Eve Karlin, TRACK 61

Eve Karlin, TRACK 61

Zibby is joined by author and bookseller Eve Karlin to talk about her latest novel, Track 61, which was inspired by a real historical event that took place in Eve’s hometown of Amagansett. The two discuss the fascinating backstory of Track 61, which traits Eve took from her grandmother and gave to her protagonist, Grete, and why she made the shift from publishing to working at Book Hampton. Eve shares how she used to make time for reading and writing while raising triplets and she tells Zibby about what she’s researching next.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Eve. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Track 61.

Eve Karlin: Thank you for having me. Thank you for welcoming me into your beautiful home.

Zibby: It’s so nice to do something in person after so long, especially out here in the summer. It’s so fun. I was saying I used to do it like this all the time.

Eve: It’s nice to look someone in the eye as opposed to a computer screen.

Zibby: I know. There must be some benefit to being away from screens.

Eve: I think so.

Zibby: Track 61, tell listeners, please, what your book is about and what inspired you to write it.

Eve: My book is historical fiction. It is based on a true event, the Nazi saboteur landing in Amagansett, New York, which happened in the summer of 1942, eighty years ago this past summer. I grew up in Amagansett, so I’d always known about this outrageous story of four Nazis disembarking a U-boat off the coast of Amagansett, a summer community. As I started to look into Grand Central, which also really interested me, and some of the history there, a beautiful site in Manhattan, I found this connection that really inspired me.

Zibby: Wow. You also weave in the story of — not Grete (Greta). How do you pronounce it?

Eve: Grete (Greta). Absolutely.

Zibby: Even though there’s an E? Okay. Grete meets — what is his name? Hold on. I’m so bad with —

Eve: — Peter Burger.

Zibby: Peter. Grete meets Peter Burger early in your story. She is watching this parade, which sounded crazy. Can you describe the parade? Did that actually happen?

Eve: Yeah, that parade happened. When I do talks, I actually show the footage from the parade. It was the largest military parade in US history. There were about two million spectators. La Guardia was there, the mayor of New York at the time. It’s amazing. The floats are amazing to look at, and also the patriotism at the time in New York. Marched up 5th Avenue.

Zibby: This is 1942?

Eve: ’42, six months after the US entered the war.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. Then were swastikas on the — right?

Eve: I know. There’s one float that I find particularly amazing. It has a Norseman plunging a sword into a swastika. There’s also the rising sun and whatever the symbol was for Italy and fascism there. It was kind of a bizarre sight.

Zibby: Might have skipped 5th Avenue that day if I was living there at the time.

Eve: There were so many people out, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to create this fictionalized event for a real-life character based on Peter Burger, who was actually at the parade that day. He arrived in Manhattan, took the train with his three co-saboteurs into New York City. Arrived in New York City, saw the parade. I fictionalized a meeting for a character who was loosely based on my grandmother to meet Peter at this parade.

Zibby: He kind of touches her. He looks at her kind of — not intrusively. That’s the wrong word. Maybe borderline inappropriately. Then they recognize something in each other. Did your grandmother meet somebody at a parade ever, maybe?

Eve: Perhaps. She was very outgoing. But not him, not there.

Zibby: They felt this connection.

Eve: Right. It was really great to be able to weave my personal story into this, or my grandmother’s story. She, I know, as an immigrant to this country, kind of felt like an outsider. She was popular and outgoing in Germany. She, like so many others, had her life uprooted. I think that she sensed this other character’s outside-ness. They bonded. That is the premise for the book.

Zibby: Interesting. In the book, you gave the backstory of Grete and how her family thought about moving. They could sense what was going on in Germany.

Eve: Like so many others, yeah. That’s actually factual as well. That’s true.

Zibby: That’s actually factual as well. Interesting. They’re at the parade. Not only does she meet Peter, but he’s like, I have to make a pit stop at Grand Central with my friend George. Then you find out that what they’re doing, they’re up to no good, essentially, in Grand Central. She doesn’t know this at first. Talk about that whole subplot and how this becomes the basis of the whole story.

