Joining Curiosity Quills for another edition of our Author Spotlight: Question & Answer Coloumn, is Keith Fentonmiller, author of recently released fantasy novel, Kasper Mützenmacher’s Cursed Hat, which hit Amazon on March 20, 2017!
In the comments, please join us in asking Keith Fentonmiller anything you’d like to know about writing, his new book, and life in Kensington, Maryland. Or you know, just throw something completely random at him to keep him on his toes!
Who are you and where do you call home right now?
I’m Keith Fentonmiller, and I live in Kensington, Maryland.
Tell us about your latest book: your inspiration for it, how you got through your most difficult challenge in writing it, and what you love about it?
My latest book is also my debut novel. A work of adult speculative fiction, Kasper Mützenmacher’s Cursed Hat (Book One of the Life Indigo series) tells the story of Jewish hatmakers threatened by a veil-wearing Nazi known as the ”stealer of faces” who must use the god Hermes’ ”wishing hat” to teleport out of Germany during Kristallnacht. They won’t be safer in America, however, until they break the curse that has trapped them in the hat business for sixteen centuries. Set against the backdrop of the Jazz Age, Nazi Germany, and the Detroit race riots of 1943, the Cursed Hat is a family saga about tradition, faith, and identity.
I trace my inspiration for the novel to an incident when I was ten. Growing up, my family had a Sunday breakfast tradition with bagels, cream cheese, lox, eggs, and—the best part—Sara Lee pecan coffee cake. One day, my dad carved out the coffee cake’s center for himself, leaving a thin, bready rind for everyone else. I remember thinking, What the hell? Is he having a stroke? Is he possessed? Nope. Just indulging a whim. Granted, as childhood traumas go, the gutted coffee cake ranks somewhere between bedwetting and overhearing my parents having sex. Yet it’s stuck with me all these years because of what it symbolizes—the psychic void inside us all, a void we spend a lifetime trying to fill. This probably explains why I wrote a novel about cursed hat-makers. What’s a hat but fabric wrapped around an empty center?
My greatest difficulty in writing the book was figuring out how and when to reveal critical information to the reader. This was very important because much of the novel centers around confused and hidden identities. Thankfully, I could draw on beta readers and professional editors to (hopefully) achieve a good balance between subtle foreshadowing and explicit revelation. Also, time proved to be my greatest friend. Putting the manuscript aside and allowing it to marinate for long stretches allowed me to return to the story with a fresh perspective on the narrative’s evolution.
At the end of the process, I produced something that I feel reflects my personality, for better or worse. In a hundred years, if someone’s interested to know what Keith was like, they can read this book and get to know me. Hopefully, they won’t then say, Jeez, what an ass-hat.
What are a few of your hobbies?
Merriam-Webster defines a hobby as “a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation.” My regular occupation is as a consumer protection attorney. Writing is my outside pursuit. Writing, however, is not relaxing. No pursuit that entails this much concentration, exhilaration, and angst can qualify as relaxing. That leaves reading as my hobby, especially literary fiction. As a boy, I collected baseball cards. I especially loved the cards included with tobacco in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I liked to imagine what it would’ve been like to open a pack of cigarettes in 1887 and find a mint condition card with the lithograph of a thick-mustachioed ball player. Perhaps these fantasies foreshadowed my subsequent passion for writing historical fiction. Fortunately, it did not lead to a nasty tobacco habit.
If you had your own food truck, what would it serve?
What makes you think I don’t have my own food truck? Very presumptuous, though in this instance you happen to be right. My truck would serve escargot, fulfilling my lifelong dream of driving a snail-car. People would see it on the road and remark, “Oh, it’s just a slow snail-car.” Then I’d punch the accelerator and show them that this snail’s got legs. Well, not real legs, of course. To be operational and street-legal, it would have to have an engine and wheels. And it wouldn’t be an actual snail, just a gigantic, carbon-fiber facsimile of one. So, the more I think about it, it would be a phony snail-car. This question has exposed my dream for the fraud that it is. Despair is setting in.
What do you want to get better at doing, writing-wise?
I have a lot to learn about other writing styles. I’d like to incorporate more variation in the syntax—more poetry, more musicality, more experimentation. At the same time, I want to use fewer words to set scenes, reveal personalities, and evoke emotions. If I fail, there’s always the snail-truck gig. Oh crap, I guess that’s no longer an option. See question above.
What TV series are you into right now and why?
