Thursday, December 6, 2012

Gypsy Spirit: An Interview with Author Rita Karnopp

Gypsy Spirit
Tango of Death, Book 1

Few people realize that being Gypsy in 1943 Poland was as dangerous and frightening as being a Jew. It is guessed that between five hundred thousand to one million Gypsies perished during the Holocaust, the Porraimos (the devouring) as the Gypsies called it.

Gypsy Spirit is the story of fifteen year-old Zilka Sucuri, a Gypsy girl who is thrust into the horrors of the Holocaust. Her life of traveling from town to town, singing and dancing the Gypsy way comes to an unconscionable stop when a SS death squad shoot every man, woman, and child in her kumpania. If she had not literally been up a tree, she would have been among those lying dead in a mass grave.

Her lungo drom (the long road) takes her across Poland, Austria, and Germany in a driving struggle to help an American pilot return safely to his unit so he can return to bomb the many concentration, work, and death camps all across Poland and Germany. Her efforts reveal the truths of Belzec, the challenges of the partisans, and the burning desire to survive to be a living witness of what truly happened to the non-Aryans of Hitler’s Germany.

Gypsy Spirit is a story of the driving spirit of a Gypsy girl, who took it upon herself to document the truth. Her strength and determination brings to light a story of magnanimity and the fears and atrocities such a Gypsy girl might have lived through.

In the author's words . . . 
Tell us a little about yourself.  

It seems I’ve been writing forever…and I guess I have, since dreaming up stories in my head was a great escape as young as ten.  I just finished my thirteenth book, releasing with Books We Love.  I write Indian historicals and suspense, but no matter what genre’ I’m writing…you can be sure to experience either the west of the 1800s or the west of today. 

I stepped out of my comfort zone recently and have been working on my Tango of Death trilogy that takes place in 1943 Germany, during the Holocaust.  Book 1, Gypsy Spirit, released in October of this year and I just finished Book 2, Partisan Heart.  In February I’ll start writing Book 3, Jewish Soul.

What inspired you to write this book?
For over fifteen years the Tango of Death (TANGO FUN TOYT), a book about the Gypsies during the holocaust has haunted me. My publisher, Books We Love, wanted me to ‘push myself’ and asked for a trilogy.  I’m so glad they did. It hasn’t been easy . . . but I believe these are the best books I’ve written to date.

My inspiration comes from being of Polish decent; I’ve been drawn to the struggles and incredible spirit it took to survive this unconscionable time in history. I wrote this story to create awareness and to pay homage to those Gypsies who lost their lives during the porraimos (the devouring), as the Gypsies called the Holocaust.

I pray that those who read this book will find it touch their spirit with compassion and new understanding.

If you had to sum it up Gypsy Spirit in 30 or less words, what would you say?
Book 1–Tango of Death Series - Gypsy Spirit is a story of the driving spirit of a Gypsy girl, who took it upon herself to document the truth. Her strength and determination brings to light a story of magnanimity and the fears and atrocities such a Gypsy girl might have lived through.           

What inspired the idea behind your book?
For centuries, the people known as Gypsies roamed Europe. They preferred lungo drom, ‘the long road’; they had no home and wanted none. Their life was an endless journey to nowhere in particular.

It is widely recognized that the persecution and murder of the Roma and Sinti Gypsies  have been largely overlooked by most scholars studying the Holocaust. Because most Romani communities of Eastern Europe were much less organized than the Jewish communities, it has been more difficult to assess the actual number of victims, though it is believed to range from 220,000 to 1,500,000.

Do you have a favorite character in Gypsy Spirit? Who and why?
Yes, Zilka is the almost sixteen year-old heroine in Gypsy Spirit.  She is spunky and just a delightful character. She has to grow-up fast and must face more than anyone should have to at that age. She has a free spirit and a loving soul. Although the story starts out with her having a ‘young love’ interest, this story is strong in a ‘brother-sister’ relationship. You can’t help but love this little Gypsy girl.

What has been your greatest challenge in writing Gypsy Spirit?
This is a fabulous question, because writing Gypsy Spirit was a true challenge in the respect I didn’t want to tell a story that has already been told during the Holocaust.  I did extensive research for over ten years, gleaning information I thought was necessary to tell, important to share, without sensationalizing what happened. I want the truth to be told, and to share the inhumane attitude the Nazis had toward anyone who wasn’t pure Aryan. 

I worked hard to create a story around real Nazis and real documented events and created a story I believe truly could have happened to a Gypsy girl in 1943 Poland.

