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Sunday, December 17, 2017

AGE IS JUST A NUMBER—THE UNSINKABLE KATHRYN BRAUND

AGE IS JUST A NUMBER
THE UNSINKABLE KATHRYN BRAUND

One of the most amazing women in my life is my aunt-in-law, Kathryn Kitty Braund—world renown dog breeder and trainer, author of five highly regarded non-fiction dog related books, editor of a long-running must read newsletter for dog aficionados, and never less than a force to be reckoned with. Several weeks ago, she celebrated her 97th birthday with the publication of her 5th novel, Melinda Mahoney Powers

Did you get that? She’s 97 years-old and still putting words on paper, finishing what she writes, and manages all the switches and horns associated with modern publishing. At 97, she actively engages in social media, works on marketing and promotion, and is already working on her next novel. I can only hope to be half as sharp as Kitty if I get to the point of reaching my century mark.

Melinda Mahoney Powers is a fictional biography—the saga of life shaping events, the overcoming of crushing experiences, and the spectacular rise and unravelling of a glamorous 1940s stage and film star to rival Nora Desmond in Sunset Boulevard

Taking a break from her active schedule, Kitty sat down with me to answer some of my many questions...
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Can you share some of the highlights of your 97 years hanging around on the planet earth?

One of the most devastating changes in my young life occurred when I was about five and living in San Francisco. I was in the back yard of our nice house playing with our dog when I heard loud noises from inside the house. It was my father beating my mother, not an uncommon occurrence. There was great commotion. My mother was crying as she and my oldest brother, Louis who was 11, were being thrown out of the house. Lou had confronted my alcoholic father to stop him beating my mother. My father literally kicked him out and banished him from the house. Afterward, my mother filed for divorce. We were then very poor and mother was ostracized by all the women she knew. In those days, women did not ever divorce husbands. They were supposed to suffer any indignity.

However, even though it was rough, we did just fine—my mother, with three sons and me, the lone daughter. As we grew up, the boys and I all worked, doing everything from paper routes to cleaning houses to taking care of children the same age as me, etc. Mother did send me to the YMCA in the Mission district because I was easily led into trouble. I became a child actress at the YMCA, and was sought after for plays with the city’s professional groups—even plays at Berkeley, and every year at Mt. Tamaulipas. 

I loved learning and wanted to grow up to be an English teacher. Sadly, during school, I was left out of social groups because I had grown to be very tall. I suffered from the related bullying, even though nobody could deny I was the school’s best actress.

When it came time for college, we could not afford for me to go. Instead, I went to a six month business school and learned keyboards. I did all kinds of jobs to help with family expenses, even working at the World’s Fair in the Shakespearean exhibit. Then I received an offer to go to Connecticut to perform in summer stock.

I was leading lady in all the show in Connecticut in which I appeared. This prompted me to move to New York City, thinking I would become a star. I had $5 for a week’s rent, and $1 for food. Undaunted, I quickly got a job with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Later, I got a job working for two men starting a printing business. I realized I had to give up my show business aspirations because I had to do other work to live. I returned to Calif to after my mother was hit by a car on her way to work. Once there, I found work as a waitress to support both of us and take care of her while she recuperated.

My employers in New York wanted me back. They even offered to send money for my travelling expenses. When my mother was able to take care of herself again, I took up the their offer, returning to NY to help them build up their business. 

I still harbored dreams of being an actress and began working as a straight girl for two vaudevillians. I also tried out for other shows, but I was just too tall for the leading men then on Broadway. I did get hired to be part of a road show with Hollywood comedienne Zasu Pitts, with whom I toured Canada and U.S. This led to my going to Europe with the USO—and what a plus that was. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were part of the tour. When I returned to the United States, I found out Martin and Lewis had stolen all the gifts I bought in Switzerland, which they said I could store in their locker—ha!

I then met my first husband. I had my son Pat while we were in New York. Later I had my son Gary when we were back home in California. I kept working and became the manager for two top aerospace companies working on top secret projects for the military. I had 18 people working for me at one time. The job was taken away from me when I was replaced by a male manager. In those days women weren’t considered capable of holding down those types of jobs—ha! The switch resulted in the small division, which I had grown into becoming a part of one of the big companies, failing after they let me go. The same thing happened again when I worked for Boeing. However, that time, an Air Force commander threatened to take away projects and money from Boeing unless they gave me back my job. Boeing did not comply, thinking the commander was bluffing, but he followed through on his threats.

