Welcome to my little corner of the blogosphere, Larry. It’s a pleasure and an honour to have you as my very special guest on FLY HIGH!
This is my first question for you. I know you love writing historical fiction, especially stories set during WWII. Do you think we can learn the truth about our past and roots reading historical novels more than or as well as researching on documents?
Reading a story set in a historical context can help stimulate interest in historical events, and further our understanding of our own path through the present. This places an unusual duty on the author. The context within which your story takes places must be historically accurate - balanced against the need to simplify overly complex interactions and create a story people will read and enjoy. I research my novels as if I were writing a “real” history. I write the context as accurately as possible, and then insert my characters into lessor known pieces of that history to create a plausible story. Good historical fiction is a challenge and a joy.
I learnt much from my grandparents’ tales of war; their personal experiences through the hardships of WWII were actually the fairy-tales I was brought up with. This is why I’m always fascinated by books and films set in those years. How did you instead come to write your The Juno Letters?
I found my grandfather’s WWI journals from when he served in France in 1918. On my next trip to Europe, I made a point of visiting all of the places he wrote about - walked down the same streets in Paris and took photographs at the same spot where his friends photographed him. Laced between the lines were key historical elements - the German Spring Offensive of 1918, the bombardment of Paris by the “Kaiser Wilhelm” gun, the American army attacks, and the armistice.
As I vacationed in Normandy, I stayed in Courseulles-sur-Mer, the small port at the center of the Juno Beach landings by the Canadians. I felt there was a way to connect these two events into a unified story that explored the personal lives of people caught in this chaos. In the process, I discovered the catharsis that led my grandfather - an engineer by training - to dedicate the rest of his life to being a chaplain.
The result was The Juno Letters.
How interesting! Who are the protagonists of your series? Tell us about them.
Antoine Bouchard is the main character of book 1- The Juno Letters. A Frenchman living in the Alsace region, he was forced to serve in the German army in WWI. Sent to the Western front after the collapse of Russia, he is taken prisoner and forced to serve the American army. He befriends a young American, and his friendship forms the basis of The Juno Letters. The story follows his journey through the post-war chaos, finding love, and the tragedy of the German occupation. He is forced by circumstance to help British intelligence gather information for the invasion, at a terrible personal cost.
Andy Anderson, my grandfather in real life as well as the story, must face the brutal reality of a world at war - so different from the world of Rockford, Illinois. His friendship with Antoine is reflected in a series of letters found in a tin box in the foundation of a cottage in Normandy in the present - letters to Andy Anderson that were never mailed. Who is the mysterious "Antoine" of the letters, and why does he fear for his life?
Marianne - the beautiful baker's daughter who marries Antoine, and who is innocently caught up in a web of police corruption and victimized by the French Holocaust. The story of Marianne is they key to unraveling the mystery of The Juno Letters.
Ariéle Bouchard - Antoine and Marianne's daughter, is ripped from her mother's arms and sold into slavery to a German colonel in Paris. Ariéle's story is the thread that binds the three books of The Juno Letters together as it shifts from present day to period time as Ariéle tries to close the circle on the truth of her family.
Police Captain Charest - Captain Charest of the Police Nationale is the central antagonist in all three stories. He personally arranges the kidnapping of young Ariéle, operates a corrupt looting network in book 2, and in the final book plans to double cross his fellow conspirators to flee Paris with a king's ransom - and the beautiful Ariéle - for himself.
Plausibility. The story must move from one reality to another in a way that could have happened given the complex web of possibilities of the historical period. To do this, one's research must be impeccable, the story line carefully edited for continuity, and characters developed based on the thoughts and prejudices of the period, not today's sanitized and politically correct world.
So, in your opinion, what are a historical fiction writer’s main task and talent ?
My main task is to blend fact and fiction to where the line between the two is impossible to discern. This takes skillful storytelling and research. What I do is discover some little-known activity buried within a well-known historical event and substitute my characters for the actors in real life. This way, those that check my facts - and believe me, my readers do - find the larger context to be true, but can neither confirm nor deny the actions of my characters within the smaller, more personal story.
How important is accuracy in writing historical fiction?
Accuracy is a thin line we all must walk carefully. History is messy. Nothing happens with the clarity and certainty we would like to find. We must make difficult decisions to simplify, trim, and truncate historical realities for the sake of the story. I work very hard to be accurate, to the point of selecting real locations, real people, and real situations to place my characters within. Where I must make changes for the story's sake, I document these in my introduction.
I print my manuscripts and read them aloud to feel the cadence, and live the dialog with my characters. Even after all the time I spend with the words, there are parts I cannot read aloud without being reduced to tears.