Another challenge has been using Roma, German, Polish, and Yiddish languages throughout these books, and making sure the reader has no doubt what is being said.

What has been your greatest pleasure in writing this book?
I’ve  wanted to share a story that has been haunting me for years. To tell a story that will help others understand what the Gypsy had to endure during the Holocaust. How their culture made the demands on them even more demoralizing and hard to overcome.  I’m shocked how many people just aren’t aware Gypsies were equally persecuted during this dark time in history.

Of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite?
That’s like asking me which of my children is my favorite.  I love each one in a different way.  I love Indian historicals and I love suspense. My White Berry on the Red Willow is actually a Native American futuristic book. And now I’m writing the Holocaust trilogy.  How do I pick?  Each one is special to me and I loved writing them.

I guess I’m as good as my next book . . . so I hope Book 3 of the Tango of Death series, Partisan Heart, will be my favorite when I’m done writing!

What kind of research was involved for the series? Did you find it became easier with each book?
I made considerable efforts to make sure the integrity of 1943 Germany, the Ukraine, and Poland are kept.  The land, languages, and political upheaval was a concern of mine. I bought endless books on the Gypsies and did endless research until I was positive each book had the tone I wanted and needed.

With a trilogy that became more difficult, because I wanted each book to be fresh and not a repeat of the information I shared with my reader in the book(s) preceding it. I used real Nazis and real partisans. Sometimes the reader might not even realize I was using a live person of that time . . . but I knew and that was important to me. I believe there is a thread of realism and a feel of authenticity throughout all three books.
As a multi-genre author, how do you juggle going back and forth between the different genres? Do you have a preferred genre?
When I’m writing Native American . . . I’m self-absorbed!  When I’m writing suspense – again I think of nothing else.  Right now I’m absorbed by the Holocaust.  I get into a genre with a vengeance. I remove myself from all past books and eat, sleep, and write the genre I’m involved with.  It never feels like I’m juggling, because I don’t write first a Native American book, and next do a suspense book, and then back to writing a Native American book.  I will write several books in a row in a genre, then take on several books in another genre. Because I’m not juggling back and forth, I never feel disjointed.  Genre preference? – it would have to be the genre I’m writing at the time.

Do you have plans for a new book?  Is this book part of a series?
Once I finish Book 3 of my Tango of Death series, Jewish Heart, I’m contracted to write my Ten Commandment suspense series.  I’m very excited about this and it will be a nice change from the dark history of the Holocaust. Yes, this means there will be ten books to this series!  What am I thinking??

What’s the best book your mother ever gave or read to you?
My grandmother gave me a large book of Cinderella. It was a shiny, blue book that I read and imagined myself in almost every day. I treasured that book and it helped me at an early age to imagine a story . . . and realized it took me away from everything that wasn’t good in my life.

What was the last truly great book you read?
I loved reading Ginger Simpson’s series; Sarah’s Heart and Sarah’s Passion.  They are so well-written and a superb storyline that I still think about them.  That’s the sign of good writing and good books.

Do you write your friends or family members into your books? If so, did they figure it out? 
Yes, I do and I would guess everyone uses characters from their lives. I used my mother-in-law in my book Kidnapped. My daughter recognized her immediately. My police detective friend recognized himself in Revenge. I use the loyal love and humor my husband has shown me in the relationships in my books. I have a tendency to have mothers who have deserted the family or are destructive, with good reason. So, yes, I think I’m a writer who feels it from inside and writes from the heart.

How do you unwind after a long writing session?
I treat myself to a glass of wine and a movie I’ve been waiting to watch. Then my reward is to pick a book (which is hard … I must have fourteen-thousand waiting to be read) and read … relax … and enjoy!

Who or what has most influenced your writing?
My sister Diane, who I lost to throat cancer three years ago, has had the great impact on my writing. I think I would have given it up early in my career without her support and belief in me.  Now I write not only because it’s my passion, but because I know Diane would be so proud of me.

Did the plot of the book turn out the way you planned or did something change during the process of writing it?
To be honest, I love surprises while I’m writing.  In Gypsy Spirit there was a scene I had no idea where it was going to lead . . . I just didn’t know how Zilka was going to get out of the pickle she was in.  Then a flat tire on a Nazi car changed all that and the story took off in a direction I didn’t expect, with a real Nazi officer!  What excitement and twist.

