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Local writer 'Taken' with kidnap plot

Saturday, May 12, 2001

By Bob Hoover, Post-Gazette Book Editor

Every novel has a story behind it, its own seed of inspiration, which, if strong enough, can turn into a real live book.

Novelist Kathleen George makes her home on the Mexican War Streets on the North Side. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

"Taken" (Delacorte Press, $23.95), the first novel by Kathleen George, started as a challenge to her writing ability. Although she had spent more than 20 years teaching drama and directing plays at the University of Pittsburgh, George had always wanted to be a writer.

"I've been stirred by the thought of writing something without ever doing it," she said, but it wasn't until she took a playwriting workshop and was encouraged to work on her own, that George began working on developing a story.

"I've always wanted to write a good narrative, a plot that can take the reader on a real ride and as the writer, be completely in charge," she said. "I had just been unwilling to take that risk."

But, inspired by such masters of plot as Graham Greene and William Trevor, George started with an idea -- a person witnesses what might be the kidnapping of a baby -- then wrote a description of the incident.

"I've been influenced by those Hitchcock films where he makes you question reality. Did this really happen?" she said.


Kathleen George joins fellow novelists Chuck Kinder and Edna Buchanan and Gourmet magazine editor Ruth Reichl at the Post-Gazette Book and Author Dinner May 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the Westin Convention Center. Tickets are $35 and proceeds benefit the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council. Call 412-263-1421 to order.


Gradually, her first scene grew into several more. "I thought I could put this thing to bed, but I kept writing," she said. "I got more curious about the details, so I called the Pittsburgh police to learn about how they would handle it."

To her amazement, police Cmdr. Ron Freeman, head of the city's major crimes unit, was happy to discuss procedures.

"After a few meetings, we started talking about my story like it was a real case," George said. "So, I talked to other experts, lawyers, even the FBI. They seemed so interested. I guess there was something about this plot which captured people's imagination."

Set in Pittsburgh, George's novel was originally called "Pirate's Child," because the kidnapped infant is the son of a Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher, but her publisher balked.

"They said it sounded too much like a historical novel, so they asked me to change it. I was really sorry. I liked that title."

Later, George came up with "Taken," a title she's come to like almost as well.

Drawing on her years of living in the city and her love of baseball, George uses Pittsburgh settings such as Three Rivers Stadium as well as the Tri-State area to move her characters around in her intricately plotted suspense tale.

The writer is a Western Pennsylvania native, growing up in Johnstown, where her father owned George's Grill in that city's Morrellville section.

"It was real cozy growing up there," she remembered. "Everybody knew you and the streetcar drivers would stop the car right in front of your house for you."

George started at Pitt's Johnstown branch, then moved to the Oakland campus to finish all four of her degrees. If she was interested in writing, why did she move to theater?

"I guess because I had a fear of leaving home," she answered. "I got into pretty good writing programs at Iowa and Stanford, but when the theater department invited me to work on a degree, I decided to stay."

"Taken" is the first of two novels under George's deal with Delacorte. The second one, tentatively titled "Getaway," is near completion, she said. George is also a short-story writer, with one collection, "The Man in the Buick," published in 1999.

Two unfinished story collections await her attention after her second novel, she said.

Her home in the Mexican War Streets is more like a writers' colony. Her husband, Hilary Masters, is a novelist and essayist and teaches English at Carnegie Mellon.

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