Guest Post: How Pure Curiousity Generated a WWI Novel by Alexis Harrington

Alexis Harrington’s latest book, Home by Morning (published Dec. 2011), is a book of betrayal, heartbreak, and redemption set during WWI, specifically October 1918.  Jessica Layton, the protagonist, is on her way from New York to her hometown Powell Springs, Oregon, before heading to Seattle when she meets up with her first love Cole Braddock.  As a clinical physician preparing for a new job in Washington state, Jessica is confronted by the past given that Cole is now courting her sister Amy.  However, an influenza epidemic throws a wrench in Jessica’s plans, and she’s the only doctor available to treat the growing number of patients.

Today Alexis will share her connection to WWI, The Great War with us.  Without further ado, please give her a warm welcome, and please do consider her book for your reading lists this year.

I can’t point to a family photo of a doughboy or a Tommy in uniform. My direct connections to World War I are more complicated. My grandparents were Turkish nationals of Greek ethnicity. My grandfather had already come to America by the time the war started. My grandmother was still living in Constantinople (Istanbul) when the war broke out. Eventually, she married an American naval officer and came the United States in about 1920 to live with her in-laws, which was extremely difficult for her; she didn’t speak much English, and they spoke no Greek or Turkish. The marriage did not work out, and she met and married my grandfather.

The primary of reason for my interest in World War I is that I learned practically nothing about it in school. In fact until my curiosity drove me to research it, I think the single fact I knew about World War I was that it preceded World War II. I had no idea what started it (and I’m convinced that the stated reason isn’t the true one), or any of the details. In high school English, I wasn’t in the class that read All Quiet on the Western Front.

For me, writing Home by Morning was intensely connected to my desire to write about characters facing the Great War, the challenges on the home front, and the ravages of the flu epidemic. I have very strong opinions on the subject of World War I, having devoted 10 years of research to it. There were so many lives lost to that meat grinder war of attrition—over fifteen million deaths and twenty million wounded. It was a very complicated affair and its resolution led the way into World War II and the rise of Adolf Hitler. Before that, of course, the world was gripped by the “Spanish flu,” which in 1918 and 1919 killed at least three times as many people than the Great War.

Thanks, Alexis, for sharing your story with us.

About the Author:

Alexis Harrington’s first book, Homeward Hearts, was published in 1994 and she has been entertaining readers for the past 20 years with stories about the American West and small-town life. She can be reached at www.alexisharrington.com.

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Guest Post & Giveaway: Eileen Clymer Schwab on U.S. Civil War Writing

Today, War Through the Generations would like to welcome Eileen Clymer Schwab, author of Shadow of a Quarter Moon that takes place pre-U.S. Civil War on a southern plantation.

According to the publisher’s synopsis, “In 1839 North Carolina, Jacy has been raised in privilege as the daughter of a plantation owner. But when her father suddenly dies, her cold, unfeeling mother, Claudia, schemes to marry Jacy off to a well-positioned but lecherous suitor. In a fit of fury over Jacy’s protests, Claudia calls her a ‘foolish, infernal quadroon’—and reveals that Jacy is the offspring of a dalliance between her father and a slave. Furthermore, her biological mother and brother are still slaves on the plantation. After these revelations, Jacy’s sense of who she is and where she belongs in the world is destroyed and, starts to see herself and the South with fresh eyes.”

Please welcome Eileen.

One of the questions I often hear from readers is, “Do you find it difficult to write novels that are set in such a brutal period of American history?”

Any turbulent period in history is fodder for great books and memorable characters. The heroes are more heroic and the villains more villainous because they are woven from truths. The years leading up to the Civil War are no different, yet it is a time that we often avoid revisiting because of the horror and shame it stirs in our moral conscience. Much is written in adult fiction about the war itself, but delving into the world at its genesis causes tentative trepidation.

In keeping the door closed on this period, we miss the chance to celebrate and marvel at the incredible acts of courage and daring challenges that were the genesis of social change in our country. The secret network known as the Underground Railroad is the perfect example of the best of America in the worst of America, and it serves as a vehicle of transformation for the main character in my novel, SHADOW OF A QUARTER MOON.

Writing a novel against an historic backdrop requires a great deal of research. For me, research is a process of discovery – not just of historical facts, but of tendencies, beliefs, undertones, and nuances of the time. Through this process I become better acquainted with my characters and the world around them. I wanted to touch and see as much as I could, beginning at the library, as well as visiting places like the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati and other historic sites found within our National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. So often the surprises discovered in research shift plotlines or shape characters in unexpected ways. For example, while doing some research in North Carolina, I came across Dismal Swamp. As a writer, I could not overlook a name so vivid and descriptive, and I knew it would be mentioned in my story. At the time, I had no idea that the bleak sounding region was so rich and storied in Underground Railroad history, or that it would play such a significant role in my novel.