If you could get anyone to read your book, who would you choose and why?
Yes, Steven Spielberg, because he has done so many movies and documentaries about the Holocaust and perhaps my Tango of Death series would touch his soul, and he’d like to make a movie out of them. 

Favorite place? 
Cook City… little restaurant overlooking a stream - with hubby.

Best Christmas present?
Finding out I was pregnant. 

Favorite author? 
Kat Martin

Favorite smell? 
Baby after a bath

Favorite movie? 
Last of the Dogmen

Favorite dish? 
Husband’s barbecued spareribs

Favorite color? 

Favorite quote
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass . . . it’s learning to dance in the rain . . .”   I also love, “Friends are gifts we give ourselves.” 

Your best trait? 
My positive attitude and humor.

Your worst trait? 
Need to learn to listen better.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with your reader’s today?
I love hearing from my readers. Feel free to email me at

An Excerpt from Gypsy Spirit

Poland – Slovakia – Germany 1943
          The twins ran past Zilka, their skirts blowing in the breeze nearly tripping them. The coins tied to their blouses jingled with each step. Their laughter carried on the wind.
          “Mayla, Vanya, where you running off to?” Zilka hoped they’d ask her to join them.
          “Varekai,” Mayla shouted.
          Zilka stomped her foot and frowned at them.  “Don’t wherever me. I know you’re headed to the pond. You want the boys to find you. I’m telling papa.”
          “Shush, you baby. Don’t be tellin’ papa anything or I’ll tell him you and Petre were up in that tree last night.”
          “You keep your tongue or I’ll tell papa you and Vilas were kissing out by the horses this morning.”
          “Quiet, both of you before everyone knows, including papa.” Mayla leaned toward the girls and whispered. “A vardo came in late last night.”
“Just one? Why would just one wagon come?” Vanya asked.
“Who was it?” Zilka looked around the encampment and adjusted the woven flower ring on her head.
“It was a family of diddakois.” Mayla answered with an exaggerated expression of distaste.
“So what, we’re a family of half-gypsies.” Zilka shook her head and rolled her eyes.
“They stayed with Natsi’s family. She said they were nervous and scared. They all went to the Shero Rom and talked and argued for hours before finally settling down for the night.”
“What were they arguing about?” Vanya whispered.
“I asked Natsi, but she didn’t know. The diddakois did a lot of crying.”
“You think they were sent away from their kumpania and they want to join ours?”
“We’ll have to ask papa. He’ll know.” Mayla reached over and pulled on Zilka’s necklace.
 “Atch,” she shouted, then grabbed Mayla’s long, sandy braid and gave it a tug.
“You little schej.” She yanked Zilka’s flowers down over her eyes and ran. Vanya followed on her heels.
 Zilka smiled.  She loved it when the twins called her a little Gypsy girl. The early morning chill sent her fetching a shawl before following them. Their house on wheels snuggled under a tree on the edge of camp. Zilka smiled. She loved the blue and green carved gilded spokes that housed a sitting space just outside the front door.  The windows of the wagon were covered by lace curtains and the wheel spokes were painted gold.  The curved roof edges were carved and painted yellow and red from which they hung copper ornaments.
She picked up her shawl and readjusted the flowers she always wore.
“Bajram, you cannot be serious. Mayla deserves a much younger man than Istvan Radita.  Even his son, Ivan would be a better choice.  She will never agree to it.”
“We should never have promised the girls they could approve or disapprove their tumnimos. Mayla is the eldest and must choose her betrothed first. They are all getting too old for me to arrange marriages for them. We should have taken care of this long ago.”
It wasn’t right to listen to her parent’s conversation, yet Zilka couldn’t bring herself to leave.
“Bajram, you are a good taj and the girls love you.”
“A good father would do what’s best for them even if they don’t understand. They know I love them and want them happy. I’m the laughing stock of our kumpania where the girls are concerned.”
Zilka smiled to herself. Everyone knew Bajram Sucuri could not say no to his girls. He was strict and protected them fiercely, but in the end the girls had the last word. There would be no abiav until Mayla agreed to marry. Then they’d have a fabulous wedding feast.
“What if Rosalia and Adam Bogdan are telling the truth? We must—“
“You want to divorce me and go back to the city? Would you take my chavis from me? It would tear my heart out, Elise.”
“You know I love you, Bajram,” Elise stifled her emotions. “If the SS are now arresting Gypsies, we must consider what this means.”
Zilka sat and leaned her shoulder against the front door, afraid what she would hear next.
“It can’t be true,” Bajram slammed his fist on top the wooden table. “We are German citizens.”
“We are also Gypsies.”
“No. I am Gypsy,” Bajram shouted. “You are Arian and our chavis are mischlinge.”
“Yes the girls are of mixed ancestry, but they could easily pass as Arian because they are jenische. Maybe being a white Gypsy is a blessing now. I could take them to my grandmother’s chalet in Switzerland. We could wait out the war there until you return for us. I am not divorcing you.”
“I’m not convinced we have to do this. We should wait until we can confirm these rumors. What if—“
“We can’t take the chance. We have to think of our girls . . . “
Zilka didn’t want to listen to another word. She bolted from the wagon and ran down the trail. A sharp rock pierced the bottom of her bare foot and she hobbled a short time, then sped ahead. Tears filled her eyes and streamed down her face.
“We’re over here, Zilka!”
She heard Vanya in the distance. Blinded by tears, she ran along the edge of the pond.  Finally out of breath, she stopped and sat on the dry shore. Pulling her legs into her chest, she cried until it hurt.
“Zilka, why on earth did you keep running?” Vanya asked, gasping for breath.
“Are you okay?” Mayla slid her arm around Zilka’s back.
“I heard mama and papa talking.” She paused and hiccupped.  “They said they were going to make Mayla marry Radita.”
“Ivan is actually really nice. He has been—“
“Not Ivan. His father, Istvan.”
“What? That is dinilo. He’s almost as old as papa.” Mayla stood and paced back and forth. “I won’t do it.”
“You won’t have to.” Zilka wiped her wet cheeks with her palms.
“You’re not making any sense. Why are you crying?” Vanya sat and pulled Zilka’s hand between hers.
“Mama is leaving papa and is taking us to our gadze’ grandmother.”
“No, that can’t be true.” Disbelief edged Mayla’s tone. “In Switzerland? Why would she do that? You must have heard wrong.” She sat next to Zilka.
“No, I know what I heard. It has something to do with those people who came last night. Papa said the SS were arresting Gypsies. Mama is going to make us look like gadze’—”
“She wouldn’t leave papa,” Vanya interrupted.
“I’m not going to dress like a non-gypsy. I refuse to act like a gadze’ and pretend to be only Arian.  I won’t leave papa and Petre.” Zilka wiped at the new stream of tears. She found comfort sandwiched between her sisters.
“We need to talk with mama and papa.” Mayla suggested.
“They can’t make us leave. This is our jamarokher. We are not gadze’ and we’ll never think like them. Never to travel. To be confined to one town. It is not for me.” Zilka pulled her flower ring off her head and studied the yellow and pink flowers. It always brought her comfort – until now.
 “It is our home, schej,” Vanya soothed. “Let’s see what mama and papa have to say before we get all upset and worried.”
Zilka allowed her sisters to pull her to her feet. A dark cloud settled over her as they headed back to their vardo. She had not known such unhappiness. How could she leave papa? She would stay with papa and the kumpania. How could she live without mama, Mayla and Vanya? New tears surfaced and freely rolled down her cheeks.

