Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Guest Post by Karen Halvorsen Schreck, Author of Broken Ground

In my early twenties, I fell truly, deeply, madly in love—not with a person, but with a vocation: Writing. Like most in the early stages of a relationship, I wanted to learn everything I could about this Significant Other; I wanted us to be inseparable. Always a voracious reader, I entered a graduate program in English and Creative Writing. I lived on next to nothing on a grimy street, which at that time boasted Most-Bars-In-A-Single-Mile in the Guinness Book of World Records. I wore too much black, drank too much coffee, and lived mostly in my imagination, except when dancing to seemingly immortal musical artists who in this year, 2016, all seem to be dying. I gathered with other writers over dinner; we compared notes on our shared passion until the wee hours. I learned a lot.

I’m much older now, and so is my love. Like a long marriage, our relationship is now seasoned. The romance is not entirely gone, nor the passion, but it is balanced by time, experience, and perspective. Still, I remember our early days fondly. Some of what I learned then has evolved, or changed altogether, but other things remain the same. One of these is a statement, variously attributed to the likes of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, and John Gardner, among others:

There are only two plots in all of literature:

1) A person goes on a journey.

2) A stranger comes to town.

I have published four novels now, one book for children, short stories. But I believe it is within my most recently released historical novel BROKEN GROUND that the above statement rings most true. Never before has one of my characters taken such a journey. Never before has my writing taken me on such a journey. 
Set in the 1930s, the plot of BROKEN GROUND takes readers from East Texas to Oklahoma, then west along the route travelled by Dust Bowl Refugees of that time to California, and once there from Pasadena, to San Jose, and finally to a Mexican migrant worker camp due East of Los Angeles. I’ve been to California before, but not with this book in mind, so I spent a fair amount of time digging up photographs that evoked both the place and the era. Some, like this one, are from my collection of family photos.

Others, stopped me short as I searched the Internet.

Still others were familiar to me—pictures taken by WPA artists and workers, and now in the public domain. 
Along with the physical journey covered by the plot, BROKEN GROUND also holds an emotional journey, one that takes the main character and readers from isolation through ever-expanding experiences of community. 

 And BROKEN GROUND another journey, as well, one that I’ll call, for lack of a better word, a journey toward understanding. When I started writing this book, I had no idea what was going to happen on the level of story because I had absolutely no awareness of the historical event that ended up most informing the story—specifically, the so-called Mexican Repatriation program of the 1930s, during which one to two people of Mexican heritage were deported without due process . . . 60% of whom were U.S. citizens. 

I’ve never learned more writing a novel about the journeys people go on, and also how it is to feel a stranger in a strange town. I feel this new understanding has given me a larger sense of our world and the compassion so very much needed by both travellers and strangers. My hope is that you will come to some surprising new understanding as well, over the course of reading BROKEN GROUND.
Publication Date: Howard/Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
ISBN: 9781476794839

“Repatriation” has recently become a more familiar term and a subject of increasing national debate, due to Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency. Conflicts concerning our immigrant population—both legal and illegal—as well as refugees seeking asylum continue to rise. These current events, along with their surrounding rhetoric, eerily mirror a long-suppressed element of U.S. history: the series of deportations without due process that occurred over the course of the 1930s.

Karen Halvorsen Schreck was researching the Dust Bowl of the 1930s for her new historical novel when she discovered information about what happened to the Mexican and Mexican-American population in California at that time. Schreck already knew she wanted to write about this place and time period, but she had not been aware of how much historical relevance the decade had for our country today. Tapping into her own family history—her mother was from the Dust Bowl and traveled as a student to California in the 1930s—Schreck has crafted an epic story, BROKEN GROUND.

In BROKEN GROUND, Ruth, a woman from Oklahoma who is newly married and crazy in love, abruptly becomes a young widow when her husband Charlie dies in an oil production-related accident near their home in East Texas. Ruth is forced to move back in with her disapproving, chauvinistic father and a mother who tries to keep the peace. When an opportunity to attend a university in California on full scholarship opens up, she packs her bags and boards a train for the Pacific Coast.

Ruth is attractive and smart, and eventually catches the attention of one of her professors who recruits her as his personal assistant. Things continue to go well for Ruth when a family friend invites her to their home for the holidays, and she develops an interest in their disabled son, Thomas. Upon returning to school, Ruth’s life turns upside down when her professor crosses a line, but she is blamed and summarily expelled. Instead of returning home to her narrow-minded father, she boards a bus and arrives on Thomas’s doorstep, where she asks him to bring her into the fold in a Mexican workers’ camp, where he has a teaching job.

The challenges of Ruth’s transition from student to camp worker slowly dissipate, and she soon earns the respect of the campers by attracting the interests of their children. Eventually, Ruth teaches by Thomas’s side and helps plan ways to protest the unlawful treatment of the Mexican migrant workers. Nighttime raids—where entire camps are bused back to Mexico—were all too common, and Ruth needs to ensure the security of the camp, workers, and her new friends.

Karen Halvorsen Schreck is the mother of two Latino children, which brings the treatment of the Mexicans today and in our country’s past closer to home. She has a passion for these complex issues and hopes that BROKEN GROUND will not only entertain as a novel, but also enhance the conversation about immigration in the United States today. 

Praise for Broken Ground

"A compelling story, emotionally honest and beautifully written." —Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author of The Opposite of Everyone

“Engaging, lyrical, and inspirational, this is a novel for anyone interested in American history, immigration, gender studies, agriculture, or just a good story about human relationships and all the different directions life can go.” —Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Feathered Bone

Buy the Book


About the Author

Karen Halvorsen Schreck is the author of the historical novel Sing For Me (Simon & Schuster), which was praised in a Publishers Weekly starred review. She received her doctorate in English and Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Schreck teaches writing and literature and lives with her husband, photographer Greg Halvorsen Schreck, and their two children in Wheaton, Illinois.

You can learn more about Karen on her website and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


  1. Great post. This historical novel seems to be very interesting. I liked the cover. Congratulations.
    Cyci Cade

  2. This sounds like a great book! I'll be adding it to my to-read list!