Kristina McMorris’ debut novel, Letters from Home (Kensington) is a World War II love story with a twist: It’s based on McMorris’ own grandfather’s letters to his sweetheart—her grandmother. Here, the Portland author writes about the unique challenges this premise created for her work.
The challenges of writing historical fiction—when those who lived it are around to correct you!
guest post by Kristina McMorris
Finding inspiration to write my first novel, Letters from Home, was relatively simple. My grandmother had saved every one of the love letters my grandfather sent to her during World War II. Based on those beautiful pages, I imagined a Cyrano de Bergerac twist to their story, and voila! I had the premise of my book.
I brainstormed. I outlined. And then—oh, yes—I researched. A lot.
At first, my main motivation for accuracy stemmed from my fear of critics’ feedback—namely from those ever-scary “anonymous” Amazon reviewers who supply their lengthy critiques in the form of bullet points. The deeper I delved into research, however, the more responsibility I felt to do justice to our humble veterans, whose sacrifices secured the freedoms we too often take for granted.
Writing historicals about any era poses a great number of challenges. In my case, I was featuring a period in which many of those who lived through it are still alive to call me a “nincompoop” over potential errors. (Not saying they’d use that word, precisely; but it’s a great word, isn’t it?)
On the upside, I eventually realized I had a wonderful opportunity that most historical authors don’t: the possibility of hearing true accounts of the era firsthand. Before I knew it, my research process gained in-depth momentum. I had the pleasure of interviewing a wide variety of veterans, and even befriended a few members of the famed “Band of Brothers.”
While I’ve gained an enormous amount of knowledge from textbooks, archivists, docents, and memoirs, no experience has compared to listening to tales from men who actually fought in the trenches. I’ll never forget the Japanese-American vet who grew teary as he described the day that, unknowingly, he watched his own brother—an airman for the Japanese Empire—being shot down in a fighter plane overhead.
Sadly, two of the vets I met have passed away. Estimates claim we’re losing a thousand of them daily, likely more. Hopefully, though, their amazing accounts and, perhaps more importantly, the lessons they’ve shared will live on through the written word. For that, I feel honored to contribute. And if, in the end, I still earn the label of a “nincompoop,” it certainly won’t be for lack of trying to get their stories right.
Kristina McMorris resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their two sons, bundles of energy who take pride in transforming any cylindrical household object into a weapon. She is a former host of “Weddings Portland Style” and a winner of the Golden Heart. Find out more on her website.