Interview with journalist/writer Greta Beigel

Today’s guest is non-fiction writer/journalist Greta Beigel. Her book Kvetch: One Bitch of a Life–A Memoir
of Music & Survival
is the topic of conversation, but there’s a lot of other fun stuff, too.

Read on!
Bio:
American
journalist Greta Beigel worked for many years as an arts reporter and editor at
the Los Angeles Times. She is the author of three Jewish-themed books: The
humorous/satirical Mewsings: My Life as a
Jewish Cat
(also in audio); the short story, “A Jew from Riga,” about her
efforts to learn more about her Dad’s mysterious past, and Kvetch: One Bitch of a Life, a memoir (paperback and e-book) about
growing up an Orthodox Jew and a gifted pianist in South Africa during the
apartheid era. Beigel now lives in Honolulu, Hawaii. 
Welcome, Greta. 
Please tell us about your current release.
 
“Kvetch: One Bitch of a Life,” recently released in
paperback, tells the courageous true story of the author who grew up in
Johannesburg as a gifted piano prodigy, only to be exploited by her
superambitious mother desperate to be accepted by a scornful Jewish society.
Subtitled “A Memoir of Music & Survival,” the book also takes a
hard look at everyday living in apartheid-South Africa, where prejudice
dominated all. The memoir soon migrates to Southern California where our
protagonist morphs from music performer to music scribe, becoming a staff writer
specializing in classical music coverage for the Los Angeles Times. Sadly, once
in America, three chapters call forth the details of sibling sexual
molestation–a subject so taboo, yet one that begs for further public
discourse. The last chapter of “Kvetch” hops around the world, as the
author gets her story down, and seeks a type of spiritual transformation. 
What
inspired you to write this book?
All my books to date have been
personal, autobiographical, even my favorite, Mewsings: My Life as Jewish Cat, a humorous, albeit learned take on
Jewish life from one feline’s perspective, but in reality reflections on
Judaism from my alter ego. My desire to pen “Kvetch: One Bitch of a Life,”
evolved over decades. The need was propulsive, with no way out. I felt compelled
to get a certain event, a certain image, a certain dialogue down on paper. I
usually write in cafes, or coffee shops or restaurants, away from my normal
milieu, and carry a notebook and jot thoughts or chapters down in shorthand, a
skill that I learned in Johannesburg in my 20s that sustained my early years as
a newspaper reporter, interviewing celebs in Los Angeles. 
Excerpt from Kvetch: One Bitch of a Life
Apartheid
Copyright©2014, Greta Beigel. All
Rights Reserved
Under cover of darkness a secondary
terror rages forth: the abuses of apartheid. Often my mom wakens me, beckoning
me to the window. Fingers to lips, we watch members of the Afrikaner police
force as they conduct raids and make arrests and throw African men into the
backs of waiting vans, as though they’re nothing more than sacks of mealies to
be stacked up one against the other for transport.
For what? These men apparently are
guilty of walking around without the requisite “pass books” documenting
their existence. They can be stopped and picked off the streets at any time and
in any place, and if failing to show reference books, detained. Whites for the
most part merely look on, or cluck-cluck or perhaps even deem it all a good
idea. I often hear shouting from upstairs as a husband or lover or friend of a
servant employed by someone in the building is cornered and carted off by yet
another zealous copper.
History note: In 1947, the Nationalist
Party comes to power. This Afrikaner govt. soon begins its diatribes against
Indians, “Coloreds” and Africans. The Dutch Reform Church sanctifies this
apartheid, or apartness. Now the church makes damn sure that everything shuts
down on Sundays and that cinemas and shops and places to eat remain closed.
They make sure there’s bugger-all for all of us to do. Except go to church, I
suppose. Sex ranks next on the agenda, and the passage of the Immorality Act
mandates sex between whites and non-whites illegal.
Mornings, Johannesburg streets are
jammed with giant green Putco buses packed to capacity with non-white workers
streaming into the city to work as domestics or gardeners. Evenings, the train
station in Hillbrow remains chaotic with workers rushing along non-white
platforms to catch trains alarmingly stacked to the rafters as they head back