Eve: The truth of the matter is that, or at least most people believe, that the target of the saboteurs was Grand Central and a secret sub-basement, which still exists, called M42 which housed rotary converters that supplied power to trains that were running up and down the East Coast. It would’ve taken very, very little to sabotage that power station. Had they succeeded, trains, troop supply would’ve stopped as well as, the power from there also supplied power plants that built aluminum which built airplanes. If those electrolyte baths had been stopped, the aluminum baths would’ve frozen. It really would’ve been detrimental to the war effort. M42 was most likely one of the targets. When I started to look into Grand Central, I also noticed or saw this abandoned rail track called Track 61 that FDR often used or used during the war to come to the city for security and also to hide his disability. It seemed like a really logical kind of target.

Zibby: It’s so crazy that there was a private way into the city.

Eve: There still is.

Zibby: There still is?

Eve: Yeah. One of the questions someone asked me and I was like, “Good question,” was, “When was the last time that track was used?” From what I can gather, it was shortly after 9/11 when Bush and Condoleezza Rice — from the US General Assembly, it’s a potential escape route from the city.

Zibby: From the UN?

Eve: From Grand Central. Had they been at the UN General Assembly, it potentially could’ve escaped via .

Zibby: I don’t know. There’s so much traffic at the UN Assembly. I don’t know how they would even get to Grand Central.

Eve: They never would’ve even gotten to Lexington Avenue.

Zibby: I don’t think so. I think that would’ve been like, forget about it.

Eve: Good point.

Zibby: I was like, ooh, there’s an escape route from the UN Assembly. That would be an interesting route. This place ten stories underground still supplies power to all these places or not?

Eve: It’s no longer in operation. Although, the pictures are kind of awesome. They do remind me of Stranger Things.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, crazy. Let’s go back to — you discovered the story being an Amagansett resident and knowing the history of this. Then you have your grandmother. Now why write a whole book about it? Tell us your background and how you came into writing a historical novel to begin with.

Eve: This is my second. My first was a really eerie connection. It’s about a well that still exists on Spring Street in New York City, a well in which a young woman’s body was found in 1800. The man accused of murdering her was defended by Hamilton and Burr working together in the only criminal case that they ever worked together on. I had lived across the street from that well when I was young. I had been the same age as the murder victim when I lived there. That was two hundred years after the fact. I was so amazed by all these connections. When I looked into Hamilton and Burr — there’s a restaurant in New York called One if by Land where my husband actually proposed to me. It used to be Burr’s carriage house. I felt like there are all these stories that surround all of us. I was searching for another one. One of the places I looked was Grand Central because I love Grand Central. When I found this connection to the men who landed virtually in front of the house where I grew up in Amagansett, I knew I had that personal connection to the story.

Zibby: What do you do once you have these ideas? You just dive right into research? Tell me your process.

Eve: I do. I look to see what’s been written on the subject. As far as I know, this is the only historical novel. There are nonfiction books. There’s also a three-thousand-page transcript from the saboteurs’ military tribunal which was released in the sixties. I read those. Research is fun.

Zibby: Light reading.

Eve: It’s a little repetitive. After a while, I stopped printing because it was just so much pages. It’s actually really interesting.

Zibby: Then you create the characters, and off you go, is basically how you do it?

Eve: Yeah, I think so. When I thought about it and thought, where’s the conflict? — you want a conflict in a story. I thought about, oh, gee, there’s my grandmother watching my sister and I on this beach. It seemed like the conflict of her as a German Jew meeting someone who she thinks is an ally and then discovering something about him seemed really like a good conflict. The more I looked into it, the more interesting the conflict became because Peter Burger is just a really interesting character. He too, he was born on the wrong side of history, basically. Who can say what one does when put in those shoes? You never really know.

