Volume 15, Issue 44  | June 2, 2023Subscribe

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Local author Randy Kraft’s Off Season offers readers an intimate glimpse inside a post-divorce relationship


What do we owe each other in the name of love? This question, among others, lies at the heart of author Randy Kraft’s latest novel, Off Season. In some ways, this story may have been a lifetime in the making. In others, it’s very much pandemic-born. 

The characters at its center, Sharon and Red, are in their 60s. Divorced six years after a 30-year marriage, there’s more affection than acrimony between them. Sharon is now working toward her Ph.D. in Victorian literature at UC Berkeley, a dream she never found time to fulfill during marriage and motherhood. Red, a retired engineer still living in their once-shared town of Chicago, recently received a grave cancer diagnosis and is in remission after chemo. 

While Sharon looks forward to her long-deferred future, Red is looking back. He’s not necessarily interested in rekindling their romance, but more in salvaging some of that lost time he once took for granted. Would Sharon consider joining him on a three-month retreat to Laguna Beach during its winter off season? To both their surprise, she says yes.

“There’s a 50% (or more) divorce rate in this country,” Kraft said. “And yet we don’t read a whole lot about the aftermath [of divorce]. We read about the conflict and the issues. But what about relationships after that fact? After the kids are grown and you can be friends again? When a marriage unravels over time and ends, which happens often enough, is there an opportunity to ‘re-ravel?’”

Kraft celebrated the book’s launch on Sunday, April 2, at the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center (LBCAC) to a warm and enthusiastic crowd. It was a fitting venue, the LBCAC sitting at the both the literal and artistic center of the town where the novel takes place. 

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Photos by Jeff Rovner

Local author Randy Kraft’s “Off Season,” published last month, is now available at Laguna Beach Books and elsewhere

I love reading novels set in Laguna. T. Jefferson Parker’s Thousand Steps and Laguna Heat. Savages by Don Winslow. It’s not just reading about places I recognize with an insider’s wink. It’s seeing the setting of your everyday life through the lens of someone much keener and more attuned to poetic observations. It feels a little like vacationing in your hometown with an eloquent tour guide. Oh yes, I think, it is like that

Residents will recognize the “ritzy shopping center above a beach called Crystal Cove” and the “eponymous iconic hotel boarded up like a broken surfboard.” They’ll know Zinc Café, Sharon’s preferred place to study. But they’ll especially appreciate both the metaphoric meaning and literal nod to Laguna’s off season. “That’s when the locals enjoy a lower frequency,” one character comments. “They breathe more freely and the landscape breathes as well. It’s restorative.” 

But this is January 2020. Sharon and Red, like everyone else, are oblivious of what’s to come.

Locals and Sawdust Festival fans will also appreciate the book’s cover art provided by Laguna artist Tracey Moscaritolo. With her permission, an aspect of Moscaritolo’s own personal history is woven into the narrative. 

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Randy Kraft read from “Off Season” at the LBCAC on Sunday, April 2. Proceeds from the event support the LBCAC and its important work on behalf of artists.

Sharon and Red have been bumping around Kraft’s brain for decades. Their characters first debuted in 2013 when Kraft took a playwrighting course in Mexico. “It was wonderful to see them on stage,” Kraft said. “Obviously it’s all dialogue, so it was a rare opportunity for me to watch them interact and see how they might behave.” 

Sharon showed up again in “The Divorcée,” one of 11 stories in Kraft’s collection Rational Women (published March 2020). The story was then adapted to the opening chapter of Off Season. “I do a lot of biographical sketching on characters before I write anything,” Kraft said. “I wonder who they are, what they’re about, where they come from and what motivates them to behave the way they behave.”

But don’t confuse situations with stories, Kraft warns new writers. It’s advice she garnered from literary heroine Vivian Gornick, author of The Situation and the Story. “Too many aspiring writers have a situation, a set of circumstances or what is sometimes called a ‘precipitating event.’ But what does the story mean? Where does it go? The story has to reveal something. It needs layers and strands and characters and conflict and all the things that make up a novel.”

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Kraft knows her stuff about writing. In addition to her three novels, one play and story collection, Kraft spent her career as a print journalist, communications consultant and teacher. She holds a BA in English/Literature, a Masters in Writing and an MBA. She also coaches aspiring novelists and facilitates various literary and film discussions. After seven years at OCinSite (now defunct), her book reviews at Substack (click here) provide uncommonly sharp observations, drawing lovely connections across time and authors, plucking out stellar sentences and warning readers about potential spots of tedium. She’s a voracious reader (as is evident in her writing) and has become a trusted resource on all things literary. 

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Randy Kraft is the author of three novels, a play and a collection of short stories. She maintains a book review blog on Substack.

Art and literature lovers will also enjoy Off Season’s many cultural references, from Joan Didion, Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell to Henri Matisse and Vincent van Gogh. 

A New York City native who lived in Connecticut for decades before making Orange County her home 17 years ago, Kraft brings her East Coast sense and sensibilities to bear witness on our town. This means she neither takes Laguna for granted, nor does she let it off the hook. She sees Laguna with both an outsider and insider eye, much like the marriage she portrays.

At its core, Off Season is about the passage of time, a reflection on aging and how we choose to spend what Mary Oliver calls “our one wild and precious life.” Appropriate then that the novel transpires during the pandemic, that great pause that provided all of us an opportunity to reflect on that question. Off Season suggests there’s still time to make amends. Until there isn’t….

“An off season is a transition,” Kraft said. “Not hibernation or even dormancy, rather a path between what was, or is, and what could be. I think that’s a metaphor for Laguna Beach as well.” 

In addition to Off Season, Kraft is the author of Rational Women (2020), Signs of Life (2016) and Colors of the Wheel (2014). You can learn more about her by visiting her website here. Copies of Off Season are available at Laguna Beach Books, in store or online, access by clicking here. You can also purchase a copy on Kindle by clicking here. To learn more about the LBCAC and their many events, click here.

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In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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