Why on earth would a suburban soccer mom be thrilled—ecstatic even—to read the pilot’s manual for the B-17 Flying Fortress?
The idea for A Distant Melody, the first book in the Wings of Glory series, came to me while I was busy writing contemporary romances. What if a man and woman met at an event, really clicked, but parted before exchanging contact information? Wouldn’t it be romantic if he went through great lengths to find her? It wouldn’t work in a contemporary setting—he’d Google her—but it made a sweet concept for a historical.
I picked World War II. That time period has always fascinated me, and I enjoyed reading fiction set during the war. Also, I thought it would be easy to research because I knew people who lived during the war and I did well in high school history. Please don’t laugh.
I imagined the hero, Walter Novak, to be a pilot home on furlough before shipping off to combat. When my husband and I watched a documentary on the U.S. Eighth Air Force based in England, I had my link. My great-uncle had flown a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber with the Eighth, so I had access to family stories and letters.
So I started to research. And I quickly realized I knew nothing about World War II. If I’d had any idea how much research I’d end up doing, I never would have started. God definitely had me on a “need to know” basis! I started with basic texts on the war, the Home Front, and the Eighth Air Force. At first I planned to tell the story from the viewpoint of Allie Miller, the heroine, with Walt’s story told through letters. However, censorship would have prevented him from telling his story fully, and the more I read about the Eighth Air Force, the more I wanted to tell the story of those brave men who flew extraordinarily dangerous missions in harsh conditions. That meant getting into the cockpit with Walt.
Problem. I’ve never flown a plane, and I’m a great big chicken who doesn’t want to fly a plane. So, I learned on paper. I read a “How to Fly” book to get the basics, then read that B-17 pilot’s manual and watched the Army Air Force’s training film, which I found on DVD. And I loved it.
After about a year of research and plotting, I felt sad. I’d done a whole lot of research for a single novel, and the story ended in mid-1943, which was a dark time for the Eighth Air Force. However,
Walt had two older brothers. Both were pilots. They could follow Walt to England. About that time, the character of Ruth Doherty came to me, an impoverished girl who makes a shameful decision to feed her family—what would she be like when she grew up? What would happen if she met Jack Novak? Well, sparks flew between those two, and A Memory Between Us came to be.
From there, the trilogy flew together. Young Helen Carlisle had been widowed in A Distant Melody and I hated to leave her alone and miserable. That wouldn’t be very nice of me. But Ray Novak, the oldest brother was a perfect match for Helen, and their story became Blue Skies Tomorrow. With this third novel, I was able to finish the story of the U.S. Eighth Air Force up to Victory in Europe Day. I was also able to cover the Port Chicago Explosion, which occurred only fifteen miles from Antioch, California, Ray and Helen’s hometown. Not many people have heard of the Port Chicago Explosion, but it was the largest Home Front disaster of the war, which led to a controversial, racially charged mutiny trial, and helped bring about the desegregation of the U.S. Navy. How could I resist?
This series has been so much fun to write and to research. Thanks to my husband’s frequent flyer miles, we visited England, where we strolled the streets of London and explored the ruined abbey at Bury St. Edmunds. Another highlight occurred this May when I had the privilege of flying in the restored B-17 Aluminum Overcast owned by the Experimental Aircraft Association. That was a rollicking fun ride!
The final chapter of Blue Skies Tomorrow was a hard bit of writing. The Novak boys and the women
they loved were my constant companions for almost a decade, and I hated to say good-bye. But their stories were finished, and a new crowd of characters begged to have their stories told.
The process of writing, research, and publication has been more rollicking a ride than I had in the B-17, but God’s been with me for every twist and turn. Through these stories, I pray readers will see they can find strength in the Lord to face whatever life throws at them.
I’m so excited to have the privilege of signing books at two LifeWay stores in southern California on Saturday, September 3—in Tustin from 1-3 pm, and in Brea from 4-6 pm. At each store I’ll be giving away a 1940s vintage apron. Please come by and say hello.