Ohio writer, editor and bookstore owner releases new novel
Sharon Short
Literary Life
Linda Kass is an Ohio author who also owns the independent bookstore Gramercy Books in the Bexley suburb of Columbus.

Linda Kass is an Ohio author who has done much to promote literature and books throughout the state: she owns the independent bookstore, Gramercy Books, in the Bexley suburb of Columbus, is the assistant editor for Narrative (an online literary magazine), and a member of the Editorial Board of Trillium, a regional imprint of The Ohio State University.

Her novel, just published Sept. 1, is “A Ritchie Boy,” and is inspired by the fascinating true story of “Ritchie boys,” young men in the U.S. Army who worked undercover in intelligence on the European front in World War II to help the Allies. Many were Germanspeaking U.S. immigrants, often Jews fleeing Nazi persecution.

I recently emailed with Kass to find out more about her novel, and you can learn even more about her at www.lindakass.com.

The premise — the Ritchie Boys serving as intelligence undercover agents — is fascinating. How did you discover this nugget of WWII history? What appealed to you about researching and writing this story?

My father was a Ritchie Boy and he is the inspiration for my novel-in-stories. He immigrated from Vienna, Austria to the United States in 1938 at the age of 15, like my fictional character Eli Stoff. And, just five years later, thanks to his understanding of the German language and culture, he was recruited and trained by the U.S. Army to train in Intelligence at Camp Ritchie near Hagerstown, Maryland, where the army centralized its military intelligence operations beginning in June of 1942. Thousands of men were trained at Camp Ritchie and so their nickname, Ritchie Boys, stuck.

This real-life story intrigued me because here you have many who were persecuted and had to flee their homelands, who came to America only to return to that theater of war to fight for this country, but to also fight a very personal war. We need to be reminded of the sacrifice and contribution that immigrants have made to this country.

What were the research challenges in crafting this novel? Given that my book takes place between 1938 and 1948, the challenge with all historical fiction is to create a verisimilitude of the time and place that no longer exists. I consulted more than a hundred internet sites, read fiction and nonfiction books, watched films and documentaries — all to gain the deep understanding I needed to create an authentic reality for the reader. I had to access the details of the concrete world in which the novel’s characters live and interact in order to create true-to-life scenes and dialogue. I had to make sure my settings in “A Ritchie Boy” — from Vienna and the Austrian Alps, to cities like New York City, Columbus, or a Paris suburb, to places like Camp Ritchie and the campus of Ohio State University — rang true. The writer must make sure the historic facts and details of this era ring true, but not overpower the story itself. Because, in the end we are telling story through what our characters think, feel, say, and do and all of that is imagined.

In addition to being a novelist, you are the founder and owner of an independent bookstore, Gramercy Books.

How does being a bookseller impact your creative choices in what you pursue as a novelist?

How has the pandemic impacted your work as a bookseller — perhaps new opportunities you hadn’t pursued before? And certainly, new challenges? “Being a bookseller doesn’t impact my creative choices as much as it has increased how much I read and what I read when.

Now I’m reading at least one book a week, and sometimes more. In addition, I read quite a few advanced copies of books — sometimes several months prior to the book’s pub date — perhaps to add to the advanced buzz for a book I especially love, or with the intent to have that author for an appearance hosted by my store. In terms of the pandemic, we (at Gramercy Books) have learned the value of handselling over the phone, of how to communicate better with our customers as was essential when we were predominantly operating through phone and online sales.

The pandemic has shown us how important it is to be flexible, nimble, and creative — all traits one must employ as a novelist, by the way.

As a novelist, a bookseller AND an editor, do you have tips for writers? Perhaps three tips about how to nurture and grow a writing life, particularly in a pandemic? The number one tip that is not a new one is to read, read, read. The more you read high quality writing, the better writer you will become. A second tip — important to me because I have so many things going on — is to find a time and space to focus on the writing.

Yes, that means turning off the phone, the email, life’s distractions. Finally, I try to break down my writing into manageable parts, so I’m not overwhelmed, especially during this time of pandemic. For example, I would break my novel into one chapter I’m going to work on, and then before that, I would break the chapter down into that scene I’m going to write today.

Sharon Short writes historical mysteries under the pen name Jess Montgomery (www. jessmontgomeryauthor. com). Send her column ideas, book club news, or literary events at sharonshort1983@ gmail.com.