Episode 5: Karen Janowsky

Author of Persistence of Memory: Book IV W.I.S.E Men (Four book series).

Bobbi: I love the Poem you submitted to our Blog. Thank you for that. Things For Sale is a very evocative piece. Is this a real experience you had? Walking in the woods and stumbled upon this old building?

Karen: Actually, it is! A friend and I were on a mini writer’s retreat, and had gone for a walk along a dirt path. We came upon a building as described, but, unlike the poem’s speaker, I didn’t brave the ticks through the tall weeds or the iffy looking floorboards to peer into the windows.

Bobbi: When you described the ring in the pocket I could almost feel it. As if I could reach into my own pocket and feel the ring. Giving it a tug and not being able to get it out. I loved that image so much. 

Karen: Thank you! I actually got that idea for the image from a conversation I had with someone a few years ago.

Bobbi: Was it a house or a store? When I read it I envision a possible moving sale.

Karen: It was basically a shack. It was one of those small houses-turned-curiosity-shops that sell second-hand odds and ends. It was very run down, probably having fallen into disuse years ago.

Bobbi: This poem dives into a topic I’d like to explore… What does it all mean and how many generations until the world  forgets you were here. I love the idea that all of these items were asking the question of “who do I belong to,” but not really giving away the answer, and you could have picked up any one of those things and made it yours. So my question is… How do we decide what is worth keeping?

Karen: Ooh, good question. The short answer is, “I don’t know!” My grandmother, who I was very close to, died a few years ago, and I helped my mom and my aunt go through her things the weekend of her funeral. That’s never an easy job. Of course, I found a lot of stuff I’d forgotten about: letters I’d written to her as a teenager, crafts I made for her as a small child, etc. I wanted to keep all of it, not because I wanted to hoard her stuff or I coveted it, but because no one else wanted some of those things. I couldn’t bear for these pieces of her to go away. Then, I remembered how easily she let things go: anger, grudges, stuff, etc. She was always so generous and at the same time, she’d say, “They’re only things.” I chose just a few mementos I remembered from growing up, and said goodbye to the rest.

Bobbi: Finally, the last question about the poem. To me the last phrase feels like a response to the rest of the poem, as if to say, today is what matters most so take advantage of it.

“I wrap my fingers around a support and lower myself to the ground; you take my hand to steady me. I wipe the dirty hand on my dress and show you the other. Here: here is my heart, yours for a steal and a song”

What did it mean to you?

Karen: That was basically it. Once we’re gone, everything about us leaves this existence. Give love while it’s yours to give. Do it with abandon, and on purpose, and without expectation of reciprocity. When my great grandmother had been buried and the family began to return to their cars to drive away from the cemetery, my grandmother (above), who had just buried her mother next to her father, put her arm around my shoulder and said, “On with the living.” We remember the past and take its lessons and stories with us, but we can’t stay there. Whatever we can give of ourselves, we have to do it now, in this lifetime. Otherwise, all really is lost forever.

Bobbi: Now for the book, W.I.S.E Men. Does the military play a role in your life? Or is it just the best place to recruit super heroes?

Karen: Actually, the military isn’t really part of my life. My grandfather fought in WW2, and that’s about it. The military and other government organizations seemed like a good fit for the characters, though. In the trilogy (W.I.S.E. Men is a prequel), Daniel and Nina have military backgrounds of sorts, but others on the team do not. The trilogy and W.I.S.E. Men both took a lot of research for all sorts of things. In this book, it especially required military research.

Bobbi: Can you tell us more about the characters?

Karen: Sure. I will say, I hadn’t intended to write this book! It was only after people kept asking for stories about specific side characters (Kevin and Graham, and Miriam (in my work in progress)) that I did so. I’m glad I did. I think it’s my best written work to date although Deja Vu recently won a fiction award.

U.S. Army Lt. Kevin Rye, who wears the suit: Kevin’s “suit” actually is an endoskeleton that holds his muscles in place, since most of his bones had broken in a helicopter crash. So, basically, it forms the scaffolding that once was a good deal of his skeleton. However, it also gives him chronic, sometimes excruciating pain. Rob has a “vision,” and he also couldn’t stand the idea of his friend or anyone like him ever getting hurt like that again. Kevin literally fell out of the sky at the time he was working on schematics for this invention. In the trilogy, he’s abrasive and frenemies with Daniel Hecht (you also meet him in W.I.S.E. Men). 

Rob Fisher, suit creator: Rob Fisher is Kevin’s best friend from college. He is unusually brilliant, extremely wealthy, and is a third generation owner of a family run corporation called Fisher Corporation. During WW2 and into the present, it has been a contractor for military gear, especially large weapons. When Rob was old enough to understand what his family name was associated with (mass destruction), he was horrified. Instead of taking over the business, he got  academic degrees in sociology and biotechnology and became a scholar (as well as an administrator for a large, private university similar to Georgetown). His family’s weapons had been sold to terrorists, and they’re what brought down the helicopter that killed everyone in the helicopter except for Kevin, who almost died. His “vision” is to create an underground organization that can counter his company’s profiting from government sanctioned death (and others like it), and save the world from itself. It’s that organization where Deja Vu begins.