My ability to breathe life into the characters of SHADOW OF A QUARTER MOON and my previous novel, PROMISE BRIDGE was aided by the voices I “heard” while reading the slave narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project of 1936-38. During FDR’s New Deal, the Works Progress Administration sent writers out to find and chronicle the thoughts and memories of former slaves, many of whom were well into their eighties and nineties. The narratives are an important piece of history that can never fade away with the passing of time. Some of the dialect and phrasing found in the narratives gives credible voice to my characters. The research phase was lengthy and at times, appalling. Yet, at other times, it was awe-inspiring.

As an author, I am inspired by the strength and courage of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. It was an honor to look back and give voice to a generation deserving of acknowledgment, tribute, and literary life. Remembering and discussing their trials and triumphs can be one way of paying respect for their role in our social evolution.

Thanks, Eileen, for sharing your thoughts on the U.S. Civil War.

To enter for 1 signed copy of Shadow of a Quarter Moon for US/Canada War Through the Generations participants only:

1.  Leave a comment about what part of the Civil War do you want to see more often in your fiction.

2.  For a second entry, spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and leave a link in the comments.

3.  For a third entry, please follow Eileen on Twitter and/or Facebook and leave a comment telling her you did so with your “handle.”

Deadline to enter is July 22, 2011 at 11:59PM EST.

Guest Post: The Vietnam War and The Cool Woman by John Aubrey Anderson

We’d like to welcome author John Aubrey Anderson to War Through the Generations and the Vietnam War Reading Challenge.  He’s kindly written up a post about his interest in the Vietnam War, his connections with the war, and how it inspired him to write The Cool Woman, which some of you have read for the challenge.

Please give him a warm welcome.

As part of a school project, my granddaughter was required to interview a Vietnam War vet . . . she chose me. Her questions served to remind me . . . that I was relaxed about going to Vietnam because that was my job, that I wept when we buried one of my best friends in Arlington National Cemetery, and that my best memory of that part of my life is of returning home to my family.

The reality of the hell of war cannot be captured in the written word — be it fact or fiction. Nonetheless, I chose the chaos of the war in Vietnam as the backdrop for my fourth novel, The Cool Woman, because I wanted my main characters in an environment that would help “refine their thinking.” I tell much of the story from the cockpit — a vantage point familiar to me.

We launched our B-52 missions out of Guam and Thailand, which means we operated in a relatively safe environment. However, a sign in the parachute shop at one of our bases offered food for thought to anyone who believed pilots had an advantage over the guys on the ground. It said . . .

IT’S BETTER TO BE DOWN HERE

WISHING YOU WERE UP THERE —

THAN UP THERE

WISHING YOU WERE DOWN HERE.

Combat flying, for all the obvious reasons, offers a myriad of opportunities to experience life-changing moments. For too many pilots in Vietnam, those moments came while they were strapped in a crippled aircraft over a jungle full of bad guys — or, worse yet, over downtown Hanoi — watching the slipstream tear pieces off the airplane and listening to a chorus of other pilots yelling, “Eject! Eject! Eject!”

When a pilot was forced to bail out, the execution of his rescue became the responsibility of the A-1 fighter pilots of the 1st Special Operations Squadron — call sign “Sandy.” The 1st SOS was based at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base (NKP), and aviation historians have described the missions flown by the pilots of that unit as the most hazardous in the annals of aerial combat. When asked to describe the “Sandy” operation, one pilot said, “They go door-to-door in Hanoi, looking for downed pilots.”

In The Cool Woman . . .

Second Lieutenant William P. Mann, the orphaned son of a Tuskegee Airman, is staid, sober, and single when he reports to pilot training. Twelve months later he has a new bride, an acquired taste for beer . . . and an expressed disdain for God.

Bill Mann joins the 1st SOS in the fall of 1971. As far as the young fighter pilot is concerned, he’s in Vietnam for one reason . . . to amass a combat record that will propel him toward the general officer ranks.

The Cool Woman’s story follows Mann and those close to him — in Southeast Asia and at home — while he spends the first six months of his tour proving that the pilot who insists on being his own North Star is forever lost.