My first marriage went very sour, as my once nice husband had become an awful alcoholic, leading to divorce. I met Buzz, my second husband, in California. My boys were then nine and eleven. I was still working for military contractors, as Buzz did, but I had also begun to establish a reputation as a dog trainer. Buzz worked with me to turn our dogs into champions of their breed and obedience stars in dog shows. 

I began writing while Buzz and I were station at the various military field bases where the civilian companies we worked for were assigned. After several years as a contributing editor to a big dog magazine, I was asked to write a book on Portuguese Water Dogs. I was thrilled and began researching everything I could about the breed. Writing a succession of similar dog books taught me great lessons.

I wrote my first novel, Rosa and the Prince, after my Buzz began being taken by Alzheimer’s. It took four years to write because I researched for two years before beginning to put words on paper. I loved doing research. A dear wealthy friend gave me money to buy a house in southern California. Without that help, I would not have been able to do much. 

Buzz was becoming significantly more difficult to care for. When we were station in Montana, we’d had a wonderful doctor who was fresh out of medical school. His father had been our previous doctor, and the son is still my doctor today. I spoke with him, and he said he could help me deal with Buzz’s challenges with Alzheimer’s. As a result, we moved back to Montana, where I still live today.

I can’t remember it all anymore, but those are the basics.

As a child, you had a somewhat hardscrabble upbringing. How did this shape you as a writer?

I was always vitally interested in everything I did and everything happening around me. My experiences after being abused by my father and another man, made me both promiscuous and cold. Those experiences shaped my behaviors in life. 

My experiences as a young actress helped me later realize understanding the structure of the plays in which I had appeared were an advantage for a writer. Scenes have to build in order to make audiences want more. I think all hopeful writers should spend as much time going to plays and observing how the scenes are constructed to keep audience interest high. One does the same thing within chapters when writing books. You must end chapters and scenes with audiences wanting more. Plays and how they are put together were wonderful teaching sessions for me.

I was highly affected as a child and young adult by the horrific sex slave trade, which was barely recognized as such back then. I met girls whose lives were wasted in sexual slavery. Not that they could have escaped from what they were doing. With one exception, every book I have written has included a chapter or two examining a true story of how dangerous it can be for poorer children—boys as well as girls—who mistakenly think running away from home will make things better for them. 

Unfortunately, most are immediately caught up by pimps or evil men who ruin their lives. Sex trafficking is now worse than it has ever been in the world—and there doesn’t seem to be anything anyone can do about it. Look at the slave auctions that are now the rage in certain parts of the world. It’s awful. I interviewed a couple of these girls back when I lived in New York. Horrendous.

I do not really think of my childhood as hardscrabble. My mother was an absolutely wonderful woman, and I surely wanted to be much like her in attitude and spirit. She somehow managed everything for us without ever a complaint. As I grew up, she sewed my dresses and made great clothes out of old ones for me. Can you imagine, I was sixteen and working for Lane Bryant before I had my first store bought dress. Boy, that was a celebration (nothing against my mother’s sewing)!

I still don’t know how she did everything she did for all of us—always with love and a smile. I took care of her before she passed away, and it was amazing how many people she knew who swarmed to see her. They had all been helped by her wisdom, even though she was naive in many ways. 

Were you a reader when you were a youth, and if so, what authors inspired you?

One of my high school teachers, a professor, dealt with Roman and Greek history. I played Cassandra in plays he wrote or adapted for his wife and friends. I have always been enamored by ancient history. I thrill to Roman, Greek, Anatolian and Mesopotamia history. I spent many hours at our local San Francisco library, about five blocks from home. I gobbled up the many romantic stories about men who saved poor young women and then married them. I had no favorite writer as I adored everything I read.

For many years you wrote and published a regular newsletter/magazine for the canine community. What did the experience teach you about being a writer?

I edited three newsletters including designing the magazines, handling the layout, and gathering and designing the ads. I built one newsletter up from twelve pages to a hundred-and eight-four page color magazine with high quality ads. Those experiences taught me to work hard, to put out the best for the readers and advertisers. I learned a lot about creativity. I believe working hard at everything I did—going back and examining everything to make it the best I could produce—helped give me recognition as a top editor and newsletter publisher in my field. Again, I always went back to my acting days, working not only for smoothness, but also for uniqueness in what I did—whether it be an ad or copy. 

What made you switch from non-fiction to novel writing?

