Chronis impresses with such a challenging and intriguing debut effort, well written, impeccably researched.”
— Melinda, Unshelfish
“Anyone that is looking for a thorough and rewarding read will enjoy Sudetenland.” — Diana, BookNerd
“The plot moves quickly along keeping you intrigued with well defined characters and great imagery to help immerse yourself in the story… I adored the way George managed to weave together the tragedy of war, depression and politics with romance, love and hope.” — Jennifer, pirategrl1014
Author George Chronis, Biography~
After years as a journalist and magazine editor, George T. Chronis decided to return to his lifelong passion, storytelling. A lover of both 1930s cinema and world history, Chronis is now devoted to bringing life to the mid-20th Century fictional narratives that have been in his thoughts for years.
Sudetenland© is his first novel. Taking place during turbulent times in Central Europe during the 1930s, the book took eight years to research and write. The author is already hard at work on his second novel.
Chronis is married with two daughters, and lives with his wife in a Southern California mountain community.
For more information please visit the Sudetenland website or George T. Chronis’s website, or follow him on Tumblr. Subscribe to George T. Chronis’s newsletter.
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