In writing her latest book, Off Season, Dana Point resident Randy Kraft explored the “what ifs” of her relationship with her ex-husband.
“My husband of many years and I separated, and then he had the audacity to get sick and die,” Kraft said.
Though inspiration for the book sparked from her relationship with her ex-husband, Kraft clarified that the rest of the story is invented.
“These characters are not me or him; they’re different in a lot of ways,” Kraft said. “They just share some similar history.”
After her ex-husband died in January 2005, Kraft spent her winter in Laguna Beach.
“I began to think about a couple who were estranged but very good friends and cared for each other,” Kraft said. “If he had come to her and said, ‘Spend a little time with me before I die,’ what would that look like?”
Though she thought about these characters and wrote character sketches, she was unsure what to do with the idea until she took a playwriting class in Mexico.
“When you write a short play, it has very few characters, very discrete scenes, and I thought about those characters and I thought, ‘OK, well, this will be the play when he comes to see her to ask her to go away with him for the winter,’ ” Kraft said.
The short play Kraft wrote around these characters was produced at the first Short Play Festival in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Once Kraft completed the play and turned it into a short story, she thought she was done with these characters.
“But your characters decide for you when you’re done with them, and they clearly were not; they were not done with me,” Kraft said. “So, I said, ‘All right, I have to tell the rest of the story.’ Now I’ve got to figure out what happened once they went away together, where’d they go, what did it look like.”
Kraft began writing Off Season in 2020 as the pandemic hit.
“I realized I had this choice of either setting it in 2018 or allowing the pandemic to become a factor,” Kraft said. “And, of course, it was too good not to use it, because here they are just going away for three months, just to cohabitate, spend some time together. Not necessarily to renew or reconcile, because he won’t be alive that long.”
As the short story evolved into a novel, Kraft examined what happens when a couple reconnects.
“What happens when you come back together? Are you better with each other or do you fall back into the same patterns?” Kraft said. “How do relationships unfold over time? I thought that’s what I would be examining.”
“Then I realized there’s not enough story in that for a novel,” Kraft continued. “You need subplots; you need other characters.”
In addition to the main couple of Sharon and Red, the book also follows their neighbors, a married retired couple devoted to one another and who are the antithesis of Sharon and Red. There’s also the upstairs landlord, a reclusive artist grieving the loss of a relationship with a man to whom she was devoted.
“So, now we have these three couples in different sorts of relationships, all sort of begging the question, ‘What does it mean to be devoted to another person?’ ” Kraft said.
The bird of paradise plant is a recurring motif throughout Off Season because of its prevalence in Laguna during the winter and its symbolic representation of devotion in other cultures.
Another recurring motif, roads going nowhere, is seen as Rosa, the landlord, paints roads going nowhere as she works to find what’s next for her. A road to nowhere is also seen on the book’s front cover with a painting by Laguna Beach artist Tracey Moscaritolo.
Off Season, which was published on March 15, is Kraft’s fourth book. In addition to writing fiction, Kraft writes book reviews and coaches aspiring writers. Kraft also worked as a journalist for regional and national magazines and local papers, including the Laguna Beach Independent.
Kraft hopes that readers consider the questions, “What does it mean to be devoted to another person or to your personal pursuits?” and “What are you willing to give up along the way or not?”
“I think that’s a question we often have to ask ourselves in the course of long lives and these characters. With the exception of Rosa the landlord, they’re in their 60s,” Kraft said. “So, they’ve already raised their kids; they’ve had careers in different stages of life.”
“You can either look back with regret, you can look back with a sense of greater understanding or you can be looking forward and wondering, ‘What’s next?’ ” Kraft continued. “So, I’m going to leave that to the reader to decide.”
Kraft will host a reading and book talk at the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center on Sunday, April 2, celebrating the launch of Off Season. Tickets for the event are $20 and include a copy of the book. Net proceeds will support literary events at the cultural center.
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