Many of the authors in this series are members of some of the online groups I’m a part of or personal friends of mine. But every once in a while, an author reaches out to me because they read an author interview on this site, and they’d be willing to participate. Such is the case with Kristina Parro, the author of Lucky: A Novel, which released in May 2021. Taylor Swift fans will be interested in the book, which is “inspired by Taylor Swift’s folklore and the incredible true story of Standard Oil heiress Rebekah Harkness.” The book involves a pop star and an heiress, who “are connected through the transcendental nature of time and space.” One Amazon reviewer wrote of the book, “Following each woman’s rise and fall through fame, fortune, and heartbreak, Parro asks the question do all stories end in tragedy?” and author Elizabeth Wafler said, “Lucky is the most original and inventive novel I have ever read. The gifted young author’s passion for history, philosophy, mythology, math, poetry and music shines from every page, and it seems to fuel her visionary writing style.” Words like that would keep any author going! Thank you to Kristina for her time and attention in answering my questions.
Christina: Congratulations on the one-year anniversary of the publication of Lucky. What is it about the album and Harkness’s story that compelled you to write a book? How much research did you have to perform?
Kristina: Many thanks for the congratulations and for the feature! It has been a world-opening year since the release of Lucky, during which I have been able to connect with amazing authors like yourself.
My debut novel is a product of the crazy period of collective change we experienced over the past twenty-four months.
I was an essential healthcare worker during the pandemic, working as a speech-language pathologist in a nursing home. Many of my patients were considered “long-term residents,” and were people I cared for and grew to love during my three-year stint. By March 2020, my nursing home was pegged by the CDC as a COVID-hotspot. Many of my residents caught the virus and passed away.
I rubbed the shoulders of dying patients who couldn’t receive visitors. I facilitated FaceTime calls with my patients and their loved ones, and was present for more than a few last family moments. My experience working in this setting during the pandemic—what I learned about myself and the world during this time—changed who I am at the very core.
By the time Taylor Swift’s album folklore came out in July 2020, I desperately needed the escapism Taylor’s music provided. I didn’t just listen to this album, I dove in and explored the themes, lyrics, and artistic choices in depth. It was a rabbit hole. Curious and surprising symbolism is littered throughout folklore that connects the album to art, religion, and cultures throughout time—due to an intentional choice by the artist or mere synchronicity, the world may never know.
A song, in particular, sparked my intrigue: a narrative-nonfiction indie pop track titled the last great American dynasty. In it, Swift tells the story of a woman named Rebekah who married the heir to the Standard Oil fortune, bought a massive salt box house on the Rhode Island coast, and, to paraphrase, enjoyed her time messing things up. The song alludes to Rebekah’s tragic demise, characterized primarily by excess and madness. Swift then flips the script—revealing that she ultimately bought the heiress’s Holiday House—and sings, in parallel to the dialogue about Rebekah, that she, too, enjoyed her time messing things up.
Intrigued, I scoured the internet for more on Rebekah Harkness. Eventually I stumbled upon her biography, written by Craig Unger: Blue Blood, which now is a rare book. At the time Swift’s album was released, copies of the biography were being sold on Amazon for almost $1,000. I ultimately got access to a copy at a circulation-only library in downtown Chicago.
I devoured the book. Digging through the weeds of scandalous stories, a fascinating cast of well-known characters, and the tragedy that surrounded the heiress, I noted many interesting parallels between the stories of Harkness, Swift, and others who pursued a life of success and luxury. Then, I uncovered an alignment of symbols embedded within.
The tales told in Lucky are as old as time. Girl Next Door to Princess. The Heiress and The Superstar. Both women get everything they ever wanted, yet their “happily-ever-after” remains elusive. Sometimes, when your dreams come true, life becomes a nightmare.
The idea of paralleled lives catapulting towards the summit of the American Dream—separated in time, but not place—got me thinking about the very nature of reality. Looking deeper, I found folklore. Archetypes from Greek mythology, Egyptian Pharaohs, and the foundations of our current, Western way of thinking. Stories that have repeated, again and again, throughout the ages. Symbols that show up, over and over, where you least expect them.
