This season is an extra-special one for me, as I’m getting married December 27. I’m a little old to be entering into matrimony, but Bob Harris is the best match I’ve ever encountered. We share a host of likes (e.g., hiking, traveling, cooking, striving for a higher proficiency in a foreign language) and dislikes (e.g., being inundated by details, living in quarantine for weeks, computer programs that are not at all intuitive). Mostly, we love being together, supporting each other, and laughing at the vagaries of getting old. Continue reading “Gifts This Holiday Season”
Perhaps the most important question I’ve been asked about my books concerns my first novel, Uncovering. In it I wrote about a Muslim protagonist living in a multi-generational home in a religiously conservative area of northwest Pakistan. Along with all those people questioning the appropriateness of Jeanine Cummins writing American Dirt, I was asked why I thought it was all right for me, a white, Christian woman from the United States, to write about a very different culture. Ms. Cummins, like me, is an American. She has an Hispanic heritage but was raised in the States and does not have direct experience of migration. Critics have a strong sense that we tried to “co-opt” another culture. I would argue we are “bridge” people, trying to span the gulf between cultures.
I didn’t invent this label. For example, Krista Tippett used it to describe Katharine Hayhoe in her On Being podcast posted October 22, 2021. Dr. Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. She has lately been a bridge person on the issue of climate change, talking as a scientist with evangelical Christians about the reality of this phenomenon. She began by presenting lots of climate data to small groups of evangelicals and then asking for questions. There were lots of questions. And after each talk, she revised her presentation to incorporate responses to the burning questions. Eventually she came to realize her audience yearned for hope, that they wanted to know that their world was not crumbling, that through God’s work, it would survive. By deeply listening, she has been able to engage her audience and see them come to understand there is hope—and climate change is real.
I, too, have experience as a bridge person. In the 1980’s, I worked with the Head Start program as they converted their grant-making process from paper to online. I talked at length—and deeply listened—to the regional managers of programs to see what they wanted from the reports generated by this new system. And I talked with the computer programmers in my office, who had little sense of the issues for managers of this program for preschool-aged children. I helped ensure that the computer-generated reports to managers answered their questions in language they understood.
Why Bridge People are Important in Writing
Writing a novel makes any author a bridge person. We invent characters different from ourselves in a number of ways, such as gender, personality, family background, and age. We might also venture into more controversial areas such as sexual orientation and culture. If someone argues with my right to bridge the culture of the U.S. and Pakistan, I often ask where they’d draw their line of differences. Which ones are legitimate for authors to bridge and which are not? I suggest that two criteria help us judge the appropriateness of crossing boundaries:
- Personal experience and extensive research. Authors do lots of research, and it’s critical to dig deeply into any area that is not something with which you have experience. I lived two years in northwest Pakistan, working with about 260 Pakistani staff, from whom I learned a great deal.
- Rigorously testing the validity of what you’ve written. Regardless of the experience one has in a culture or from interviewing and observing the culture, it’s critical to employ readers from that culture to pick at every detail.
I am thankful for my reviewers from the Pakistani culture and also those who validated the health information I presented, the reactions of the male characters, and so forth. I like to think that we bridge people provide a service, introducing another side, another view of a culture to our readers, one that enlarges their understanding of a people they don’t directly know.
But I also understand the tremendous importance of supporting writers from these other cultures as they fight their way to publication. In no way do I wish to stand in the way of those underrepresented authors getting their books into the stream of American literature. There is a great need for these voices to be heard, and I’d argue, for bridge people to help in mutual understanding.
 On Being with Krista Tippett. Katharine Hayhoe – “Our future is still in our hands.” Oct 21, 2021
One of the first questions I was asked by the publishing staff about Chasing the American Dream was this: What do you want on the cover? I had a few thoughts. I wanted an older man walking down a 1950’s residential street behind another man. The “leader” should look martial, have a military cut to his coat and carefully styled short hair. His back is straight. The “follower” should be a bit shaggy, clothes not as well cut. If it can be seen, he has a large belly. Both wear Fedoras. A picture would be good, though a drawing was in the realm of possibilities, too. You can see below how it turned out:
Before these options were explored, another question came my way: Could you please send us 3-5 pictures of covers in the same genre as your book? I went to some of my favorite historical fiction writers and searched among their covers. Here’s what I sent the publisher:
You may notice some similarities among these covers: a dark moodiness; if there is color, it’s blue or a muted shade; a sense of evening or night; spare placement of people; mostly people with their backs to the reader; something flying in the sky; a pointed object on the ground; block printed titles and author names; no fussiness. You might name some more of your own.