Zibby: It’s true. Wow. You also have a line in there when Grete was introducing herself. I think this was when it was. She said she was German Jewish. Someone said, I didn’t know you could be German and Jewish.

Eve: That’s definitely something my grandmother experienced.

Zibby: Crazy. I am part German Jewish. I feel like there’s so many German Jewish people, but I guess fewer than .

Eve: When she came to this country, obviously, there was a lot of German Americans at the time. It was definitely different in the early forties.

Zibby: In addition to your writing career, you’re a bookseller at BookHampton. Tell me about that. When did you start doing that? How long?

Eve: It was related to your podcast. Moms don’t have time to read or even choose a book. That’s why I listen to the podcast, because it helps me curate what I’m going to read. I have triplets. When they went off to college, I decided — I was living near the bookstore. I had worked in publishing. They were advertising. I said, oh, that sounds great. I’d love to be involved with books again.

Zibby: It’s always been a dream of mine to have a bookstore or something like that. What is it actually like day to day working in a bookstore? Is it as great as it seems? What would we not know from the outside?

Eve: I think this community is a bit odd because it’s such a summer community with so many different types of people. There are lots of really, really great things. Every day when you open up boxes and see the books, it’s like Christmas. What’s coming in? What to read? There’s so much to read. In general, it’s really, really great. That said, retail has its own challenges. It’s been wonderful, actually. It’s a really great and interesting place to work.

Zibby: How much time do you spend on the floor chatting with the customers and recommending books versus behind the counter? I know this is ultra-specific, but I’m really curious.

Eve: A lot of time. It depends on the season. Right now, I think people appreciate the hand-sell when it comes to books. People like to chat about books. That’s definitely the most wonderful part of the job.

Zibby: That’s so nice. Amazing. Do you have any part in acquiring the books? Do you get visibility into that process?

Eve: Visibility, yeah. At one point, I worked for Random House. I was a sales rep. My territory was down South. I do really understand the process, which, of course, has evolved a lot since I was a sales rep. Do I buy? Am I a front-list buyer? No, I’m not.

Zibby: Let’s go back. You were born in Amagansett. You lived on Spring Street. What happened between then and working as a sales associate?

Eve: I worked in publishing for many years.

Zibby: Doing? Where did you —

Eve: — I worked in sales at Random House. I moved down South for a bit for Random House as a sales rep. I met my husband. We came back to New York. We had triplets. I left publishing to raise the three of them. Now they are more or less on their own. They’re twenty-four.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, triplets.

Eve: You have four kids.

Zibby: I know, but still, all at the same time.

Eve: Again, pros and cons because they all have the same level of interest, more or less. You’re dealing with the same books, the same potty training, the same this and that.

Zibby: Are they the same gender?

Eve: Two boys and a girl.

Zibby: Wow, oh, my gosh.

Eve: You have twins, right?

Zibby: I know. I know I do.

Eve: You can really get there.

Zibby: I know. Just one more. That’s like when people are like, is it really that much harder having four than three? I’m like, it’s another person. It’s a whole nother person. Yes.

Eve: It is another kid. More tuition, another meal.

Zibby: Another doctor’s appointment. My last kid, I realized I had forgotten all his checkups for months. I was like, wait a minute, wasn’t I supposed to go every month when he’s a baby? He’s fine.

Eve: You know, he might be better for it.

Zibby: He is. He’s so chill. He can go anywhere. I wish I was a fourth child. Maybe then I’d —

Eve: — Again, I think there’s a lot — that’s the problem with having three first children, but I think it’s good too because, a pacifier falls in the dirt, whatever. Stick it back in.

Zibby: Were you able to read at all? Did you read when you had kids?

Eve: Yeah. I did a lot of things because it was like, got to go, I’m running the marathon. Got to train.

Zibby: Did you really run the marathon?

Eve: Yeah.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. Good for you.

Eve: Because it was private time.