As a young girl, I wrote many stories—actually, I started many stories, but had little confidence anything I did was good enough, so I never finished any. Part of this lack of confidence was because of my height. I always suffered from lack of confidence, except in acting—because I was not me when I was acting. I seldom thought what I wrote was any good, so I put those half stories away. Whenever I find remnants of some, I am amazed at how good they could have been. I switch to fiction after many years of newsletter and magazine writing, because I wanted to express myself better. 

What compels you to keep writing?

I love writing. It does what acting did for me. It takes me away from myself. I love looking up a word and seeing where it came from, or looking up unusual facts I could possibly use in a story. Writing satisfies my workaholic need. There are so many things I learned about life through writing. I wish I had more time on earth to find ways to express myself better and effectively say the things I am really trying to say. 

What is your writing process. Do you outline or fly by the seat of your pants and follow where your story takes you?

As a girl, I made outlines as I was told to do. I’ve found, however, I don’t fare well using outlines. I do think about stories I want to write for a long time—perhaps six months—before I put any words down. I research things I think about as it helps me bring a story to life. I then know if I want to move ahead. I do follow where the story takes me, which I think is sometimes eerie.

What was the inspiration for your latest novel, Melinda Mahoney Powers?

I had been reading stories about people in jail for life, who had not committed the crime of which they were convicted. I felt compelled to develop a story about one of them. I started out thinking of a serial killer story and what happened in his earlier life to make him follow through because of his twists of mind. The story was supposed to be about Leroy Mahoney. However, his sister Melinda, the little girl in the Studebaker (as I first saw her in my mind) and her forever memory at seeing her brother as she did, took over. I simply had to follow the two young children and see how they lived with the horrific abuse both had seen or experienced.

Melinda began to worry my mind because I kept feeling she could not put aside, forgive, or forget what she had seen, and it would eventually prove to be the total downfall of her life. There are lots of people like her. Leroy was always trapped by the horrors of what was done to him, but his retreat into gentleness was different than Melinda’s anger fueled response. 

I loved both of characters and the people they met and lived with. Frankly, while writing, I kept asking God to keep me here in this life until I finished the story. Somehow, many of the words simply flowed out. I puzzled over some of them as I had no idea where they came from. Others parts of the story came from parts of me or scenes I had personally endured, But through it all, it was the love I felt for Melinda and Leroy swelling out of me and onto the page.

Do you have a favorite among your novels, and if so, why?

No favorite. I feel each had a different reason to write them, even though the genres were different. Hopefully, each also served a different need for the people who read them.  Of course, I wrote Rosa and the Prince for my mother, who had always wanted me to tell her story. I’m sure Rosa is not quite as she would have told it, but it is the way it came to me. I let my imagination take over.

I love Rosa and the Prince because I spent so much time with the research. Life in the time period in which Rosa is set was very difficult for those who had to work for royalty. I wanted my mother’s strong will and pleasing personality to come through even though tragedy was ever present.

Shattered Innocence allowed me to vent my feelings pertaining to the horrendous sex trafficking spinning the world around and destroying so many lives. I wanted people to pay attention to the situation. It was my way of doing something about it, no matter how small or insignificant my shout might be.

Prisoners In Paradise, I believe, is an excellent book with climaxes in all the right places. I’m not much swayed by marketing, so it is not a story everyone is enamored to read. However, you have to be true to yourself and write what drives you.

Now I have fallen in love with Melinda Mahoney Powers. She certainly isn’t perfect by any means, but we find a lot of people in the world like her, and I wanted readers to see how and why she destroyed herself. It’s a cautionary tale.

Murder might not be light-hearted, but many seniors are. Featuring senior characters an writing about their fascinating lives always keeps my fingers flying on the keyboard.

I cannot pick a favorite from my list of books. But if I add them together, I find I like many things about each one. As I write each book, I am trying to be honest and say what is truly in my heart—which can be different things at different times.

From your experience, what advice would you have for senior writers?

I say no one should write about something they do not know. Write about experiences that have happened in your life. I do not believe there is anyone on earth who hasn’t had a wonderful life, despite all the tragedies we all must suffer—they are what hones us. They make us better.

Make up stories about instances in your life that change your thinking or helped someone else. Write about you, about your friends—but with different names and places. Just keep writing. If you enjoy working on a page of writing, good, put yourself right into the page. Readers gain interest because they can feel your emotion.
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Wow! Thx to my wonderful Aunt (in-law) Kitty for her candor and willingness to share so much. I can’t wait to read what she writes next...

 
 

1 comment:

  1. Wow!Ninety-seven and going strong! Thanks for sharing your life through stories. You set a great example!

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