Saturday, April 14, 2012

Author Interview: Laurie Calkhoven of the Boys of Wartime Series

Part of the fun of having a book review blog is getting to interview the authors of the fabulous books I read. I thank author, Laurie Calkhoven, for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope my readers will find the behind the scenes of what goes into creating a book as interesting as I do.

How much time does it take to do the research for each of your historical fiction novels from the Boys of Wartime series?

LC: Research varies from book to book, but in general it takes about six to eight months of research before I begin to know my story. At some point in my research for every book, a character and an opening scene comes to me.  That’s when I know it’s time to start writing. Then I continue to research while I’m writing, which can take another year to eighteen months.

Often I’ll go down a wrong path and spend time digging up facts that I’ll never use, but it was early on in my World War Two reading that I came across mention of the escape lines used by English and American aviators to evade the Nazis, and I knew that’s what my story would be about.  From there on, my research was very focused and efficient.

 Did you get a chance to talk to any veterans of World War II or people who lived in France to find out what it was really like during this time?

LC: I read as many first hand accounts as I could, both by the airmen who were rescued by the Resistance and by Resistance fighters.  Unfortunately, the airmen who are still alive are quite old by now, and I didn’t get to France to interview any of the Resistance members. Luckily, many of them wrote about their experiences. There were also a couple of books published in the last ten years or so about the escape lines, and they were a great help, too.

What made you decide to write about boys during wartime?

LC: I got the idea for the first novel in the series—DANIEL AT THE SIEGE OF BOSTON, 1776—while I was researching a biography of George Washington.  When I pitched it to an editor, he suggested I put together a proposal for that book and more, each one set in a different war.  I didn’t know what I was getting myself into!

I’ve always been interested in what happens to ordinary people during those extraordinary moments in American history. Historians tend to focus on armies and generals, but I always wondered about the civilians who get caught up in those extraordinary moments.  What happens to them?  Answering that question led to my first character, Daniel, and to all the others.

In Michael and the Invasion of France, you concentrate on the American aviators. What made you decide to tell this part of the war story?

LC: As soon as I read about the American aviators and the escape lines I knew that was the story I wanted to tell. It was an aspect of the war that I hadn’t known about, and I (as far as I know) hadn't been written about for the middle grade audience. I thought American readers would be interested to know more, as I was. 

I was incredibly moved by the courage of the Dutch, Belgian, and French Resistance members who risked everything to help strangers, especially when I learned that so man of them lost their lives in the effort.  I wanted to do justice to them.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

LC: I have always loved books and stories.  The very first thing I wanted to be was a librarian.  I wanted to live in the school library when my class learned how to use it in first grade.  I’m not sure when it dawned on me that there were actual people who created the characters and stories within those books, but when it did, I knew that was the job for me.

What author do you admire most and why?

LC: There are too many authors I admire to choose just one!  I think Kekla Magoon writes great historical fiction.  Her first novel, Rock and the River is brilliant.  I just finished My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson and was blown away.

Out of all the books you have written, which is your favorite and why?

That would be like choosing a favorite child!  I think Michael at the Invasion of France is my best book to date, but I hope I keep getting better and better with each book.

Do you ever visit the places you write about? If not, tell us how you find out about these places?

LC: I’ve been to France, and I love Paris, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to travel there specifically to do research for Michael.  I did visit Boston when I was working on Daniel at the Siege of Boston, 1776, and that was invaluable.  Similarly, I visited Gettysburg a few times while working on Will at the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863.  Not only is the Adams County Historical Society a great place to do research, many of the Civil War buildings in Gettysburg are still standing. I was able to poke my fingers into bullet holes on the sides of homes, and stand under trees that witnessed the battle, and that was invaluable in bringing the story to life.

What is the easiest thing about writing? The hardest?

LC: On any given day, my answer to that question would change.  When I’m deep into a first draft—creating characters and dreaming up stories for them—I might way that first drafts are incredibly hard and I’d much rather be revising something I’ve already written.  But when I’m revising, I might say that that’s the hard part.  But in both instances, there are days when everything comes together and I’m convinced I have the best job in the world.

Thanks so much for your insightful questions!


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