Today I’d like to introduce Gail Kittleson, who writes World War Two-era fiction.
Janet: Welcome, Gail, and thanks for taking time to join us. Your novels feature courageous women, who aren’t service personnel but who still find key ways to support their loved ones and to stand for truth. When I think of WWII stories, I think military and battles, but you’ve chosen to work with civilian women. What drew you to these stories?
Gail: It’s probably my tendency to feel more comfortable behind the scenes. A few World War II women made the limelight, but far more held things together back home or unseen on the streets of London at night.
Janet: Are these women similar to your readers today?
Gail: Eleanor Roosevelt, one of those Greatest Generation women in the spotlight during the war, quipped that women, like teabags, find out how strong we are when we’re in hot water. I believe that’s true no matter what the era.
Janet: I love it! Tell us a bit about the Women of the Heartland series.
Gail: Addie stars in the first book, In Times Like These. Her life on the rural Iowa home front certainly provides plenty of challenges, because her husband’s rather nasty. No, he’s just plain nasty. I’ve been told our characters must be multi-dimensional, but Harold’s a skunk through and through. The community, however, does acknowledge his strengths—he was a high school debate champion and football player. And his education rises above the normal farmer.
But he lacks in human kindness and understanding, and that’s where Addie’s challenge comes into play. Readers may get exasperated with Addie, because transforming from a shrinking violet into a woman who finds and uses her voice doesn’t happen overnight. Still, her story begged to be told, and a few readers have thanked me for not giving her an easy way out of her struggles. She’s REAL LIFE, and so are the wonderful friends who build her up.
Janet: That’s a big transformation, indeed, and I hope Addie’s growth will encourage readers to persevere. Your newest novel, With Each New Dawn, is set in France. Was it a challenge to write a foreign setting?
Gail: My husband and I attended language school in Southern France decades ago and spent as much time as possible exploring the countryside. Little did I know I’d be writing a novel about the French Resistance in the future.
So yes, bringing up memories of the terrain challenged me more than Addie’s flat Iowa farmland, familiar to me from my youth. But it was also more fun, because it required research. Lots of it. And that research, of course, motivated me to pay another visit to the beautiful valleys of the Auvergne – my husband and I are contemplating that.
Janet: That sounds like an amazing trip. How do you do your research? Have you picked up any particularly unusual bits of trivia you can share?
Gail: Oh, where to begin? SO many bits of trivia. It never ceases to amaze me how the “muse” in my head starts searching to see if an idea might be valid, and discovers that yes, something like what I’d imagined actually did occur.
One example: at the outset, I knew only snitches and snatches about the Basque people of Southern France. Largely shepherds and farmers, they settled along the pilgrimage route of St. James. With their intimate knowledge of the back trails to the Pyrenees mountains on the Spanish border, it seemed logical for them to be of great use to the Allies.
They were. I discovered their key role in guiding downed Allied pilots to safety in Spain. From there, the pilots found their way back to England again. It’s impossible to estimate how these strong humble men (and some women) altered the course of the war.
As for your first question, textbooks on the war provide answers to many of my questions. The wealth of online sources helps, too, as do personal stories of WWII survivors.
Janet: What do you want readers to take away when they’re done?
Gail: In both books, the heroine faces great odds. Addie’s enemy is visible and tangible. For Kate in With Each New Dawn, there’s the added dimension of unseen danger all around her. But she meets people who still maintain faith, even in the midst of the Waffen SS and its horrific atrocities in this area of France.
Both Addie and Kate find times when they feel they must borrow others’ belief that good will conquer evil. I believe we need that capacity today, as well. Sometimes our own personal pit threatens to swallow us whole, and crying out for help is all we can do.
I hope readers will take heart from Addie and Kate’s experiences, and realize, too, that even in the midst of life’s struggles, gifts abound.
Janet: That’s real life: in our darkest moments, we need others to hold us up. What got you started writing?
Gail: The need to express my feelings on paper got me started in the first place, when I was young. Discovering that writing lightened my load was the first impetus, but I wrote sporadically for a long time. I really had no huge desire to create fiction, but while writing a memoir, I led some groups through Julia Cameron’s marvelous book, The Artist’s Way. That led me to fiction.
Janet: Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?
Gail: I love the song “You Are My All-in-All.” Even writing some of this song’s words brings a sigh of relief and joy. We don’t travel this road alone!
Janet: It’s a beautiful song, and knowing we’re not alone makes all the difference. Chocolate or vanilla? Coffee or tea?
Gail: Tea. And my characters love it, too. I can’t eat sugar or chocolate, so that sort of eliminates the first question—but I love the SMELL of chocolate.
Janet: And the smell of chocolate has no calories! Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Gail: Listen to advice from writers, agents, and editors. But at the same time, keep an ear out for what your heart says.
Janet: What do you like to do to recharge?
Gail: I don’t do enough in this area, admittedly. But walking often does wonders for me. Bike riding used to do the same, but I’ve shied away from it as I’ve aged.
Janet: Tell us something you appreciate about where you live.
Gail: I appreciate the quietness. Rural small towns offer decibels less noise, and I’d choose a serene walk in the country over a bustling city scene, hands down.
And I want to say thanks so much for having me visit, Janet.
Janet: It’s been a pleasure to chat with you, Gail, and to get to know you a bit. Blessings!
For more about Gail Kittleson and her books, visit gailkittleson.com