Q&A: Gabriella Saab, author of “The Last Checkmate”
Heather Morris Readers Tattoo artist Auschwitz and watchmen of The Queen’s Gambit don’t want to miss this amazing first movie set during WWII. A young Polish resistance fighter, imprisoned in Auschwitz as a political prisoner, plays chess in exchange for her life and, in doing so, fights to bring to justice the man who destroyed her family.
We chat with author Gabriella Saab about her first novel The last checkmate, plus writing, book recommendations and more!
Hi, Gabrielle! Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
Hi all! My name is Gabriella Saab, I currently reside in my hometown of Mobile, Alabama where I work as a bar fitness instructor and historical novelist. When I’m not working, I enjoy reading (of course!), Great food, craft cocktails, Netflix, bar classes, spending time with family and friends, and walking my Yorkie toy, Holly Golightly. The last checkmate is my first novel and I can’t wait for you to read it!
As the year gradually comes to an end, how has your 2021 been?
What a whirlwind this year has been! Apart from work and everyday life, the preparation for the debut was at full speed. I had no idea what was going on behind the scenes before a book went on sale, but this year has taught me so much. It was crazy, busy and so much fun, and I loved every second of it.
Quick flash tour! Tell us about the first book you remember reading, the one that made you want to be an author and that you can’t stop thinking about!
My parents read to me every day which was so important in forming an early love and interest in reading, and I think the first book I read on my own was a book in the Nancy drew series. I was about five years old and totally addicted. And it turns out that these books are the ones that made me want to become an author! The first story I wrote, around the age of six, was a Nancy Drew-inspired mystery. From that day on I have always read and written in many genres, but the book that interested me in writing history was probably Number the stars by Lois Lowry. One book that I keep thinking about is Code name HÃ©lÃ¨ne by Ariel Lawhon – such a skill in crafting and structure and based on the true story of WWII heroine Nancy Wake. I always recommend it!
Your new novel, The last checkmate, released on October 19e 2021! If you could only describe it in five words, what would they be?
Justice, courage, hope, sacrificial love.
What can readers expect?
Readers can expect a heart-wrenching story set in one of history’s darkest periods, one that stands up for women by exploring lesser-known aspects of WWII history with a twist. chess game that will be accessible to everyone, whether you know the game well or not.
Where does the inspiration for The last checkmate comes from?
I have always enjoyed reading WWII fiction and studying the period, and The last checkmate was inspired by true stories from the Polish resistance movement, the Auschwitz camp resistance movement and the Auschwitz Women’s Orchestra. This group of women, mostly Jewish, were spared death but forced to use their skills to perform in prison executions and to perform for the guards. The chess aspect of the story was my main character’s idea. As I got to know Maria, my main character, and figured out how to weave these interesting pieces of history, she made it clear that she was a talented chess player, and there was my answer. The research also led me to study the history of women in chess and people like Vera Menchik, the first female world chess champion.
Can you tell us about the challenges you encountered while writing and how you were able to overcome them?
Finding the right balance with research tends to be difficult for me – there is always SO MUCH and every part is interesting, so I have to pay attention to extraneous details. I love editing and commenting, both editing myself or applying notes from critical partners, so in between with this book I realized what was needed and what could be cut without negatively impact the story. Also, with this story in particular, it was important to balance the heavy topic. I needed to portray the violence and horror of Auschwitz without it seeming watered down or, on the contrary, gratuitous, as if to shock. I am fortunate to have an amazing group of writer friends and an amazing agent and editor, all of whom help me bring out the best in my work, and this is something that they have been awesome to do. ‘help to succeed.
Are there any favorite moments or characters that you really enjoyed writing about or exploring?
A lot of these characters resonated with me, but I think the relationship between Maria and her two friends, Irena and Hania, surprised me the most and became so special to me. All three of them came to me with such distinct voices and told me exactly who they were and the roles they would play in each other’s lives, roles even bigger than I had originally planned. . It’s such a joy to connect with your characters and to be able to explore such strong and supportive female friendships.
What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
Know your profession! Stringing words together is an important skill, but it’s also important to turn those words into a cohesive story. Plot structure, character development, everything is necessary! Read your favorite authors and get yourself a DIY book or two, and you will be a better writer because of it.
What’s the next step for you?
I hope for many more books! My second is in preparation, so we’ll see what happens!
Finally, do you have any book recommendations for our readers?
For more incredible works of historical fiction, some books that I have enjoyed recently are those of Ariel Lawhon, as mentioned, as well as The code of roses by Kate Quinn and Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. For non-fiction / memoirs on Auschwitz, Night by Elie Wiesel and The search for meaning of man by Viktor Frankl. For hand-crafted writing, The anatomy of history by John Truby.