Welcome to the WOW! Women on Writing Virtual Book Tour for Letters from Home
Kristina McMorris has just published her first novel, Letters from Home, inspired by the true story of her own grandparents’ courtship during World War II. It is the story of Liz Stephens, a young woman who reluctantly attends a USO club dance with her two friends, Betty and Julia. Something happens the moment Liz glimpses Morgan McClain. They share a brief conversation that is cut short by the Morgan’s interest in Betty, but Liz can’t forget him. When Betty asks Liz to ghostwrite a letter to Morgan after he heads overseas, Liz agrees. Several different storylines are interwoven and told from four different viewpoints.
It is my pleasure to welcome Kristina to Colloquium today! And she is graciously providing one autographed copy of Letters from Home to a lucky reader who will be selected at random! (See entry details below.)
Challenges of Writing Historical Fiction
What color were Christmas tree lights in the ’40s? Were ballpoint pens invented yet? During World War II, when did the U.S. start to ration sugar? When did streetcars run in Evanston, Illinois?
These are just a tiny sample of the constant, time-consuming questions that piled up as I wrote my debut novel, Letters from Home. If I had known from the beginning that my research folder would eventually swell into an eight-inch-thick binder, I would have given some serious thought to writing a contemporary for my very first book.
Instead, I created a World War II love story, with four alternating points of view, set simultaneously in high-society Chicago, war-torn Europe, and a jungle hospital in Dutch New Guinea. Not exactly the easiest — or wisest — project to take on as a newbie writer. But thanks to blissful ignorance, I charged onward.
At the start, I have to admit I had no intention of doing any in-depth research. So long as I was close enough to historical facts, that was going to be just fine. I was, after all, writing “fiction.” As in, not real. As in, I made all of this up. In my brain. For fun.
Of course, not all book reviewers feel the same. Nor do the multitude of historians and WWII enthusiasts and people who actually lived through the era—and are still alive today to say so. Fear of a potential backlash soon propelled me into serious research mode. Then, however, my motivation changed. The more I learned about the quiet heroes of the Greatest Generation, the more I responsibility I felt to do their amazing feats justice by getting the facts right.
I interviewed World War II vets and rode in a B-17 bomber. I read textbooks and memoirs, watched documentaries and films. I befriended docents, as well as archivists, who were willing to flag my manuscript for errors. Indeed, my determination bordered on obsessive at times. (My husband isn’t allowed to chime in!)
Does this mean I’ll never be criticized, rightfully or not, over an alleged mistake? The chances are slim (though a girl can dream), with challenges at every turn: my own mistyping, misinterpretation, or flat-out blunder; inconsistencies among any number of sources; a reader’s misconceptions about history; and the plausibility versus impossibility factor of a situation or event.
In the end, all I can do is try my best with the time and resources I’m afforded, and hope any inaccuracies will be minor enough as to not detract from my story. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, and if I’ve done a decent job, readers of my book might even feel they’ve learned something significant about our nation’s past and, more importantly, the brave people who helped ensure the freedoms we enjoy to this day.
At age nine, Kristina was already expressing her creativity through a five-year stint as the host of an Emmy and Ollie award-winning kids’ television program. She continued acting in numerous independent films and major motion pictures and, most recently, as the former owner of a wedding/event planning business, served for six years as the host of the weekly Weddings Portland Style, broadcast on the WB. She has also enjoyed performing as a professional emcee. Her writing credits include regular contributions Portland Bride & Groom magazine, and ten years directing public relations for an international conglomerate.
In 2000, she compiled hundreds of her grandmother’s favorite recipes. Intended to be a holiday gift, the compilation became a self-published cookbook. With proceeds benefiting the Food Bank, Grandma Jean’s Rainy Day Recipes was sold in bookstores and featured in a variety of regional media.
While gathering information for the cookbook’s biographical section, Kristina happened upon a letter her grandfather mailed to his “sweetheart” during his World War II naval service. That letter served as the inspiration for Letters from Home. Published on February 11, 2011, a portion of the sales proceeds will benefit United Through Reading, a nonprofit organization that video records deployed U.S. military personnel reading bedtime stories for their children.
Kristina holds a B.S. in International Marketing with a language concentration from Pepperdine University. She resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their two sons, and is currently working on her next novel.
