An Interview with Gabriella Saab

Hello and welcome to the next interview of 2021! To read past interviews, click here. Today’s spotlight is on author Gabriella Saab. Let’s dive in.

Books-to-film, and now books-to-Netflix, has been a hot topic for years. What do you love about book adaptations for film or television? What do you dislike about them? Do you think they encourage, or discourage, more readership?

I absolutely think book-to-film adaptations encourage more readership, and I think that’s what I love most about them! These adaptations broaden reach and access different audiences, which benefits both book and film. Through film adaptations, the work comes to life through the beauty of cinematography, and what I find most fascinating is the overall interpretation. No two readers will read the same book and come away with the same understanding, and the same is true for film.

Film allows viewers to see what the creative team has interpreted and then to draw their own interpretations from that as well, and perhaps this allows the audience to consider aspects they might have missed in written form or to see them in a new light. Conversely, sometimes elements from the book are drastically altered, and usually that is where I find fault. Overall, however, I have always been a fan of book-to-film adaptations and am excited for more of them in the future.

What are your favorite things about writing historical fiction? Is THE LAST CHECKMATE (Oct 2021) a #histfic novel? What inspired its story?

In writing historical fiction, I have the honor of taking real people, events, and time periods, interpreting them in a fictional sense, and hoping to encourage my readers to learn more about the real history for themselves. THE LAST CHECKMATE is #histfic, my fictional version of two truths: Women were not imprisoned in Auschwitz before 1942, and the Auschwitz’s Women’s Orchestra was made up of Jewish women who were spared in exchange for playing during inmate executions and entertaining the guards.

I wondered, if a girl was sent to Auschwitz before 1942, how might she have been spared and imprisoned rather than executed upon arrival? My answer was inspired by the women’s orchestra—my character, an avid chess player, is spared in exchange for playing chess against the guards, and her camp deputy plans to kill her once they are no longer entertained by her.
What kind of research did you do for THE LAST CHECKMATE? How long did you spend researching versus writing?

I spent about six months writing and researching the first draft, relying heavily on the abundance of sources available about Auschwitz. I was incredibly fortunate in this regard. One of my most fascinating, emotional sources were World War II and Holocaust survivors themselves. Online, I found countless survivor testimonies, allowing me to read or watch interviews with men and women discussing their experiences. My final large element of research was travel. I went to Warsaw and Auschwitz to see my setting in person, and this brought the story to life in ways I never would have imagined.

After those first six months of writing/researching, I took my research trip, edited, did more research, and sent some queries. After a few months, I received an R&R asking me to change the story to a non-linear timeline. I stopped querying and spent another three or four months on my rewrite. Along with my next round of queries, I also participated in #pitmad, which led to my agent!

You often co-host the #HFChitChat group over on Twitter. What’s been the most fulfilling part of participating in such a venture?

Easy: Connecting with other #histfic writers! #HFChitChat has been an absolute joy to be a part of. My co-hosts, Janna and Sydney, founded this group, and their passion is evident in every meeting we have and every interaction with the community online. I’m so grateful to work with them and to have gotten to know so many incredible #histfic writers through our monthly chats.

Connecting with historical writers was difficult for me when I first joined the #writingcommunity on Twitter, so this group filled a much-needed void in my life, as I think it has done for many others, as well. #HFChitChat fosters camaraderie, fascinating discussions, and enthusiasm for historical fiction and its subgenres, and I encourage every historical writer to join us!

What’s your favorite point of view to write in? Have you ever deviated from that style to try something new?

THE LAST CHECKMATE is a non-linear timeline written in both first person past and first person present. The present tense surprised me; I had always been a past tense writer, but when I sat down to put this story together, my MC started telling it to me in present. Ultimately, I’m so happy with how it works with the framework of my story, and I’m so passionate about first person. I love being right there in my MC’s head.

However, there’s a lot I like about close third person as well, so I might delve into that someday! Not sure if I would ever attempt omniscient, but I’m always open and enjoy a challenge. I think it depends on the story and how it tells me it wants to be told.

Okay, so once again that was more than five questions, but still loads of fun. Many thanks once again to Gabriella Saab for participating in this year’s interview series!

Check back next week, Wednesday, March 10th to meet author AR Jung!

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ABOUT Gabriella

Gabriella Saab graduated from Mississippi State University with a Bachelor of Business Administration in marketing and now lives in her hometown of Mobile, Alabama, where she works as a barre instructor. Her debut historical novel, THE LAST CHECKMATE, is coming from William Morrow/HarperCollins October 2021.

Practice your craft, but study it, as well. Do your research, read widely, find critique partners and beta readers, and always, always keep learning!

Gabriella’s advice for fellow writers