There’s a shockingly good amount of television out there these days, so it’s very difficult to choose. Among my favorites are The Man in the High Castle, Game of Thrones, Westworld, and Better Call Saul. But right at this very moment, the show that really grabs me is the HBO miniseries Big Little Lies, based on Liane Moriarty’s novel. The four leads (Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, and Laura Dern) are phenomenal, as is the source material. They epitomize well-rounded characters. They are all flawed and wounded, and at times unlikable. But they also have wonderful qualities and make unexpected choices. They are battlers. They are self-aware. I feel like I know these people, and I will be sad to say goodbye when the show ends. My only criticism: no snail-truck.
What movie do you quote the most?
Total Recall. During Quaid’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) struggle with the bad guy, Richter, Richter’s arms are pinned against the edge of an elevator shaft and then severed when the elevator suddenly plummets. Quaid is left holding Richter’s arms. He tosses the arms down the shaft and says, “See you at the party, Richter.”
What do you collect, even a little bit? Tell us about your favorite one.
I still have my baseball card collection from my youth. My favorite card is probably the Ty Cobb from 1909. He’s a Hall-of-Famer, the greatest hitter of all time, and a Detroit Tiger. Because the Cobb card was issued the same year my grandfather was born, it makes me feel connected to the past in a very personal way.
What’s your preferred genre of book when you just want to escape?
I’m genre-agnostic. I just want to laugh out loud a few times.
What do you like to do on vacation?
Explore the natural and cultural surroundings. Look for snail-trucks.
Is there another genre you’ve been itching to write in?
I’d like to write straight-up literary fiction one day.
What unusual object do you like to bring with you if you leave the house?
It’s usually a toss-up between the guillotine and the feather boa. I’m susceptible to road rage, so I like to flash the guillotine at drivers who cut me off. I just wish it didn’t take two hours to reassemble it on the side of the road. Still, when I’ve finished and I’ve hoisted the blade, I’m overcome with a Zen-like calm. I lied about it being a toss-up with the feather boa. I never leave home without the boa.
If you had a champion racing pigeon, what would you name it and what would its tagline be?
I would name my racing pigeon Noah’s Hope. His tagline would be: “Just poo it!”
Finally, give us one recommendation for something - movie, TV, game, food - that you enjoyed recently.
I’d recommend the book Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters. It’s a taut story about an alternate America, where black slavery persists to the present day. Winters covered the legal foundation about how this could’ve transpired without getting bogged down in minutiae. Also, the plot was propulsive. A quick and fascinating read.
About Kasper Mützenmacher’s Cursed Hat
Kasper Mützenmacher keeps a divine “wishing hat”—a thought-operated teleportation device—locked in the wall safe of his Berlin hat shop. According to an old prophecy, after Kasper’s Greek ancestor stole the wishing hat from Hermes, Fate cursed his progeny to sell hats, on pain of mayhem or death. Kasper, however, doesn’t mind making hats, and he loves Berlin’s cabaret scene even more. But his carefree life of jazz and booze comes to a screeching halt when he must use the wishing hat to rescue his flapper girlfriend Isana from the shadowy Klaus, a veil-wearing Nazi who brainwashes his victims until they can’t see their own faces.
Isana and Kasper’s happiness proves fleeting. Years after her mysterious death, Kasper struggles as a lonely, single father of two until he meets Rosamund Lux, recently released from a political prison where Klaus took her face. Kasper soon suspects that Rosamund is no ordinary woman. According to the prophecy, certain Lux women descend from the water nymph Daphne, who, during Olympian times, transformed into a laurel tree to avoid Apollo’s sexual advances; they, too, suffer from an intergenerational curse connected to Hermes’ stolen hat. As Kasper falls deeper in love, Rosamund’s mental health deteriorates. She has nightmares and delusions about Klaus, and warns that he will launch a night of terror once he’s collected enough faces.
Kasper dismisses the growing Nazi threat until the government reclassifies him as a Jew in 1938. His plan to emigrate unravels when anti-Jewish riots erupt and the Nazis start loading Jews on boxcars to Dachau. Then Rosamund goes missing, and Klaus steals the wishing hat, the family’s only means of escape.
Kasper, however, will face his most difficult battle in America. He must convince his wayward son and indifferent grandson to break the curse that has trapped the family in the hat business for sixteen centuries. Their lives will depend on it.
Book One of the Life Indigo series, Kasper Mützenmacher’s Cursed Hat is a fantastical family saga about tradition, faith, and identity, set during the Jazz Age, Nazi Germany, and the Detroit race riots of 1943. Comparable works include: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Everything Is Illuminated, and Underground Airlines.
The next installment awaits...Author Spotlight Question and Answer: Bob Defendi