In May of 1972, we find the gifted young aviator passed out on the floor of a Bangkok hotel bathroom. He’s a borderline alcoholic, his new bride is divorcing him, and he’s hours away from learning — there is something worse than dying.

Thanks, John, for sharing your story with us.

FTC Disclosure: Links will take you to an Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase is required, though appreciated to cover postage and shipping costs of challenge prizes.

Guest Post: Writing About the Vietnam War by Richard Vnuk

Today’s guest post is from author and Vietnam War veteran Richard Vnuk.  His book, Tested in the Fire of Hell, chronicles his experiences with the Vietnam War as a draftee and is written after more than 40 years of silence about how profoundly the war impacted him.

Please give Richard a warm welcome.

After thirty six years of silence, I felt compelled to write about my Viet Nam War experience. After I was awakened from my sleep, everything that was conveniently tucked away in the subconscious came to the surface. I started to read and I could not stop. I wanted to find the truth about what happened to over three million men who served in Viet Nam. Then one day my daughter and son-in-law, both teachers in Skokie Illinois, invited me to speak to their students just before Memorial Day. I was very uncertain at the time; I didn’t know if I would be emotionally up to it. I prayed a lot for the strength and courage to come up with a presentation that would clearly present all the cruel hardships that the combat soldier and their families had to endure.

With the help of my daughter and son-in-law, my presentation was more successful than I could imagine. I was so impressed with these young students! They were so sincere and reverently sat and listened to every word I said. These young students were a great inspiration to me. After the first presentation I promised to return over and over. I could not think of a better way to honor those who have shed their blood and tears in this unforgiving war.

At the time, I was a substitute teacher so I got into many schools and as I did I always checked out their libraries to see what available for students to read about the war. I was shocked; there was absolutely nothing to speak of. As I was plowing through all my personal readings I found that most books were not fit to be put in school libraries because of the descriptive language. My book is written so that it could be put into schools and it will give the students a very descriptive and honest read.

I was ordered to report for induction into the Armed Forces on November 16, 1966.  I can honestly say that I was politically naïve and completely unaware of what was going on in Viet Nam. What I did believe is that we were the good guys fighting the bad guys, and just like “John Wayne,” we will be victorious. I had a very sound Christian education from the Franciscan Sisters of Charity for eight years. I felt that war was the greatest evil, the masterpiece of the devil’s work here on earth. From the very moment I knew I was going to war, the thought entered my mind, will I be able to kill someone. After I was sent from boot camp to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) and found that I would be an infantry soldier I was torn apart emotionally and spiritually. How could I walk in the footsteps of Jesus and train to kill someone I do not even know? I eventually went absent without leave (AWOL) over this, but returned after 20 days because I did not want to dishonor my family back at home.

My memoir, Tested in the Fire of Hell, is a personal story of the struggle with my conscience and what I was asked to do. It is a story of my battle with the psychological consequences of war and the spiritual battle that took place within my soul. It is a story about a combat soldier suppressing all his emotions in his subconscious and later having then resurface (PTSD). This is a story of reconciliation, returning to Viet Nam to do volunteer work and finally sponsoring a young Vietnamese woman to study at college and live with his family for the past three years. My story continues as I am still trying to search for the truth about the Viet Nam War and pass this understanding on to our children so that they understand the great sacrifices made in the time of war.

God bless the USA!  Richard J Vnuk

Thanks, Richard, for sharing your experiences with us.

FTC Disclosure: Links will take you to an Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase is required, though appreciated to cover postage and shipping costs of challenge prizes.

Guest Post: Where Were You During the Vietnam War by Phyllis Zimbler Miller

Today we have a treat for our readers.  Phyllis Zimbler Miller, who wrote the Vietnam War novel Mrs. Lieutenant:  A Sharon Gold Novel –available in paperback or for Kindle — has provided us with a guest post on where she was during the Vietnam War.

Please give her a warm welcome.

On my third date with my future husband while the song “The Duke of Earl” (or it might have been “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”) played on a phonograph at a college party he told me he was going to Vietnam.  He was, after all, in ROTC at Michigan State University and it was the winter of 66-67.  (This was before the first draft lottery in December of 1969 when his number turned out to be 16.)

And from then on I stuck my head so deep into the sands of denial that my memories of those war years are rather dim.  Of course, it helped to be attending college at a very apolitical university.  (University of Michigan was the Michigan state university political hotbed and I had decided against applying to the University of Wisconsin, another political hotbed, because the hill on campus was too steep.  Yes, I was that shallow then.)

