Today I welcome Gail Kittleson. She writes wonderful depression era and WW II novels. Her series Women of the Heartland is full of suspense and heart. I asked her to come today and share how she wrote a series where each story can stand on it’s own. Whether you start with the first or the third book you will find yourself totally engaged. Thank you so much for coming, Gail and sharing your wisdom with us.
Since I’ve written only one series, I’m no expert on this topic, but I do value the learning process inherent in trying something new—even something unexpected. When In Times Like These, the first book in the Women of the Heartland series occurred to me, I certainly didn’t envision writing three books.
My focus was the ways Midwesterners contributed to the Allied war effort and faced their own battles on the home front. But because the heroine of this book, Addie, enjoyed a friendship with Kate, In Times Like These also follows Kate as she seeks her downed Royal Air Force pilot husband in London.
In this volume, readers get a taste of British life during World War II, as well as the changes wrought in life in rural Iowa after the Pearl Harbor attack. Frequent letters between Kate and Addie, in which Kate describes what’s going on around her, encourage Addie in her personal struggles with her volatile husband through a long, bitterly cold winter.
In Times Like These reveals the upbringing of both girls. Plagued by poverty, illness, alcoholism and neglect, Addie’s family barely gets along. When Kate’s parents die in a dubious plane crash somehow related to World War I espionage, Kate moves to Iowa to live with her well-educated aunt. She and Addie are drawn together as classmates at school despite differences in personality and class.
The girls become kindred spirits sharing a love of learning, and their friendship remains strong as they age. Both marry young—Addie for stability, and Kate for adventure.
By the end of book one, Addie becomes able to stand up to her verbally abusive husband and claims her dignity as God’s child. When her husband deploys in preparation for D-Day and with Kate now widowed and expecting her first child, it seems natural for Addie to board a Red Cross ship for London to help her. Book, one ends with Addie’s courageous journey, a significant marker in her character arc.
Book two, With Each New Dawn, begins with Kate meeting a mysterious Frenchman who will change her life forever. As an orphan with many unanswered questions about her parents, Kate’s great hunger for family and home eventually leads her far deeper into danger. This stranger knew her parents—what an incredible opportunity for her.
Researching Kate and her employer’s roles taught me about the horrible London bombings, with such physical destruction and loss of life, produced broken gas lines, incendiary bombs lying about, people wounded and dying after yet another Nazi air raid. Offices were created to oversee the cleanup efforts. Enter Kate and her boss Charles, a recuperating former pilot for the Royal Air Force.
When Kate miscarries, grief envelops her, and she needs more than her former office job to feel purposeful now. Charles realizes this, so he introduces her to the very heartthrob of the Allied forces. In underground tunnels where earth-shattering military decisions are made, she smells the very cigar smoke Winston Churchill exhales.
Then another meeting with the Frenchman who remembers Kate’s mother and father from WWI woos her into far more danger. At this point, my research moved to the French Resistance.
Parachuting into Nazi-held Southern France as an SOE agent led to Kate meeting the hero of book two, a Basque shepherd-turned-Resistance-saboteur. I “met” an online British contact through studying the national commemorations of the Resistance that still take place annually in France. This man has made a lifelong study of the French Resistance and referred me to several historical textbooks.
Online sources and other publications such as magazine articles from the time, including LOOK and LIFE, helped fill in some areas. Even archived advertisements allowed me to embrace the era more fully.
Military records available to the public also provided a wealth of wartime details and perspective about why the Allies made certain decisions. Digging back into the effects of World War I helped me comprehend some choices made by the Allied leaders—and by the Germans.
Thirty years ago, my husband and I hiked the hills surrounding a southern French town when we were studying for missionary work. Those memories invigorated the setting, as did visiting a Basque museum in Idaho, with no idea that many Basque sheepherders had immigrated to the U.S.
Characters come to me first, and the requirements of their emotional growth guide my plots. Authors who outline their entire work before beginning to write amaze me, and I sometimes wish I had that kind of long-range objectivity. I believe it would make several areas of series writing more efficient, but in general, seeing the overall picture is not my gift.
Publishing book two as a stand-alone challenged me, so I sought advice on including only enough backstory to answer questions that might stall the reader. I did umpteen edits through the entire manuscript to check for unnecessary details and took my Beta readers/editor’s advice on this.
The other big challenge was how to end With Each New Dawn. The stopping point changed several times, actually, since by this time I realized Kate’s story was nowhere near over. Again, I sought professional advice, and was very thankful my publisher shared the vision of this book standing alone and supplied an accomplished editor.
Book three, A Purpose True, challenged my writing skills, because of a subplot from a different time period. As I considered including this, I wondered how to provide enough clarity for readers to follow the flashbacks. I’ve read books that bounced around in time and confused me. I didn’t want that to happen with Kate’s story.
Actual tales of high-level Nazis fleeing to a South American location my husband and I visited motivated me to proceed, even though giving each subplot adequate closure required extra research and time. In the long run, this work aided me in showing Kate’s full growth as a human being through her wartime experiences.
Working with a series offers another unique trial: keeping timelines and details straight. There are surely more effective ways of doing this, but mine was to constantly check back to be sure a certain scene coincided with a battle or the date of a Nazi atrocity.
A Purpose True ties up Addie’s story back in London too, while highlighting Kate’s challenges and Domingo’s struggles as he faces the loss of his family and his ancestral homeland. With Waffen SS tank units committing atrocities as they sweep across his birthplace en route to fight at Normandy, his angst can only increase.
Through all of this, a romantic thread evolved despite strong obstacles. I really didn’t plan this. When they first met, both characters mourned the loss of their first love and needed lots of time to heal. Besides that, Kate grieved the loss of her firstborn and hungered to discover more about her roots.
Kate and Domingo spend a great deal of time separated in this book—romance is an unlikely luxury when you’re racing to blow up bridges and running for your life from the Gestapo. But their mutual respect and commitment still blossomed and developed.
Because I believe strongly that less is more when it comes to romantic scenes, it was a challenge to show the depth of passion Kate and Domingo shared in the scenes where they are reunited. Without the time-lapse aspect of this book, I think this might have been even more difficult—sometimes it’s better to see how characters are led in retrospect than in present time.
Looking at the entire series from start to finish, I marvel at the writing journey it supplied me. The characters learned so much through their struggles, and so did I. That’s the heart of our journey, in my humble opinion—continually learning.
Thank you so much for your insights. I believe you accomplished your goal to deliver excellence in your series Women of the Heartland.
How to follow Gail:
Forever intrigued by the writing process, Gail researches ongoing World War II projects, including a co-written cozy mystery. She enjoys time with grandchildren, walking, and
reading. Winters find her hiking with her husband under Arizona’s Mogollon Rim. She loves hearing from readers, studying the art of writing, and facilitating writing workshops.
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