Congratulations to Michelle Leonard for winning Radioactive! on last week's blog.
If you read my blog regularly, than you are no stranger to my friend Joyce Hostetter who I have featured on my blog many times. It is my privilege to host her today as she shares her reflections on some behind the scenes thoughts on writing a war series. Take it away, Joyce!
When I wrote BLUE I thought I was writing a book about polio. I had no idea that it would grow into a series that would make a statement about war and its effects on family. However my hometown’s polio epidemic took place in 1944 so it was a natural for my protagonist’s father to be drafted.
Ann Fay is exceptionally attached to her wise, affectionate Daddy when he leaves home, asking her to be “the man of the house” in his stead. While Leroy is away at war, she faces multiple challenges while longing for the day he returns. She hopes against hope that he will come out alive and unscathed.
But is it possible to survive the battlefield, emotionally unscarred?
After publishing BLUE, I did not intend to write a sequel. However, Ann Fay’s voice kept echoing in my head. And other things echoed there too—memories of childhood friendships with children whose fathers had served in WWII and The Korean Conflict. War Trauma and PTSD were not yet identified in the 1960s. I don’t know all the factors that contributed to these men’s personalities, their alcoholism, and abuse of spouses and children but I knew they all had combat memories in common.
I suspect they each had war going on inside their heads.
Later, much later, one of those friends told me what a gentle man her father was before going to war. “He never wanted to kill people,” she said. I thought about that man with the soul of a poet who played guitar and composed original music. I considered the times I’d been in his presence and how gentle he still appeared to be. And I remembered that when his family was growing up he was unable to hold down a job. My friend told me that, while she was still a child, one morning, in an attempt to motivate him to go to work, she actually took his bed apart with him in it.
So having published BLUE, I decided to listen to the echoes. I began to ask myself how Ann Fay’s relationship with her father would be changed by his war experiences. The result was the publication of COMFORT, a story about a girl and her father each on their own post-trauma journeys and how they begin to heal.
Ann Fay is much like the friend I mentioned above. The one who tried to prod her father into going to work. You would think such an action would have provoked abuse. But I don’t know that my friend’s father was abusive to her. Apparently he saved that for one of her brothers. And I see the devastation in that grown son’s life today.
I see the pain of war moving down the family lines of my other friends.
When my publisher asked me to write a prequel to BLUE and COMFORT I knew immediately who the story would be about—Junior Bledsoe, Ann Fay’s neighbor. I would explore his emotional journey after his father’s death. And as I began to listen again to those echoes I discovered the story of four generations of men traumatized by war. That story, AIM, will be released on October 4.
I’m not a sociologist but my reflections on life, my research on wars, and war trauma lead to me believe that war begats war. Trauma gives rise to more trauma and the cycle is in great danger of repeating itself.
How do we stop that cycle?
I believe stories, historical fiction, in particular, help us to listen to history. As a historical novelist, my task is to find the universal truth or emotion that will hold a reader and focus attention on history that might otherwise be overlooked.
Although I don’t set out to write anti-war novels, I hope that my stories encourage readers to reflect on the effects of war and to consider alternatives. I trust that even in their personal lives they will observe that anger and arguments give rise to more of the same. After all, change begins at home and the ripples spread. Better that they be ripples of peace than those that lead to war.
Next week I am reviewing AIM using material from a workshop I took with Jillian Sullivan at Highlights Summer Camp. PLUS I'll be giving away two ARCS. Stay tuned!