Meet the Author

Multi-published author Rita Karnopp knew at a very young age she wanted to be a writer – and penned her first story at age sixteen. She is drawn to the history of the Native American and strives to bring alive the authenticity of a time past.  Whether writing suspense, Indian historicals, or contemporary romance, Rita enjoys bringing excitement and the enduring power of love to her stories.
Rita currently resides in Montana with her husband and their loveable Cockapoo named Gema.  
When she isn’t reading, writing or doing research, Rita enjoys making dream catchers, gold panning, crystal or sapphire digging, rafting, fishing, canoeing, and spending time with her children and grandchildren.

Connect with Rita


LinkedIn: rita karnopp

Other books by Rita Karnopp



  1. What a fun interview this was with you Rita! Thank you for joining us and sharing your story.

  2. I really enjoyed the interview.

    All that research sounds like a lot of work!

  3. Rita,

    Hi! I so loved learning more about you...the citrine, I knew. :) I hope you have a wonderul time on your tour with MK! She is just great!!!

    All the Best!
    And Go Montana!!

  4. This book definitely touched me deeply.

  5. What a fun interview! I always love *hearing* from you! How great. Thank you for sharing all of this!!!

  6. Great interview! So many fun things to learn about you and the book. Congratulations!

  7. Hi Rita,
    Great interview. I knew the gypsies were persecuted by Hitler and this thugs, but didn't realize how many tens of thousands were killed.

    I think it is a wonderful thing that you have brought this tragedy to our attention.