Using folklore, I connected these paralleled parables into a web that caused me to reexamine my own culture, values, and desires; how those impact the bigger picture of the universe; how that impact, in turn, affects my reality. The book became a metaphor that taught me how to live my best life, no matter my circumstances.
Christina: Many authors choose not to write about the pandemic, but you tackled that head-on in Lucky’s prologue, which begins in February 2020. Why? What was your intention? Were you afraid you might put off some readers? Convinced you’d draw some in?
Kristina: Beginning with the pandemic was just one of the many “risks” I took with Lucky, but every risk taken and rule broken impacted the story as a whole. Each were necessary to relay the true essence of the story.
On the surface, the book is the story of two woman who achieve the pinnacle of fame and fortune. Two women for whom the American Dream came true, and then, what comes after. But, looking deeper, the novel encapsulates the inner quest I experienced during (and because of) the pandemic. It may even encapsulate, at least a portion of, the story of the psyche’s journey down the path towards wholeness.
In order to write the most authentic book possible, beginning my story in February 2020 wasn’t a choice. It was a necessity.
Christina: The journey to publication is different for every author. Will you tell us a little bit about yours? Why did you choose to self-publish instead of look for representation or pursue a small, independent press? Are you happy with your decision?
Kristina: After my experience working in for-profit healthcare, before and during the pandemic, I made up my mind to self-publish my debut novel. I started working on the book due to disenchantment with a system I found myself bound to.
Pre-2020, working in for-profit healthcare was dismal on the best day. We didn’t get sick time or yearly raises. When the pandemic hit, I got no hazard pay.
They let go one of my coworkers a few days into the pandemic. He came into work and was no longer able to sign into the computer system. We “crowdfunded” a severance for him. Each of my coworkers and I donated $100 so that he and his four kids weren’t left high-and-dry.
That’s not to say our company did nothing for us. Once, they threw us a pizza party during our thirty-minute, unpaid lunch break. Another time, they printed us signs to put in our front yards, with the name of the company bigger than the message, “A Hero Lives Here.”
I was frustrated—not just about money, but the idea behind what that money represented. I didn’t feel valued. As a person, employee, or professional.
Value—and the “Value Crisis” I perceive permeating our current culture—was one of the main ideas explored while writing Lucky. It persists in my research to this day.
Self-publishing, thus, really was a no-brainer for me. I saw it as the ultimate way for me to circumvent the “Value Crisis” at the individual level. I see it as a way to be valued, in the truest essence of the word… at the very least, in the long run.
While releasing the book, I learned how much I enjoy being in the driver’s seat for the entire publishing process: writing, cover design, formatting, decisions regarding editing, business, sales, and marketing. The biggest pro’s of self-publishing, for me are: having the control, taking the risks, and reaping the rewards!
Christina: As you mentioned, you’re a speech-language pathologist. How does your training and work experience inform your writing? What’s the greatest lesson you learned from your experience in that role?
Kristina: Becoming, and working as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) has vastly changed the way I see the world around me. The coursework related to speech, linguistics, and cognition informed the way I think, write, and live. My masters program taught me to be curious, how to obtain a holistic understanding of a problem or story, and how to support your beliefs with evidence. It taught me to be confident in my training, research, and understanding. Overall, it made me a more well-rounded person.
Before switching gears during the pandemic, I was working primarily with elderly people. I spent thirty minutes to an hour with these people, two to five times a week. I got to know them. I listened to their stories. My patients taught me that everyone has an interesting and important story to tell. They taught me that everyone’s story has value.
Now, I still work part-time as a SLP, providing reading therapy to kids with dyslexia. Most reading therapy programs focus on memorization and sight words. I work directly alongside my clinic’s founder to implement her novel approach to literacy: a thorough understanding of words and their parts. Each day at work, I get to dive into linguistics, history, and the journey of words throughout time. Words, as it turns out, are each tiny, symbolic stories.
