When Readers “Get It”

I suppose I am like that broken record when I continue to tell people that the highlight of my writing career is when readers actually ‘get the point.’  It is an extraordinary experience for someone like me when that happens.

Stephen King, photo by Shane Leonard
Stephen King, photo by Shane Leonard

The way I see it, Stephen King stands alone at the top of the writers pyramid and defines what being a real author is – then there are the elite, authors like John Grisham, Dean Koontz and others who have amassed fortunes from their work, and they are followed by writers like my friend Steven Pressfield who has done well enough to live comfortably on the hillside of Malibu.  At the bottom of the food chain are chumps like me who have something to say and say it for the love of saying it.  We garner pocket change with the hope of gaining a broader audience and maybe someday, we’ll hit the jackpot.

In 1999, I befriended Steven Pressfield, and he has encouraged and inspired me for 15 years.  I still communicate with him and last summer, I spent an evening with him and had dinner in Malibu.  Steve’s first book was The Legend of Bagger Vance, which Robert Redford made into a wonderful film; Mr. Pressfield followed Bagger Vance with a series of best-selling historical novels.  In recent years, Steve has been VERY successful in the ‘blogging business’ with his self-help and advisory columns and books.  He even appeared on Oprah’s show several months ago.  His most recent novel was The Profession in 2011, a cautionary tale of the future and quite a departure from his earlier work. 

When my second novel The Hamsa was released in 2010, Mr. Pressfield was gracious enough to post a review on Amazon.  In

Pressfield
Steven Pressfield

it he wrote,

“… best of all, it [The Hamsa] is about something (which too often historical fiction is not.) Mr. Kraay has pulled off the most difficult stunt of all: to start with historical reality – meaning real characters like Bronisław Czech, his hero, who did real things at real times but about whom we in the present know very little – and to craft from these elements a wholly original (but vividly believable and, we hope, true to life) narrative that breathes reality into and brings illumination to the acts and moral crises lived through by his protagonist and his contemporaries …

The opening statement is the most significant:  it’s about something.  That was so meaningful to me that I use similar words as a subtitle to my this website:  “Novels that Say Something.”

For me to keep doing what I do, I have to ask myself the question:  Is it more important that my books reap financial rewards, or that they generate statements from readers who indicate a true understanding of the work?  The answer is obvious, because I continue to do what I do with minimal financial recompense.

I wrote a blog recently on “E.S. Kraay Online” titled ‘The 7-Year Question.  I could paraphrase it here and ask myself, “If I spent years writing a book and it failed critically and commercially, would I consider the effort a worthwhile venture?”  I easily answer, “Yes.”  And so I continue ….

Most of all, thanks to all the readers who have read my books and truly understand the core values of each.  Your support and encouragement is priceless.

Courage

Hamsa
The Last Jew in Vinnitsa

As a young, Catholic boy, I was frequently exposed to Judaism by my dad’s best friend, Louie Green.  Louie inspired my interest and my deep respect for ‘things Jewish.’  My interest became intense in 2007 when I first saw the photograph “The Last Jew in Vinnitsa.”  The Olympian was still in the hands of an agent and unpublished, and when I saw that photograph a story began to emerge, a story of courage in the face of the worst imaginable odds possible, worse even than what the 300 Spartans faced at Thermopylae.

Before I set pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard –, I encountered the 400+ page report – written in Polish — of Witold Pilecki, the only person who volunteered to go into Auschwitz.  Pilecki was deliberately captured and sent to Auschwitz in 1940 and escaped in 1943.  As I read his report, I researched every name I encountered.

“Not only gun butts of SS men struck our head.  Something more struck them also.  All our ideas wee kicked off in a brutal way …. They tried to break us mentally as soon as possible.”

Witold Pilecki, 1940

When I learned about Winter Olympian Bronisław Czech, I set the course to write The Hamsa.  The working title, by the way

The Hamsa
Olympic skier Bronislaw Czech

was Into the Heart of Darkness.  I was taken by this man who regarded his athletic accomplishments as meaningless when measured against the things that really count in life.

Czech and so many like him were men of courage who refused to bow before the onslaught of Hitler’s Wehrmacht as it rolled into Eastern Europe.  He became the focus of my story.

As the 2014 Winter Olympic Games continue in Sochi, Russia, I invite you to enter our contest to win a copy of The Hamsa.  The winner will receive her choice of a physical book or an electronic edition for Kindle.  Learn about Bronisław Czech and enter here to win my interpretation of his life.

Enter The Hamsa Giveaway