In those days we didn’t have televisions in our dorm rooms or our sorority rooms – I was an Alpha Epsilon Phi.  I do remember clearly when Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot – I was just getting dressed for the formal rush event – and a few months later when Robert Kennedy was shot.  (We watched the ensuing events on the one black-and-white television in the lounge of the sorority house.)

From Yael K. Miller

When I wrote the novel Mrs. Lieutenant I consulted historical records and put a news blurb at the beginning of each chapter to orient people who knew nothing about the war.

Here are a few new blurbs from the two-month incursion into Cambodia ordered by President Nixon that brought about the Kent State National Guard shootings on May 4, 1970:

May 6, 1970:

Governor Reagan closes down entire California university and college system in effort to cool student tempers.

May 8, 1970:

70 injured in clash on Wall Street between construction workers and student anti-war demonstrators

May 16, 1970:

Armed Forces Day observances at 23 military bases canceled due to planned anti-war demonstrations.

May 22, 1970:

White House announces U.S. prepared to continue air cover if needed for South Vietnamese forces expected to remain in Cambodia after U.S. troops withdrawn.

The nation was very much divided over U.S. troops fighting in Vietnam.  There was a draft and many Americans didn’t even know Vietnam existed until the nightly news showed the fighting.

Today in discussions about U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan references are often made to U.S. policy in Vietnam.  I don’t know enough to say whether these references are justified.  Yet it’s a good idea for us to know as much as we can about the recent past – U.S. fighting in Vietnam – when we consider the future – U.S. fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From Yael K. Miller

If you’d like to learn more about the sacrifices being made today by our military personnel and their families to protect our freedoms, see the video clips at my site www.FilmsThatSupportOurTroops.com.  And also see the information about the Vietnam War at my novel’s site www.MrsLieutenant.com.  Also please check out some sample chapters from her new, unpublished work LT. COMMANDER MOLLIE SANDERS at www.MollieSanders.com.

Thank you, Phyllis, for your look at how fiction can teach history, and we wish you luck with all of your projects.

So, where were you during the Vietnam War?  And if you were not born yet, do you know of any stories about relatives and where they were during the war?  We’d like to hear about it.

FTC Disclosure: Links will take you to an Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase is required, though appreciated to cover postage and shipping costs of challenge prizes.

Guest Post: Putting the Vietnam in Nam by Tatjana Soli

Tatjana Soli graciously offered us a guest post about her interest in the Vietnam War and how that spiraled into her desire to write The Lotus Eaters, which many of our War Through the Generations participants have reviewed.

Please check out the reviews page.

I hope you will all give her a warm welcome.

I had always been fascinated by the Vietnam war, primarily because it seemed a thing that could not be understood — the closer you approached its various parts, the more the whole moved away from you. As a child surrounded by the urgency of war at NATO and then Fort Ord, it was clear the war was something frightening and bad, and in the way of children I associated the very name of the place — Vietnam — with that pain and evil. The problem was that when I grew up and read about the politics of the war, when I read the non-fiction accounts of soldiers in that war, my understanding did not gain in depth. I understood that war was hell, but I did not understand what we had learned from the experience, and as history seemed to repeat itself in other foreign conflicts, those places became new Vietnams, more places of pain and evil.

The first great revelation I had was when I read the novels of Tim O’Brien, primarily The Things They Carried and Going After Cacciato, but also In the Lake of the Woods. What is fascinating about these books is that very little time is spent detailing combat — the war in O’Brien’s work is inside the heart, following Faulkner’s dictum that great literature is always about the “human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about.” There has never been a battlefield as profound as the heart of O’Brien’s characters, knowing that in going to war, they are paradoxically taking the coward’s way out: “I was a coward. I went to Vietnam.”

As a flood of new writing became available by the Vietnamese, both those in the military and those in civilian life, it was yet another revelation that the war had taken place in someone’s home, destroyed someone’s life. I realized that the soldier’s truth, although insightful, was necessarily limited to his own experience. As O’Brien writes in his essay, The Vietnam in Me: “I hated this place, and places much like it. Two miles away, in an almost identical hamlet, Chip was blown into his hedge of bamboo. A mile or so east, Roy Arnold was shot dead… It goes on.”

But how to make these two equally important truths stand side by side? I found a book, Requiem, honoring the photojournalists who had died covering Vietnam and Indochina. A picture of Dickey Chapelle, a woman who had served as a photojournalist there, struck me with the force of a bolt of lightning. I had never heard of women being there in that capacity before. Later I discovered a few other women who spent time there, including Catherine Leroy. It was important not for the novelty of a female in combat, but because here was an outsider, not only an outsider in the world of soldiers, but an outsider in the macho world of combat photojournalism. If anyone would be open to the actual country the war was taking place in — the history, people, and culture — it would be a character in this position.