Corporal Gram Beech, Ranger: Graham is from a religious, conservative family in Georgia. He has unusually enhanced senses, which makes him a great covert operator and a crack shot with pretty much any projectile you give him. He has a smaller but important role on the team in the trilogy. When we meet him in this book, he’s just become a U.S. Ranger. The time period is around when President Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy regarding gay people in the military had become the law. Graham has a reputation not only as the Rangers’ best and brightest, but also for being cocky, and as an incorrigible womanizer.

And Pvt. Steven Amato, friend and love interest: Steven has come to Ft. Benning Army Base (where Rangers are trained) from Oregon. He’s got a Master’s degree in social work, and his goal is to specialize in PTSD and qualify to counsel soldiers overseas. He regrets having joined the army though. It had been in response to a bad breakup with a boyfriend who refused to come out of the closet and acknowledge him, and now he’s in an organization that won’t allow him to come out of the closet at all. He tells Graham that in retrospect, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was a lesson in not making major decisions when you’re in a highly emotional state. Still, he plans to make the best of things and serve out his contracted term. He and Graham become close friends.

Bobbi: Are these characters in all of the books?

Karen: They are! Kevin, Graham, and Rob all feature heavily in the trilogy, which focuses on Daniel Hecht and Nina Asher.

Bobbi: Is there anything you can tell us about Daniel Hect without giving too much away?

Karen: Daniel’s story is told more fully in Book 1 of the trilogy, Deja Vu. He comes to the twenty-first century as a young man of 25, having traveled through time. He has no idea what’s happened to the nearly 70 years in between 1942 and now. Daniel had been a sickly Jewish man from New York who had travelled to Germany at exactly the wrong time to find a cure. He got caught up in Kristallnacht, and was taken to a Nazi facilty where he was experimented on. By the time he is rescued, he’s been transformed from a scrawny, dying kid to the kind of ubermesch the Nazi’s had been trying to create. Andrew Fisher, Rob’s grandfather, takes him in once he returns to the U.S. He has nowhere else to go. His family and friends died taking him to Germany, he has no money, and the Depression is in full swing. Andrew Fisher and the U.S. Army train him to be a soldier, and he’s used as propaganda, very much the way Captain America had been in the comics. He “belongs” to The Fisher Company and is leased out to the government. A big difference between Daniel Hecht and Steve Rogers is that Daniel never wanted to serve, is traumatized, and feels like he has no life other than that of obligation to Fisher. 

Bobbi: What are the superpowers of the suit? Obviously it makes Kevin mobile, but does it mesh with his body in some way or his nervous system?

Karen: It does. Rob designed it to allow Kevin to function completely, including the full use of his senses. The only part of his body that is irreparable (his bones were crushed and the nerves were dead) are from the knees down. Kevin soon learns that the endoskeleton can do other things, though. There are microfissures all over Kevin’s skin, and Kevin can make the suit extend in armor-like plates over his body, including a helmet. It makes him bulletproof, strong, and fast. It also allows him to fly and shoot lasers from his arms. However, while the suit causes him chronic pain all the time, the pain becomes almost unbearable when those thin, razor-like sheets extend and retract from his body while activating and deactivating.

Bobbi: I have put your series on my list of must reads, but I need to know, and I know you probably can’t tell me, but… Does the romance work out or is it detrimental to the plot of saving the world?   

Karen: Well, it’s a romance, after all! It takes all of Book 1 for Daniel and Nina to understand who she is, and for Daniel to get over his nervousness (he never dated anyone before; never really kissed anyone; never even expected it to be an issue because he was sure he’d either die from his illness first, or in battle later). Once they get past those and a few other major issues, things turn very “adult” in the books, and they still have a lot of things to work out between them because of Nina’s and Daniel’s incompatible and improbable pasts.

Bobbi: This is my last question. I like to ask all of the Authors this….. What can you tell me about Karen Janaowsky that I can’t learn from your Bio?

Karen: I can tell you two things! First, fiction isn’t my real background. My graduate degree focused on writing poetry, even though I did take a few fiction writing courses. I’ve been publishing fiction and poetry in juried literary journals since around 1990. I never in a million years imagined I’d write a whole novel, needless to say five and counting. I especially love rewriting fairy tales (the classic Grimm and Andersen, not the Disney types). You can listen to me reading some of that work on my web page, www.KarenJanowsky.com. Second, I love playing tabletop rpgs! I’ve been playing games like Dungeons and Dragons with my husband, friends, and now my teenage son since the early 2000’s. 

Bobbi: Thank you so much for participating in our IDK the Author Interview! I would like to wish you well with your books. They look exciting and a great place to disappear for a while!

Karen: Thanks so much for having me!

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