Today’s guest on the Summer Spotlight Series is author Gail Kittleson. Welcome, Gail!
Gail Kittleson instructed college writing and ESL, facilitates writing workshops and women’s retreats, and enjoys family in northern Iowa. In winter, she and her husband visit Arizona Mogollon Rim Country. Each young Iowa woman in Gail’s Women of the Heartland series has personal mountains to climb, and contributes to the war effort in a unique way. In Times Like These & With Each New Dawn await a sequel, A Purpose True in November, 2017
Her newest installment in the Women of the Heartland Series, With Each New Dawn, is available on Amazon now.
London – Summer 1943. To honor her husband’s sacrifice—and in hopes of learning more about her father, a World War I vet—widow Kate Isaacs joins the Special Operations Executive and parachutes into Nazi-occupied France to work with the Resistance. Domingo, a Resistance saboteur, meets her drop, tends to her sprained ankle, and carries Kate to her first assignment. During a clandestine mission Kate finds herself attracted to Domingo, but as Allied forces push across France and the Waffen SS closes in, the pair must put aside their feelings for the good of the Underground Resistance. Will moral courage and righteous faith triumph over oppression? Or will Kate and Domingo lose everything, including their growing affection for one another?
What is it that fascinates you with the WWII time period?
That’s a great question. We may be here a long, long time! One thing that intrigues me is how people coped with such an enormous degree of uncertainty. My mother, for instance, a high school student, waited for her two brothers to return from the infantry. The INFANTRY—that means it’s probably miraculous that both of them returned.
The other night in a book talk at an Austin, MN, book store, I met a woman who recalls being beside her mother when a telegraph arrived, telling them that her brother had been shot down over Italy. No official came to explain, offer comfort, or share their grief. They just received that horrible message and had to deal with it. Isn’t that hard to imagine?
Another aspect of this era is the drastic amount of change people experienced. Overnight, Midwesterners hurried to one or the other coast to work in munitions factories, shipbuilding, or any number of other occupations necessary to the war effort.
Right out of high school, young women joined the ranks of workers thousands of miles away from home and family. And their mothers handled the angst. A girl from our area went to the southeast to thread bomb heads. She was eighteen years old.
One of my novels, In Times Like These, shares its title with a hymn written by a WWII woman. In times like these, you need an anchor … that is for sure!
These days, we’re used to stress calculators, counseling and support groups. These WWII folks enjoyed none of the above. They posted gold stars in their windows when they lost a son to the war, marking their grief, and held services even though most often, no body came home.
I should probably stop there, but could go on and on. These make-do people took what life handed them and did their best to survive. My hat is off to them.
Who is your favorite character from one of your novels? And why?
You’d think I’d pick a heroine, but in In This Together, the lonely widower-next-door who longs to share Dottie’s life is probably my favorite. He suffers from post traumatic stress from his World War I service, but keeps its manifestations well hidden.
He’s a steady, reliable guy with a heart to help others, the first to volunteer when he discovers a need. And he does his kind acts for them, in genuine concern, not for any other reason. He’s not one to try to impress people, because he’s self-motivated and his values integrate naturally into his actions.
What more can I say? You’d like Al—you’d want him as a friend if he lived in your town, or to have your back if you were in a battle. He’s that kind of strong, quiet man.
So is George, a secondary character in In Times Like These. He’s a veteran, too, and a widower who now faithfully delivers the mail to rural customers, including Addie. But it’s her mother-in-law that sparks George’s interest when she emerges from grief with a taste for JOY!
Now that I think about it, Domingo in With Each New Dawn has a lot in common with Al and George—a completely different setting in S. France, and Domingo is much younger. But his Basque faith heritage compels him to do what he can for others during the war. And he ends up committing acts he never would have considered doing in peacetime. I imagine some of them will bother him in older age, just as Al’s do.
Where do you find ideas and inspiration?
Everywhere. I’ve been reading WWII texts and stories for many years—perhaps some of my ideas originate in those. Often I’m not certain where the ideas come from, they just come and I feel compelled to write.
Inspiration… that could mean inspiration to continue. Just yesterday, a friend who goes to dialysis 3 times a week told me he takes along my books to read. That inspired me—I’d never have imagined him as one of my readers. And that WWII woman I met last week with the memories of her brother shot down over Italy—she inspires me. These stories need to be told, before the Greatest Generation has completely faded from sight.
What can we expect next from you writing-wise?
I just heard the release date for the sequel to With Each New Dawn. On November first, readers can discover what happens with Kate and Domingo. Some have written me that there MUST be a sequel, because they need to know.
Endings can be many-faceted, in my humble opinion. With Each New Dawn ends with some things not totally tied up into neat packages. But that’s actually a microcosm of what Kate, Domingo, and Addie and our grandparents lived through during the forties.
The war dragged on and on…and on. Many Americans thought once they entered the fray, it would soon come to a close. But the fighting ballooned even more, and what could our troops do but keep plunging ahead through extremely ambivalent times? We’d like to wave a magic wand and make everything okay, but life doesn’t often work this way. That’s why I write historical fiction.
My characters slog through years of trepidation, months of days not knowing if they’ll be alive by sunset. Even though we like endings that relieve our anxiety, historical fiction cannot always deliver that easy satisfaction. A bit of patience is required to see this saga through to the end.
The Women of the Heartland series will still continue after the final book of Kate and Addie’s stories comes out in November. The future books have their moorings in northern Iowa and southern Minnesota, with strong women making their contributions to the war effort.
In one, a high school graduate starts working at the POW camp in Algona, Iowa, that housed many Nazi officers captured in North Africa. In another, a small-town newspaper editor seeks to solve a church basement murder—this genre is a new wrinkle for me!
Thank you, Gail! Everything sounds so fascinating! I agree with you that it sounds hard to believe and that these stories need to be told. What an amazing generation of people and an amazing collection of stories. I hope you will visit Amazon and check out all of these wonderful books by Gail. You can also learn more about her at her website, www.gailkittleson.com.
I will see you next week with my last Summer Spotlight Series interview, Victoria Kimble.