So, why is that? I suppose it’s obvious. Publishers want the cover to announce clearly to the reader the kind of story they’ll be reading and set the mood for the book. It also tells the bookseller which display table to put the book on. These are not (primarily) romances, certainly not children’s books, and something ominous is going to happen—likely a life-or-death matter. The covers of World War II books often picture men in uniform, have women’s hair in victory rolls or pulled back, a plane or two in the air, and ruins from a bombing.
Just for fun, below are 5 more book covers, all historical fiction but from different time periods. Can you identify the one from World War II and figure out the eras of the other four? Let me know your decisions!
I’ve written more than 10 drafts of my in-process novel, now called Butterfly Minds. It’s been through my writer’s group multiple times, the advisory committee for my Doctor of Ministry degree, two developmental editors, and 5 beta readers. I cannot tell you how much I would like the current draft to be my last!
However…I’m still struggling. Here’s what seem to be the big problems:
It’s fascinating for me to read the reviews of my books. It’s heart-warming to hear readers supportive comments and sometimes surprising to learn of the aspects of the book that people particularly appreciated. I reread all the published reviews to pick out themes, of which there are several.Continue reading “Reviewers Thoughts on Chasing the American Dream”
In Chasing the American Dream, a key event is the government’s harsh response to the protagonist, David Svehla. When David exposes an ex-Nazi scientist, the press accuses him of being a Communist. Some readers have been curious whether these sorts of accusations actually happened in the early and mid-1950’s. The answer is yes, they did, largely due to the activities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under J. Edgar Hoover. He was a rabid anti-Communist, determined to eradicate Americans with such views from the U.S. Government, using whatever measures were necessary. Though there is no doubt that Communist infiltrators or agents existed in the U.S., Hoover went overboard, using problematic or even illegal means to find and eliminate them.
At that time in our history, the FBI was a popular agency and Congressional oversight did not exist. A series of executive orders gave the agency significant investigative power, allowing it to check into any activities it deemed a threat to national security. Hoover’s agents compiled extensive lists of potentially dangerous people, starting as early as 1939. By 1954, according to Ellen Schrecker’s research, the FBI had identified over 26,000. In Hoover’s estimation, he had the authority to investigate anyone for whom “derogatory information turned up in their personnel file.” Continue reading “When the Powerful Are Given Free Rein: Hoover and the FBI during the Red Scare”
One of the many joys of writing historical fiction is discovering pieces of history not taught in schools or written about in any detail in the media. Operation Paperclip was one of those. I tripped over it doing research on the Target Forces badge I found in my father’s belongings. Information from the National Archives II in College Park, MD, illuminated its significance: the Allies wished to secure Germany’s “intellectual assets,” especially in the sciences. Continue reading “The Ethical Questions in the Hidden History of Operation Paperclip”
Readers often ask me where I get the idea for a book. As I suggested in my first posts, I write novels to resolve the conundrums I encounter in life. For Chasing the American Dream, the issue came from living with my angry father, whose constant irritation seemed to come from being frustrated that his American Dream had not come true. Edwin Brush, Sr., pictured at the right in 1942, died in 1972. If I wanted to figure out why he had been so angry and often lashed out at me, I was on my own. Continue reading “From Anger to Forgiveness”
I’ve been excited for a month now. My second novel Chasing the American Dream was released February 2 and is now available through the following:
Please join me for the release of my new novel, CHASING THE AMERICAN DREAM, on Wednesday, February 10th at 7:00pm EST!
Friend and author Sara Fitzgerald will join me in an online conversation hosted by One More Page Books, my local bookstore in Arlington, VA. Sara and I will talk about the story behind my novel, the research that went into it, and more. We’ll also take your questions. The event will be broadcast free on Facebook and YouTube. If you register, you’ll receive direct links to these sites from One More Page in the days ahead of the event.
You can find more information, register and order signed copies of the book by clicking here.
If you are unable to attend the event, please feel free to order the novel through One More Page or the following locations:
Do join the celebration!