Author event launches novel exploring personal and generational trauma

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. – Author Kirstie Croga launched her debut novel “Milwaukee Deep” at an event hosted by the Capitol Theatre on Thursday, April 20. The evening included book signings, a presentation by the author, and a catering spread that featured authentic Puerto Rican cuisine.

Attendees were able to purchase copies of the book before its national release date of May 1. Ten percent of the book’s sales at the launch party were donated to the Franklin County Literacy Council.

For those who were unable to attend, autographed copies are also available for order through the author’s own website along with “Milwaukee Deep” branded beach towels, apparel and drinkware.

The novel follows Ambrose Nobel, an amateur fighter, freelance writer and advocate for those with traumatic pasts, as a family history research project leads her to Vieques, a small Puerto Rican island with a complicated past. For more than 60 years, Vieques had been commandeered by the U.S. military as a weapons dump and proving ground.

Croga parallels the political situation with Nobel’s personal experiences that have left her deeply suspicious, reclusive, and often unable to communicate under stress.

As both Nobel and the island of Vieques try to shed their destructive past relationships and cautiously form new, healthier ones, they must decide which reality to believe, who to trust, and what constitutes right among so many wrongs.

“Vieques, the island itself, laden with biological and nuclear waste, and drenched in the blood of its people, remains eager for revenge,” reads the synopsis. “It teeters on the edge of the Atlantic’s deepest and most volatile fault point: Milwaukee Deep.”

Kirstie Croga is the pen name of Kirsten Hubbard who Chambersburgers might recognize from her other project: Ghost Writer.

Ghost Writer began six years ago when it took first place in the Mont Alto LaunchBox’s inaugural “Lion Tank” competition. The company provides marketing and development services for nonprofits – “all of the things we know help businesses grow, but nonprofits have a hard time coming to an entry point.” Ghost Writer has raised more than ten million dollars for nonprofits “for whom a $10,000 grant is really significant.”

Some authors use pseudonyms for creative purposes, but for Hubbard, it’s much more practical: there is already a successful author on the market writing as “Kirsten Hubbard.”

Hubbard feels that the community of writers in Franklin County is worth celebrating. Accordingly, her book launch event had much in common with the receptions held for art openings and gallery receptions: catering, mingling and reading.

The authentic Puerto Rican cuisine was provided by Gracie Waller who might be better known as the publisher of positive, regional magazine “Chambersburg Neighbors.” There were also glowing drinks – an acknowledgement of Vieques’ Mosquito Bay, which is the largest bioluminescent bay in the world. “They can come and enjoy and drink and partake and celebrate the writers, and certainly celebrate the Puerto Rican community in Chambersburg,” said Hubbard.

“There’s so many layers to it,” said Hubbard of “Milwaukee Deep.” “It’s a great, fast-paced summer read, but layered upon that, it’s a military history thriller. And unique within that genre, it has a female lead.”

As part of her research for the book, Hubbard visited Vieques, which she said changed its texture.

“What I found there can help us understand processing trauma and how we as a community process it and how we as individuals process it,” said Hubbard. “They are just a loving, warm, welcoming, hospitable people despite having quite a history.”

Hubbard approaches her fiction writing craft from a unique perspective that allows, no, requires her to make time for it in her busy schedule every day.

“Write like your grandmother prayed,” she said of her approach that balances passion and habit. “You write when you’re depressed. You write when you’re happy. You write when you’re joyous. You write when there’s injustice. You write on your knees every day…You do it every day, and you do it regardless of where you are. That’s how you write a book. It doesn’t happen in a day.”

While Hubbard stresses that the book is a work of fiction. The longer she talks about it, the more the parallels and influences from her own life begin to bubble up from the text. For example, her real-life company Ghost Writer appears in the book as does her car. As with her decision to use a pseudonym, the reasons are both thematic and practical.

“Mostly because I needed to have her have a resolution and create something that was her own,” said Hubbard, “but I didn’t want to get sued. I didn’t have to worry about copyright if it’s my own business.”

Hubbard also teased that “Milwaukee Deep” was being developed into a screenplay with the help of screenwriter and Ghost Writer staffer Colleen Tidd. An early draft of the script is already complete and ready for editing.

She also announced that the novel will be released as an audiobook with the help of Mat Levine from Alley Cat Studios.

“Milwaukee Deep” took Hubbard a long time to write because it takes time to get to know the characters and establish the rules of an author’s literary universe. However, now that the groundwork has been laid, she expects the sequel to be a much smoother process.

“I know that there’s a business model for doing them serially,” she said, “but there’s also a comfort level. Things are coming much easier. The characters are already developed. It’s a lot quicker this time.”  

Hubbard rehearsed her “Milwaukee Deep” presentation at a senior center where the journey of her historical novel came – unexpectedly – full circle.

“One of the gentlemen was in the Navy, and he was actually on a boat that bombed the island,” she said. “And he said, ‘I never even knew there were people there. I didn’t know people lived there. I literally was on one of these boats, and I was bombing the island, and I didn’t know.’”

“If the book does that, and it creates awareness,” said Hubbard, “then we’re halfway there.”

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