Zibby: There has to be some escape. I just saw this tote bag. I was at this store. On the shelf, there was this huge bag. In huge, bold letters it just said, “Escape.” I was like, why am I so drawn to this tote bag? I don’t need another tote bag.

Eve: Because I can pack all these things in there.

Zibby: It was just the idea. What does that mean? What would I put in to really help me escape? Would it be books? I don’t know.

Eve: Definitely, books.

Zibby: Could I actually escape? Maybe I should go back and buy it.

Eve: Books are wonderful, obviously. They were fabulous to get away from the day-to-day.

Zibby: What kind of books do you like to read?

Eve: I gravitate towards fiction or memoir. I really enjoyed your memoir so much.

Zibby: Thank you.

Eve: I really loved Princess Charming. That’s so cute.

Zibby: Thank you.

Eve: It’s really cute. I do run the book club, and I think tends to be on the more literary side of fiction.

Zibby: What have you read lately? Any other books?

Eve: I am just rereading, because we’re discussing it for our book club, a French writer. She’s named Valérie Perrin, if I’m pronouncing — she wrote Fresh Water for Flowers, which is a beautiful book.

Zibby: Wait, somebody was just raving about this book.

Eve: The new one is called Three.

Zibby: No, it was the other one.

Eve: Fresh Water for Flowers. There’s a lot to rave about. It’s a terrific book. The new one she has, which we will be discussing in our book club, is Three, which is also really interesting.

Zibby: Do you get to pick the books for the book club?

Eve: I do, which is a lot like choosing a meal for ten people or twelve people and saying, everyone will eat this.

Zibby: That does not go over well here.

Eve: Some people are vegetarians.

Zibby: I was going to say, that is the hardest thing. It’s probably harder to do a meal for ten people these days than a book.

Eve: It’s very hard.

Zibby: You’ve been in publishing forever in one way, shape, or form. If you could change a few things, what do you think needs changing?

Eve: I always think publishers are a bit like Monday-morning quarterbacks. There are trends. That’s terrific, but I think people need to trust their gut a little bit more on what they acquire and not be so concerned with how to present it, where it will be shelved. Oh, this book is a bit of an outlier. I don’t know where we’re going to put it, where it fits. I would like to think that people would be just a little bit more — put themselves out more in what they purchase, what they buy, what they’re willing to represent. Publishing, it’s a hard business.

Zibby: I was just having a whole call this morning with my publisher about all these different things that we’re doing. I’m like, “So, do you think we’re ever going to make any money doing this?” Yes, if it grows and grows, but it’s hard.

Eve: Just getting your book out there is really, really hard. I like to think I’ve seen the publishing process from editorial acquiring a book, sales selling the book, both from the publisher side and now from an independent bookstore. So many books come in. How do you distinguish that book? The worst part of my job is returns, when you have to send a book that hasn’t sold back to the publisher. You think, gee, this author worked so hard. They really deserve to be placed here, regardless of the book. Writing a book is really an effort of love.

Zibby: I feel like discoverability is so hard.

Eve: It’s very hard.

Zibby: Even in BookHampton, which has the best books, it’s hard. What do you do if you are one of those authors? You’re lucky to get into a bookstore. You have one book on a high shelf. What can you do as an author? The advice I got when I did my anthology was, “No, no, no, do not talk to bookstores. Don’t go in. Don’t do anything. Leave them alone. They’re already overwhelmed. If every author came in, they would…”

Eve: Well, it is their business. I have to say, you’ve been so, so lovely. You get your voice out there with a wonderful person like you who speaks to so many authors. You do so much for them. I’ve learned so much from listening to your podcast about individual authors, and not just about their book, but about the process. I think it’s fabulous. That’s one way. Booksellers, are they overwhelmed? Sure. Reading a book takes three, four, or five days, maybe longer. It’s a lot. It’s an investment in your time. It’s the reason why we write. It’s the reason why we read. It’s the reason why we love it. I think that it’s really worthwhile. It’s hard to get your voice out there, but I think you got to keep on plugging at it, I like to think.

