Friday, June 8, 2012

Why I Love Writing About World War II by Kristina McMorris

Just a handful of years ago, I had no plans to become an author. Truth be told, I was barely a reader. As a professional event planner, I strove for efficiency. If you could watch a movie in two hours, reading a book in ten didn't seem to make a lot of sense. (Clearly I had oh-so-much to learn.)

Then, because of a weekend visit with my grandmother, a single discovery altered not only my view on literature, as well as history, but it also changed my life.

I was in the midst of interviewing my grandma for the biographical section of a self-published cookbook, intended as a Christmas present for the family, when I learned a shocking fact: She and my late grandfather had dated merely twice before marrying during WWII, their relationship having blossomed almost entirely through an exchange of letters. My grandmother then retrieved from her closet a collection of those very pages, each one wrinkled and yellowed from age and covered in heartfelt words from a young sailor who wasn't sure he'd ever be coming home.

After leaving her house, I found myself utterly captivated by their era. Never had the stakes of the world been higher, nor the patriotism of our country stronger. It was a time of bravery, both on the front lines and the home front; a time of romance and tragedy, sacrifice and loss of innocence; a time of change.

Women were no longer limited to the roles of housewives, nurses, teachers, and secretaries. They built tanks and ferried planes. They enlisted in the service and played pro ball. Much of the independence and freedom women, like me, enjoy today can easily be traced to such acts of courage and skill.

The same could be said regarding minorities of other kinds. The Tuskegee Airmen. The Japanese-American segregated infantry. These men, among many others, dared to prove their worth by fighting two simultaneous wars: the first against the Axis powers, the second against ignorance—and even unjust internment—on their own soil.

Eventually, I set out to share these remarkable accounts by penning what became my debut novel, Letters from Home. Inspired by my grandparents' courtship, the story features a Midwestern infantryman who falls deeply in love through a yearlong letter exchange, unaware that the girl he's writing to isn't the one replying.

Then later, when I stumbled across an obscure mention of roughly two hundred non-Japanese spouses living in the internment camps by choice, my desire to write about the era only deepened. Through Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, I was able to share my own experience, being half Japanese, of living between worlds.

In today's society of reality shows, millionaire athletes, and celebrity obsession, it's easy to forget the true definition of a hero. The title is often awarded for the smallest of feats. But to me—as I learned from my grandfather's letters—it's the Greatest Generation that exemplifies heroism, through both past achievements and ongoing humility.

Kristina McMorris is a graduate of Pepperdine University and the recipient of nearly twenty national literary awards. A host of weekly TV shows since age nine, including an Emmy® Award-winning program, she penned her debut novel, Letters from Home (Kensington Books, Avon/HarperCollins UK), based on inspiration from her grandparents' wartime courtship. This critically praised book was declared a must-read by Woman's Day magazine and achieved additional acclaim as a Reader's Digest Select Editions feature, a Doubleday/Literary Guild selection, and a 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist for Best Historical Fiction.
Her second novel, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves (March 2012), has already received glowing reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, among many others. Named one of Portland's "40 Under 40" by The Business Journal, Kristina lives with her husband and two sons in the Pacific Northwest, where she refuses to own an umbrella.

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  1. I like reading WWII books and this sounds perfect for me. I like to read and write about certain adult books along with the children's and YA that I write about. This sounds like such an interesting idea and now I am quite intrigued. Thanks for posting about it. It is funny how a family story can spark and idea that leads to a great book.

  2. Thanks for visiting HT and for sharing this wonderful post with us. Bridge of Scarlet Leaves is one of my best reads this year.:)

  3. Thanks for allowing me to visit HT! My goodness, what an amazing compliment. I'm SO happy you enjoyed the read!!

  4. Thank you for such an interesting post!

  5. World War II is a unique niche in writing and I congratulate for being an amazing writer. Great blog, more power to you!