Women seeking a balance between reason and passion is the theme of Randy Kraft’s new collection of short stories, ‘Rational Women’ published earlier this month. They raise the question: are women the rational beings they mean to be?
Kraft will discuss and sign her book at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 22 at Laguna Beach Books, 1200 S. Coast Hwy.
The stories revolve around first-world, contemporary females of all ages and in all stages of life who make supposedly reasonable decisions about relationships and lifestyles, but which, too often, deny the passions of the heart. Or, the reverse. On a business trip to Lucerne, a widow follows a stranger into the old town… A chemistry professor’s marriage implodes when his wife compounds her discontent… A white novelist writing about racism confronts the disdain of a black critic… A teacher takes her elementary students’ futures into her own hands … An empty-nester confronts an unexpected obstacle to fulfilling her dream… A late-life PhD candidate discovers her ex-husband still has a hold on her heart… A businesswoman questions her values when she learns her dead mother was never buried… A newspaper editor comes face-to-face with her biases when she misses the heart of a story… A once aspiring sculptor struggles to mold her newborn… A model citizen considers her crimes while at court to argue a minor trespass… While in Paris to satisfy her mother’s last wish, a docile office manager’s future takes an unexpected turn.
The take away is that while reason may censor emotion, passion has a way of undermining rationality.
Kraft says that although short stories are her favorite format, writing them is “very difficult.” Citing the need for clarity, brevity and “some punches,” she started with 15 stories, cut down to 11 over three years, and started over at least once.
“In a good short story, something is unfolding, and what came before, or what follows, is less significant than where we are,” she wrote in Women Writers, Women(s) Books on booksbywomen.org earlier this month.
Kraft was born and raised in New York City. She grew up as “a street urchin” but discovered she was “a geek” by the time she graduated from the Bronx High School of Science. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English at Hunter College, a master’s degree at Pace University, and another master’s degree in writing at Manhattanville College. She raised her family in southern Connecticut, “close enough to Manhattan to stay sane.”
Fourteen years ago, Kraft decided she needed a change. “I knew what was around every corner in my New York life,” she said. After visiting her daughter in San Diego several times, Kraft decided she’d give California a try.
“I fell for the lifestyle, the weather, the beaches,” she said. Settling in Laguna Beach, her plan was to “try it for a year.” Three weeks later she landed a job covering city hall for the Independent. Time passed, a year came and went and Kraft went on to consult in marketing and communications for Friendship Shelter and the Laguna Beach Seniors. She became a newsletter writer for a small bookstore; the buyer at Laguna Beach Books and a novelist.
In January 2014, she self-published her first novel, “Colors of the Wheel.” Through the lives of three families – black, white and brown – the novel explores the challenges of blended families in contemporary America.
“I never set out to write a book about race,” she said. The genesis of the book for which she did an “enormous amount of research and interviews” was based on a response she wrote to the Tillie Olsen story, “I Stand Here Ironing,” that she wrote in graduate school. Over six years, she built a cast of characters: women, activists, lesbians — all living in the shadow of race.
Her second novel “Signs of Life” published in 2016 explores the right to die and the nature of grief in a culture that focuses on gains over losses. The deal for the book died when her publishing house was taken over by new owners. Instead of bowing to defeat, Kraft re-edited the book and found a new publisher.
Kraft is also a playwright. While visiting Mexico she took a playwriting class. She wrote the one-act “Off Season” which was accepted and performed at the first short play festival in San Miguel de Allende in 2013.
Although Kraft says she is retired she is planning to write two more books, one of which has a historical setting and will “take a lot of time to research.” Her recent work has appeared in the literary magazines Typishly, Jewish Literary Journal, Parhelion, WriteLaunch, and Literary Mama.
Additionally, Kraft is coaching two aspiring writers who sought her out on recommendations from mutual acquaintances. While she discusses their stories and characters with them, she also gives them reading recommendations. Personally, she loves the short stories by Alice Munro that she calls “capsule novels,” the “layered stories” of Tessa Hadley, and the works of Irish writers Edna O’ Brien and William Trevor.
RSVP to the free event for “Rational Women” on March 22 using the upcoming events tab at Launabeachbooks.com
Correction: In an earlier version of this story it is stated that Kraft wrote the story “I Stand Here Ironing.” In fact the story was written by Tillie Olsen. Kraft wrote a response to the story while in graduate school. The author regrets the mistake.