20 Questions with Cathryn Prince

1. So, what’s your book all about?

Death in the Baltic: The Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is about the 1945 Soviet torpedo attack on the Wilhelm Gustloff, the largest maritime disaster in history.

On January 30, 1945, nearly 10,000 German refugees and wounded soldiers attempted to flee across the frigid waters of the Baltic Sea aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a cruise liner turned escape ship. Bound for Kiel, Germany the Gustloff moved across an obstacle-filled sea.

Sometime before dawn, a Soviet submarine commander, Alexander I. Marinesko seeking to redeem his reputation, ordered his crew to fire on the Gustloff.  His reputation was in shambles after military police found him drunk in a brothel. Marinesko knew he needed a victory; the Gustloff became the ideal target. Three Russian torpedoes struck the boat, causing catastrophic damage. The Gustloff sank and 9,000 people perished. In contrast, the Titanic claimed 1,500 lives in a peacetime disaster, and the Lusitania, claimed 1,198 lives in a military disaster.

Yet because history is defined as much by what becomes part of the official record as by what is left unrecorded, few know this story. In this case, German censorship, Soviet suppression, and western indifference buried the Gustloff’s story.

This book tells the story largely through the perspective of the surviving eyewitnesses.

2. What inspired you to write this tale?

My father. He told me about it. My passion is writing about lesser known historical events.

3. Do you have a favorite quote about creativity/inspiration etc…? What is it?

“If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water,” Ernest Hemingway.

4. What things do you keep in your “writing space”? Do they inspire you? Confound you? Hold wires in place?

Right now photos of people that I’m writing about, some who lost their lives in the torpedo attack, others who are still living. They remind me why I’m writing this book. That this is their story. Also, a Buddah is on my desk, photos of my kids when they were tiny, a wedding picture, and a picture of my Dad in Vietnam.

5. What is your perfect “writing space”?

Actually, I’m in it writing from my ‘perfect space’ now. My desk faces a window. I see the trees through the window. My dogs lie on the rug.  Lots and lots of books surround me. Quite different than the 3 1/2 x 3 ½ “alcove” I wrote my first book on. So I feel really fortunate now.

6. If your car horn could play any song, which would it be? Can’t say Dixie.

Nat King Cole’s ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right.”

7. What would you name the first permanent settlement on mars?

Ray Bradbury

8. How tall is the perfect sidekick? Please explain why it even matters.

Probably only about 2 feet tall with four legs: A dog is the perfect sidekick. Actually, two dogs: one chocolate lab and one yellow lab.

9. If you were to mess with the time stream, what would you change? Let’s assume a hundred other people already took care of Hitler so you don’t have to say, “Kill Hitler.”

Let Amelia Earhart finish her flight and go on to do great things in aviation, writing and I think she woudld have done a tremendous amount of philanthropy/education work.

10. Let’s say your character has a pet brown bear. What’s the bear’s name?


11. If you had to give an antagonist an annoying trait, what would it be?

To loudly crack and chew gum. 

12. What kind of car would your ultimate protagonist drive?

The Willys MB Overland Jeep, circa 1945.

13. You’ve got a year to travel anywhere. Where?

First across the US and then on to Cambodia, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, and end up in Antarctica. You did say I have a year.

14. You just bought a boat with your book fortune. What are you going to call it?

The Mark Twain.

15. What kind of music, if any, gets you typing the fastest?

These days I’m writing without music. But Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong are always good.

16. What’s the punch line to your favorite joke?

I don’t have a favorite joke, but this is good & clean. And the punch line is: “I’ll get you the nails and the wood.”

17. What lyric do you sing poorly, yet loudly?

Louis Prima ‘I Ain’t Got Nobody’

18. You find a portal to another world in your sink’s drain. What is this other world called? And what is the best way to clean the portal so it doesn’t smell like old food?

The other world is called To clean the portal GoJo.

19. Where can people learn more about you, your work or any pets you have?

You can find me here:
twitter: @CathrynPrince
facebook:  www.facebook.com/pages/Cathryn-J-Prince/125313294202689
web site:  www.cathrynjprince.com

20. What’s next?

More writing.

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