Sometimes, when we “discover” a word, I can viscerally feel my synapses firing with new connections being formed. Through this job, I am constantly deepening my understanding of the world.
Christina: On Instagram you wrote, “If you don’t sit down to write (or ‘sweep the temple steps’), the inspiration, if it comes, may pass through you and onto someone else.” What’s your suggestion to those who have trouble sitting down to write? How can a writer become more disciplined in their craft?
Kristina: My advice is two-fold:
- Seize opportunities as they’re presented. Have you ever been in bed at night— teetering on the edge of consciousness— think of a brilliant idea, tell yourself you will remember it in the morning, and then fall asleep? It reminds me of a quote from Lucky, “A dream is not so easy to catch in the morning.” Midnight ideas are much like dreams. Fleeting subconscious travelers, maybe of divine origin, that unless caught, will move onto the next creative soul. I prioritize the capture of ideas as they are presented to me and have been known to jump out of bed to scribble out a thought, poem, or quote.
- Work on your story everyday. While writing Lucky, I wrote every day. Even if I didn’t know what to “write,” I sat down to work on my book. Sometimes, that simply meant annotating articles or books related to my book’s themes. Sometimes, that meant brainstorming. If I was feeling stuck, I might record a voice memo as I talked, freestyle, which often led to a deeper, written brainstorming session. Sometimes, if nothing new was flowing but I still wanted to put in work, that meant editing what I had previously written.
I think some of the greatest writing advice might be, “work on your craft every day.” That work will pay off. You will be amazed by what you create.
Christina: Your website states that you’re “someone who learns best through art.” How long did it take for you to realize that? Did that learning style bring with it any challenges when you were growing up?
Kristina: There’s a Latin phrase, originally coined in relation to alchemy: “Ares totem requiring hominem.” It means, “The art requires the whole person.”
Learning through art isn’t necessarily a “learning style,” rather, a way of life. I need to be immersed—experiencing and learning with my whole person—in order to reach the depths of the knowledge I seek.
As I grew up and went through school, I typically did well in my classes without having to try as hard as some other students. But looking back, I experienced the deepest learning through the arts, specifically, music (choir), and theatre.
Plato said, “I would give the children music, physics, and philosophy—but most importantly music; for the patterns in music are the keys to all learning.” While writing Lucky, I discovered just how true Plato’s statement is. For a life-long learner and lover of wisdom, what I uncovered during the writing process completely changed my life.
Now, I look at any type of art— painting, songs, poems, literature, fashion design, photography, dance, etc.— as communication in its purest, most divine, form. Art shares ineffable truths about reality, consciousness, and the human condition.
Christina: What’s next for you?
Kristina: I’m currently working on a few exciting projects.
I have been fostering connections and building my “author network” mainly via Instagram. I have hosted 50 authors on Instagram Live for hour-long conversations about their books, creative process, the craft of writing, and life lessons. Through this, I have met incredible people and learned so much about myself and my own writing. I’m continuing these on IG for now, but am considering expanding this to reach a larger audience. So, stay tuned for that.
I’m also working on my second novel. It’s not a sequel but involves one of the characters my readers got to know in Lucky. I can’t give too much away, but can reveal that it combines two topics I’m extremely interested in: the stock market and alchemy.
My ideal reader for this next book would be anyone interested in what is happening with the stock market—specifically, the saga of the stock, GameStop—or has imagined what their life might be like if they hit it big through investing. My ideal readers, in general, are those who enjoy exploring contemporary themes through a fictional lens. Those who enjoy puzzling together stories and finding answers to questions they didn’t even know they had!
I also collaborate with other authors and artists in a variety of mediums. Since publishing my book last summer, I have designed multiple book covers, made progress on my first audiobook, gotten involved with several exciting creative projects, including the development of a musical, and began sharing my experiences with others as a book coach.
I’m excited to see what the future has in store!
Thanks to Kristina for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.