Is there any other historical era you are fascinated by and you’d like to write about?
I have always been fascinated by the late 19th century. The traditional world of empire is beginning to show the first signs of collapse under the onslaught of technology, transportation changes, and science. Empires worldwide responded like caged animals, creating the dynamics that evolved into the great world wars.
I tend to live in the past more than in the present as a teacher of English literature as well as a fond reader of historical fiction and watcher of costume drama/movies. You do the same as an author dedicated to research and to write about the past. What I’d like to know from you is, do the lessons we get from the past more alienate us from reality or more help us to face it?
We are inundated by commercial media that tells us how to behave, what to believe, and how to act. This is just an illusion, of course - for these people simply want to sell you something. They sell their media air space, and have no connection to the result of their incessant propaganda. Have we lost the ability to make judgements for ourselves?
Living with history helps me keep my focus, or so I would like to think. But is that just an illusion, too? Am I any better able to face the future armed with knowledge of the past? I often question my own view of reality in my writing - a reality I am constantly seeking.
Now back to your The Juno Letters. How many books are already out and how many have you planned to complete the series?
I have three titles:
Book 1 - The JunoLetters
Book 2 - Cross ofFire
Book 3 - Clan of the Black Sun (due out March 10)
I have started Book 4 - The Lost Children. It is about Kindertransport, the attempt to save the children of Europe from the Nazis in 1939-1940.
Book 5 - Untitled; the main character, Sid Woodard, was introduced in Book 3. The character is based on my real friend and mentor, Sid Woodcock - an original memebr of the American OSS in WWII. This incredible story is one he told me I could only write after he passed away. Sid warned me I could never prove it was real - a story in itself - so I am writing it as fiction.
Will there be more?
Do you think it is possible to write an add for The Juno Letters as briefly as in ... about 50 words?
Letters discovered in a tin box hidden in the foundation of a cottage in Normandy reveal a terrible secret. The lives of thousands of Allied soldiers preparing to storm Juno Beach on D-Day literally are in Antoine’s hands. The Juno Letters - stories of innocent people caught in the hell of war.
Well done! What are you up to next, Larry?
I have started writing book 4 based on material I cut from Cross of Fire. I am also ready to publish Book 3 - I just finished the final draft literally minutes before this interview. And the audiobook of Book 1 - The Juno Letters is soon to be ready - likely by the first of the month.
I will be bundling all three books in a special “70th Anniversary D-Day Edition” planned for this June 6, and hope to be in Normandy for the celebration to do a book signing. The Canadian museum in Courseulles-sur-Mer carries The Juno Letters in print.
That’s all, Larry. It’s been a great pleasure to chat with you and thanks a lot for being my guest. I’ll wait for you back at FLY HIGH! soon.
About the author
|Larry's Office at the Oly Club|
I have coffee most every morning at my "office" - a small table in a 1920s style restaurant and hotel called the Olympic Club in Centralia, Washington. Visitors assume I work there, some think I am the manager. I direct people to the bathrooms - the urinals in this place are a tourist attraction all by themselves. This is where I write. The chaos and atmosphere prepare me for the day, and everyone in town knows if you need to talk to me, just drop by the "Oly Club."
Most don't know that I have a master's degree in business, and have run my own technology company for nearly twenty of my last forty working years. I won a national championship on horseback, raced sailboats, wrestled octopus, baby-sat a killer whale, and once was a cook on a salmon purse seiner.
I have read "A Soldier's Burial” aloud over General Patton's grave in Luxembourg, and said a prayer of thanks at the very spot at Margaret in Belgium where the German panzers were stopped outside Bastogne. I cried on Omaha Beach in Normandy and in the gas chamber at Dachau. I wear a silver Stetson and boots when I travel and answer to "Hey, cowboy!' in several languages.
I have led an interesting life - married thirty-plus years, have three children, five grandchildren, and twenty-five foster children. I am now free to pursue my passion for writing - especially about the two great wars of the twentieth century. I cherish my role as "author-in-residence," or that crazy guy at the table by the urinals - it depends on your perspective.
About the series: TheJuno Letters
The Juno Letters series tells the stories of innocent people caught up in the ravages of war and the French Holocaust. They are stories of tragedy and hope, loss and triumph of the human spirit. I have grown to love my characters as if they were family - I hope you love them as much! ... L.W. Hewitt
The Juno Letters series is available at Amazon.com and its overseas stores, Smashwords.com, iTunes, and all major e-book retailers, including the subscription services, Oyster.com and Scribd.com. The print version is available at CreateSpace.com (Amazon); the audiobook at Audible.com (any day now).
Visit the junoletters.com - links to all of my books and resources