Why does place matter? In the drama of warfare, the place a war occurs is often overlooked. But if it doesn’t matter, isn’t the bigger question why is a war being fought there in the first place? Author Evan Thomas in an interview for The War Lovers, writes of visiting Cuba to research the Spanish-American war: “… the Cubans don’t think of the Americans as their liberators from Spanish rule, but rather as foreign invaders. That’s unfair, and in many ways just plain wrong, but not so hard to understand if you put yourself in the shoes of a country occupied by a foreign army.” Indeed. The Vietnamese refer to the war as the American war.

I have read new books about the heroism of the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve also read of the atrocities that have taken place there, but I have learned very little about the history, culture, or people from those places. They remain blank spaces, and thus easier to not care about. Let’s put it another way. If the My Lai massacre happened in our country, wouldn’t we want the world to know what had been lost? That it wasn’t just another nameless, faceless dark place — a place filled with pain and evil — in the narrative of the war? Although this might be a hopelessly idealistic notion, wouldn’t we be less likely to wage wars on places we considered familiar — real and true and valuable as our own country?

After twenty-five years, O’Brien described his return to Vietnam: “… we stood looking out on a wide and very lovely field of rice. The sunlight gives it some gold and yellow. There is no wind at all. Before us is how peace would be defined in a dictionary for the speechless… in those fine sunlit moments… Vietnam took a little Vietnam out of me.” The greatest revelation of all, that the same place has the power to both destroy and heal.

Thanks, Tatjana, for sharing with us your inspiration.

FTC Disclosure:  Links will take you to an Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase is required, though appreciated to cover postage and shipping costs of challenge prizes.

Guest Post: Using Fiction to Teach History: The Vietnam War by Phyllis Zimbler Miller

Today we have a treat for our readers.  Phyllis Zimbler Miller, who wrote the Vietnam War novel Mrs. Lieutenant:  A Sharon Gold Novel –available in paperback or for Kindle — has provided us with a guest post on how fiction can be used to teach history.

Please give her a warm welcome.

How many of us remember learning about the Vietnam War in high school history classes?

Some of us may have been out of high school already when the war and the protesters raged.  Or some of us may not yet have been born.

Then there are some of us who were in high school when the Vietnam War started and were personally affected by the draft and our nation’s reaction to the fighting.

The thing is, how can high school history textbooks capture the emotions of that time?  Yes, the historical facts can be recorded in high school textbooks, but not the people behind those facts.

It took me 38 years to self-publish my novel about my first weeks as a new Mrs. Lieutenant in the spring of 1970 right after the Kent State National Guard shootings.  (If you don’t know what this historical reference is, google it.)

I wanted to preserve this very specific slice of women’s history at the beginning of the women’s movement in the U.S. when the Civil Rights Act was only six years old and the Vietnam War filled the nightly news (only three channels then – ABC, CBS and NBC) even if only on a black-and-white television.

My novel is told from the point of view of four very different women – and their stories deal with racial, religious, gender, class and geographic differences.  (Yes, in 1970 the Civil War was still being fought in the U.S.)

And so it is that I’m hoping that high school history and social studies classes will use my novel Mrs. Lieutenant to supplement the high school textbook when learning about this time in our nation’s history.

My Web site has a lesson plan for doing this.  Here’s the beginning of the lesson plan:

Description:
The assignment will be to write a guest blog post entry for the Web site about one event in the novel and relate it to the U.S. fighting in the Vietnam War at that time.  This blog post will include a brief description of the event as well as the student’s own opinion about what happened.

Concept:
By focusing on one event, students will have the opportunity to delver deeper into what they thought about that specific event.

Objectives:
Students will better understand:

  • The opposing views regarding the Vietnam War during that time period.
  • The integration of African-Americans at that time – only six years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
  • The U.S. military then as well as the commitment of men and women who now serve.

View the rest of the lesson plan.

And the website also has a brief video on the historical background as well as discussion questions that focus on comparing then and now.

Do let me know if your high school class uses Mrs. Lieutenant to learn about the Vietnam War up close and personal.  (You can email me at pzmiller AT millermosaicllc DOT com)

And check out my site www.FilmsThatSupportOurTroops.com to see video clips of current documentaries and feature films about U.S. military personnel.

Thank you, Phyllis, for your look at how fiction can teach history, and we wish you luck with all of your projects.

Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate.

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