Zibby: I feel like the people who write — you probably relate to this. You have to do it. Isn’t it?

Eve: Write? Yes. Do publicity? Not necessarily. Write? Yes.

Zibby: No, not publicity. I mean the urge to do it because it doesn’t always make sense.

Eve: Oh, it makes no sense, especially for a novel. Nonfiction, you can sell on proposal, hopefully. Fiction, it’s a leap of faith for many, many people, but it’s wonderful. People who love books are good people.

Zibby: Yes. I just did this book fair in LA. Somebody was like, “Are you having any security?” I’m like, “Who’s going to come rob a book fair?”

Eve: Or even a bookstore.

Zibby: Or even a bookstore. I mean, maybe.

Eve: There’s . They’re a bigger target.

Zibby: There are bigger targets. I’m not that — I shouldn’t say that. Great, you want to steal a book and read it? Be my guest. Not really, but you know what I mean.

Eve: We live in a weird world right now. Who knows?

Zibby: Yes, that’s true. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Eve: Many authors can phone in and give me advice. I’m happy to hear it all. My advice would be just to trust yourself. Trust your instincts. It’s a long process. I’ve been in a couple writing groups where people just, they can’t stick it out. It’s important to try to do that because there’s so many bumps on the way to publication. There are so many near misses. There are so many ups and downs. For whatever level you’re at, just believe in your project. Have faith in it. Hopefully, trust yourself. It will come out one way or another. The project will come to fruition in people’s hands. People will come in, which is also really weird, when people come into the bookstore and give me feedback.

Zibby: Do they really?

Eve: Oh.

Zibby: About your book?

Eve: The other day, I was there. I was recommending books. Honestly, I don’t recommend my book because it’s kind of weird, but it’s sitting there. Someone said, “Oh, and I just finished this.” She pointed to my book. I was like, “Did you like it?”

Zibby: What did she say?

Eve: It was good, but it could’ve gone either way. They say, if you’re a lawyer, you shouldn’t ask a question you don’t know the answer to.

Zibby: It’s like that show, Undercover Boss or something. Authors should do that. Although, they’re mostly undercover anyway because nobody even knows most authors.

Eve: Actually, I think that’s a great premise for a show, an author in a bookstore selling their book listening to feedback.

Zibby: It would be funny. I should just do it with you. I should just come in and film you doing it one day in BookHampton. It would be hilarious.

Eve: Hello? We should film you. I was just thinking the opposite.

Zibby: You’re already doing it. You already work there. It’s perfect. That’s so funny. What is your next project?

Eve: I’ve started to really get the research bug. I’m learning to be a little bit more pushy. Not pushy. I didn’t initially know, how do you research? How do you do this? The internet is amazing, but there are a lot of other resources. I’m just looking into a project, also historical fiction, about two sisters, Manhattan women who were alive — they were born around 1900. They lived into their eighties.

Zibby: Interesting. I feel like next time I stumble on a pothole with a plaque or something, I’m going to take a picture and send it your way.

Eve: When you go to the reservoir, for my first book, and you learn the history of the Manhattan Bay, it’s so interesting, the Manhattan Water Company.

Zibby: There was some place recently, I feel like in East Hampton, and there was a plaque on the wall. It was just like, “So-and-so used to sit here all the time.” It’s in the parking lot. I’m going to send you a picture.

Eve: In the parking lot?

Zibby: I swear. Maybe I’m remembering this wrong. There’s this tiny, little thing that’s like, “So-and-so used to sit here.” I’ll find it. I’m going to send you a picture. Then you’re like, who is this guy?

Eve: I think it’s true. I just drove by a new thing that was de Kooning’s home. Everywhere. Scrape the surface, and there are so many amazing stories.

Zibby: Amazing. Thank you, Eve. Thanks for coming on.

Eve: Thank you, Zibby, so much.

TRACK 61 by Eve Karlin

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