Crystal Smith Paul discusses her debut novel, “Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?” (a May 2023 Reese’s Book Club pick) and her decade-long journey to publishing.
Last week, we recorded an interview with debut novelist Crystal Smith Paul for the Book Gang podcast. She shared some beautiful, insightful details about her new historical fiction book, Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?, including the complex themes and inspiration behind it.
FOLLOW CRYSTAL’S JOURNEY ON INSTAGRAM
We’re also thrilled to share today that Crystal Smith Paul’s debut novel “Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?” has been selected as the May Book of the Month and the May Reese Book Club pick! Join us in congratulating Crystal on this well-deserved recognition, and don’t miss your chance to read this powerful and thought-provoking novel.
Listen to this Book Gang show filled with the best historical fiction books for summer, including Crystal’s riveting debut:
Crystal Smith Paul Interview (Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?)
Crystal Smith Paul’s debut novel delves into the effects of racism on American families through the story of a multigenerational celebrity family.
Drawing inspiration from her own diverse family, Smith’s book explores themes of race, colorism, and social justice.
She holds degrees from Spelman College, UCLA, and NYU. Currently, she resides in Los Angeles and is working on her second novel.
In your book, colorism and the generational trauma of racism in the U.S. are significant themes. Can you speak to why you chose to explore these particular themes and what message you hope readers take away from your portrayal of them in your story?
Tackling these themes truthfully came very naturally.
Being a black woman, I have seen a lot of things throughout the years, and I’ve heard many things, you know, from my parents, my grandparents, and even my great-grandparents, who I was fortunate enough to know on one side of my family anyway.
So they say, write what you know, and these themes are inherent to who I am. I couldn’t be separated from them.
And that’s really, what I want readers to take away from this is how these structures and these systems have permeated all of our lives in America and how interconnected we all are because of the way that this country was founded.
We don’t really like to talk about and dive into it, but slavery had a significant impact. And not just slavery, but reconstruction, then Jim Crow, and so on. Just two days ago, a teen was shot twice for ringing a doorbell.
So, it goes into every layer of our life. And I think that if readers can be more empathetic, not just to the struggles of black people, but how other races relate to these issues, then we can start to have a more meaningful dialogue and hopefully get past some of this trauma.
The novel features a dual-timeline narrative. How did you approach weaving together the different periods and storylines?
I love this question. The three sisters was a theme I’ve been writing about truthfully since my first short story in high school. My mom has all these sisters, and I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of having sisters.
And that narrative changed a lot through the years because it didn’t have an anchor to me.
When Kitty Karr came on the scene, that entire story really just like poured out of me. And it was the easiest part to write. She had so much to say.
When did you write this book and how long did it take you?
I’ve been writing this book for about 10 years.
Wow! How do you stay the course after 10 years of working on this book? How do you not get discouraged, or were there points where you were ready to put it aside?
Amy, this is just something that has been in me for as long as I can remember, and I knew that I had to keep going because I wasn’t going to be like happy in life if this didn’t come to fruition and not in terms of, oh, it’s published, but it just needed to be finished.
I had to finish it.
And what kept me going truthfully is the narrative because the inspiration does come not only from myself for my own personal healing. But then also, my family. This book is dedicated to my mom’s mom, my dad’s mom, and then my father’s grandmother.
So, thinking of their memory is, truthfully, what kept me going.
Crystal, you have such a diverse career. Like you have done so many different things, and I know that you know, at least for me, so many things that I do are informed by my various jobs. What do you think your past careers have done for the scope of what Kitty Karr is living?
I love that question. I will start with the most interesting career I’ve had, which informed a big part of this book. I worked as a paralegal at the DOJ in major frauds, otherwise known as white-collar crime.
It was fascinating to me to be around all of these brilliant, analytical lawyers daily. I found out that they were also storytellers, actually watching them in court, and the way that they weaved the narrative of the crime was really interesting to me.
I also have a master’s in journalism, which played a role because I realized I don’t like journalism and research, but I loved the creative license. Through that, I realized I want to create, and I still want to come from a place of interconnectedness versus an outside reinterpretation of someone’s life. 4
So, then, of course, I attended UCLA for film school, so when I was not working in screenwriting, I was doing a lot of education in screenwriting and realized this is the type of writing I want to do. That element has informed my novel writing process because I still think in scenes and in pictures.
I’ve also made sure that no matter what, I’ve always had jobs that didn’t take too much away from me and allowed me to write when I came home on the weekends.
So everything, all of your experiences, if you can learn to appreciate everywhere your life takes you, you can use anything for inspiration.
In "Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?", a multigenerational family saga, the lives of the St. John family are explored as they navigate the Jim Crow South, old Hollywood glamour, and present-day showbiz.
After white silver screen icon Kitty Karr Tate dies, she bequeaths her estate to the three Black St. John sisters, prompting questions and revelations that threaten to unravel family ties and secrets.
As Elise St. John sorts out Kitty's affairs, she discovers shocking information in one of Kitty's journals that will leave readers on the edge of their seat.
This scintillating debut has pushed author Crystal Smith Paul to the top of must-read lists and will be included in this year's Summer Reading Guide (launching May 12th).
Don’t miss the bonus book list that included Crystal’s favorites in our list of the best new historical fiction books of 2023.
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Have you read Did You Hear About Kitty Karr? What did you think of this historical fiction novel?