An excerpt from Letters from Home
July 4, 1944
Silence in the idling Cadillac grew as suffocating as the city’s humidity. Hands clenched on her lap, Liz Stephens averted her narrowed eyes toward the open passenger window. Chattering ladies and servicemen flocked by in the shadows; up and down they traveled over the concrete accordion of entrance steps. The sting of laughter and music drifted through the swinging glass doors, bounced off the colorless sky. Another holiday without gunpowder for celebration. No boom of metallic streamers, no sunbursts awakening the night. Only the fading memory of a simpler time.
A time when Liz knew whom she could trust.
“You know the Rotary doesn’t invite just anyone to speak,” Dalton Harris said finally. The same argument, same lack of apology in his voice. “What was I supposed to do? Tell my father I couldn’t be there because of some dance?”
At the condescension, she snapped her gaze to his slate gray eyes. “That,” she said, “is exactly what you should’ve done.”
“Honey. You’re being unreasonable.”
“So it’s unreasonable wanting us to spend time together?”
“That’s not what I meant.” A scratch to the back of his neck punctuated his frustration, a habit that had lost the amusing charm it held when they were kids. Long before the expensive suits, the perfect ties, the Vitalis-slickening of his dark brown hair.
“Listen.” His square jaw slackened as he angled toward her, a debater shifting his approach. “When I was asked to run my dad’s campaign, we talked about this. I warned you my schedule would be crazy until the election. And you were the one who said I should do it, that between classes and work, you’d be -”
“As busy as ever,” she finished sharply. “Yes. I know what I said.” With Dalton in law school and she a sophomore at Northwestern, leading independent but complementary lives was nothing new; in fact, that had always been among the strengths of their relationship. Which was why he should know their separate activities weren’t the issue tonight.
“Then what’s the problem?” he pressed.
“The problem is, anything else pops up, campaign or otherwise, and you don’t think twice about canceling on me.”
“I am not canceling. I’m asking you to come with me.”
Liz had attended enough political fundraisers with him to know that whispers behind plastered smiles and greedy glad-handing would be highlights of the night. A night she could do without, even if not for her prior commitment.
“I already told you,” she said, “I promised the girls weeks ago I’d be here.” The main reason she’d agreed, given her condensed workload from summer school, was to repay Betty for accompanying her to that droning version of Henry V last week – just so Dalton’s ticket hadn’t gone to waste. “Why can’t you make an exception? Just this once?”
He dropped back in his seat, drew out a sigh. “Lizzy, it’s just a dance.”
No, it’s not. It’s more than that. I have to know I can depend on you! Her throat fastened around her retort. Explosions of words, she knew all too well, could bring irreversible consequences.
She grabbed the door handle. “I have to go.” Before he could exit and circle around to open her side, she let herself out.
“Wait,” he called out as she shut the door. “Sweetheart, hold on.”
The plea in his voice tugged at her like strings, halting her. Could it be that he’d changed his mind? That he was still the same guy she could count on?
She slid her hand into the pocket of her ivory wraparound dress, a shred of hope cupped in her palm, before pivoting to face him.
Dalton leaned across the seat toward her. “We’ll talk about this later, all right?”
Disappointment throbbed inside, a recurrent bruise. Bridling her reaction, she replied with a nod, fully aware her agreement would translate into a truce.
“Have a good time,” he said, then gripped the steering wheel and drove away.
As she turned for the stairs, she pulled her hand from her pocket, and discovered she’d been holding but a stray thread.
The first sign of a seam unraveling.
Thank you, Kristina!
Enter to Win an Autographed Copy of Letters from Home
One lucky reader, selected at random, will receive an autographed copy of Letters from Home!
NOTE: This giveaway is open only to Google Friend Connect followers — old or brand!
Post a comment telling me the name under which you follow on Google Friend Connect, as well as your email address (for notification and delivery purposes).
Post a separate comment for each bonus entry!
- Follow Colloquium on Facebook Networked Blogs. (Note: Asking to be my friend on Facebook does not count as following.)
- Follow me on Twitter — be sure to leave your Twitter name in the comment
- Subscribe to Colloquium via RSS or Email and confirm your subscription
- Tweet about this giveaway and leave the link to your tweet in a comment!
- Post this giveaway on Facebook and leave the link to your post in a comment!
Sorry, but the book can only be shipped to a United States or Canadian address (no P.O. box).
The comment posted by Karen K. was selected at random, so a copy of Letters from Home is en route to Karen!