to Alexandra or Soweto townships with their shanties and smokestacks and no
water or electricity and marauding tsotsis.
By contrast, whites-only platforms
stand clean and orderly and calm. At virtually all public facilities, separate
entrances exist for blankes and nie-blankes. Signs
are posted in front of banks and at government buildings and outside post
offices. Ironically, the nie-blankes are there for the most part to buy stamps
for the blankes, and yet they have to resort to their separate entrances and
stand in separate lines to make these purchases. Beaches are marked separate,
and park benches painted blankes-only. Restaurants, cinemas, theaters and
concert halls remain the sole purview of us Caucasians…….
What exciting story are you working on
next?
The conclusion of Kvetch refers to my longing to return to live in Hawaii, a place of
great beauty and pineapples, coconut and palm trees. But also enormous social
and economic complexities. Now that I’m back in Honolulu, I’m toying with
writing about the islands in either a blog or a column, covering the joys and
setbacks. Also plan to get back into journalism, and write about classical
music, both online and in print. And perhaps start on that book about a certain
pet sitter.
When
did you first consider yourself a writer?
From a young age, I became fascinated
with the inner workings of newspapers. Perhaps this resulted from my mother’s
pushing, for after every musical triumph she’d schlep me to the various
newsrooms for interviews and photographs, and I became fascinated with the
editorial process. Daily, I’d compare arts stories between the morning and
evening papers, and was not above calling editors to point out lapses in
coverage. I also loved entering writing contests. So albeit I was a terrific
pianist, methinks I was always destined to be a music writer and later an
author. I’ve always loved seeing my name in print.
Are
you a fulltime writer? If not, what else do you do, and how find time to write?
Yes, I write most of the time. I also
need to concentrate on getting the word out about my books. Social media takes
time and we all must engage. It’s an ever-evolving process. These days I’m
focusing on making appearances at book clubs.
What
would you say is your fun writing quirk?
As mentioned, I like to write in
cafes, anyway away from home. I also do good works traveling on buses, in fact
public transportation is a great way to get through the slog of research and
underlining, etc. For many years, I’ve preferred to use computers at
libraries–I have many cards from many cities–to laboring at home alone, and
also enjoy sitting amongst students at university labs and libraries. The
staffers are so helpful with technical stuff. Journalism, far more rigid, is
easier in many ways. I do much research, interview subjects, transcribe my
notes (moaning all the time), and then prepare an outline of the story to
follow. It’s a far easier world of writing, albeit much more disciplined. Once
the story is published, my job is over. But birthing a book, remains a lifetime
commitment. 
As
a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Growing up a lonely child in South
Africa, I became obsessed with British author Enid Blyton who wrote wonderful
mystery series for children. I resolved by age 10 that I, too, would write a
book one day. This pronouncement continued over the years and in many countries
and I would insist that I’d tell my story of growing up a gifted child pianist
with a cruel mother and an absentee father. Even when I worked as a music
journalist for the Times, I’d tell everybody that one day I’d write my story
and be published. I always KNEW. But did not know when.
Buy links:

Social: Facebook 
Thanks, Greta!

Readers, if you’d like to chat with Greta in person, she’s going to be a guest at The Writer’s Chatroom on Sunday, December 7, 2014 from 7-9PM EST. Feel free to join us!

2 thoughts on “Interview with journalist/writer Greta Beigel

  1. Unknown says:

    I was fortunate to meet Greta on a flight to Hawaii and fell in love with her immediately — she's charming, spunky, and a wonderful writer. I read "Kvetch: One Bitch of a Life" on my return flight and read it again once I got home, then read her other works before the week was over. As you might have guessed, I can't wait to read her next book.

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