30 Seconds with Author Caroline Woods
Her first novel, “Fräulein M.," is a period piece written through the eyes of women whose lives were changed forever when Hitler came to power in Germany.
Caroline Woods//Photo by Luigi Ciuffetelli
Caroline Woods, a Hockessin native and graduate of A.I. duPont High School, has been promoting her first novel, “Fräulein M.” Published by Gallery Books (a division of Simon & Schuster), “Fräulein” is a period piece about the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany as experienced through the eyes of women whose lives were changed forever when Hitler came to power. Woods recently left Boston to settle in Chicago with her husband and 2-year-old daughter. Her book tour has made a handful of stops in Delaware and will include a signing at Bethany Beach Books on Sunday, Aug. 20, from 6:30–8:30 p.m.
Your first book, which you wrote while you were a teen, was about local ghost stories?
I was a big ghost story reader as a kid. My mom had a hand in that. Every time we would travel, we would seek out a book of local ghost stories as a way of getting into the place. There definitely were Delaware ghost books already. Ed Okonowicz had written a whole series of them, and I had read those, but I thought I could do my own. It’s funny. That book was 73 pages and, as a high-schooler, I felt like I was writing “The Odyssey.” And now I’m like, Gosh, that’s so short. I can do that in a weekend.
I heard the book was well received.
Since it was a Delaware book, it made a splash locally. I went to 15 schools and libraries in a year. All of the local bookstores had me in. And it ended up getting mentioned in “Writer’s Digest” and “The Village Voice.” It was considered a self-publishing success story because that was when print on demand and self-publishing were coming about. I think I sold 4,000 copies. That was an important step toward getting to write a full-length novel.
It seems writing a period piece like “Fräulein M.” would require quite a bit of research.
It was really a challenge. There were times when I was doing it and I thought this was absolutely crazy—another country, another time, another language. I did go to Berlin. I had been to Germany before, and I went on a research trip with my grandmother, which was really special. The most important thing was probably reading books written by people in that time. That gave me details about their lives. I had to really immerse. I almost had to close my eyes and go into a dream state to try to put myself in the place of these people. It took seven or eight years of writing draft after draft after draft.
Seems it could be a good feature film.
I kind of write cinematically. I listen to music while I write. I think of it as a soundtrack, and if I close my eyes, I try to visualize the way a scene would look. For that reason, maybe it would make a good movie.
What kind of music did you listen to while working on “Fräulein M.”?
I do all kinds of different things to try to capture the mood. I was listening to Marlene Dietrich and music from Germany in the ’20s, but also classical music. Then for the 1970s, I was listening to the Rolling Stones a lot.
The book touches on gender identity. That seems timely, despite the fact you developed the idea about 10 years ago.
I started writing these characters in the fall of 2007. The gender identity theme was the genesis for the book because I went to this art exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and it was all portraits from the Weimar Republic—pre-Third Reich artists. I was amazed by how many transgender people were in these portraits. Many of the artists had to flee when the Nazis came to power, and then a lot of their work was either burned or seized or displayed as a degenerate exhibit. I thought that that was an interesting cautionary tale.
Tell us about your next book.
It’s a literary mystery set in Wilmington in 1960 at the dawn of the civil rights movement. It’s partially inspired by Brown vs. Board of Ed. and Shirley Bulah. I don’t want to say too much about it, because I am still figuring it out.