20 February 2011

Guest Author: Kristina McMorris

This week on Unusual Historicals, we're thrilled to welcome debut author Kristia McMorris as she celebrates the release of LETTERS FROM HOME, available February 22nd from Kensington. In the midst of WWII, a Midwestern infantryman falls deeply in love through a yearlong letter exchange, unaware that the girl he's writing to isn't the one replying.

Chicago, 1944.

Liz Stephens has little interest in attending a USO club dance with her friends Betty and Julia. She doesn't need a flirtation with a lonely serviceman when she's set to marry her childhood sweetheart. Yet something happens the moment Liz glimpses Morgan McClain. They share only a brief conversation--cut short by the soldier's evident interest in Betty--but Liz can't forget him. Thus, when Betty asks her to ghostwrite a letter to Morgan, stationed overseas, Liz reluctantly agrees.

Thousands of miles away, Morgan struggles to adjust to the brutality of war. His letters from "Betty" are a comfort, their soul-baring correspondence a revelation to them both. While Liz is torn by her feelings for a man who doesn't know her true identity, Betty and Julia each become immersed in their own romantic entanglements. And as the war draws to a close, all three will face heart-wrenching choices, painful losses, and the bittersweet joy of new beginnings.

"Ambitious and compelling...[a] sweeping debut." ~ Publishers Weekly

"A tough book to put down! ...Sprinkled with fabulous historical detail of the WWII era and true-to-life characters, LETTERS FROM HOME is a beautifully told story." ~ RT Book Reviews

"Interspersing unflinching images of combat with more intimate, emotional scenes personalizes this historical period and will touch your heart....I enjoyed this book from beginning to end." ~ Fresh Fiction

"An absolutely lovely debut novel." ~ Kristin Hannah, New York Times bestselling author of Winter Garden

"Gripping and memorable...a timeless lesson in love and loss and the moments that shape our lives." ~ Pam Jenoff, bestselling author of The Kommandant's Girl

"Skillfully written...sweeps the reader away. [The] research and attention to detail commendably honor veterans of WWII." ~ Lynn "Buck" Compton, famed "Band of Brothers" WWII veteran and author


World War Two is a relatively rare setting for women's fiction and romance novels. What prompted you to write about such a unique time period?

My entire literary career, as well as my focus on WWII, came about without planning. You see, several years ago, I was creating a Christmas present for the family, a self-published cookbook featuring recipes my grandmother had collected and created over decades. While interviewing her for the biographical section, she began to talk about her courtship with my late grandfather. That's when I discovered, much to my amazement, that they had dated only twice before tying the knot, as their relationship had developed almost entirely through an exchange of letters during WWII. Grandma Jean then retrieved from her closet a gorgeous stack of yellowed, wrinkled pages full of the love and hope that had forged their bond.

After leaving her house, I continued to think about those letters, and wondered how different their relationship might have been if their correspondence had been anything less than truthful. This thought soon became the core idea behind my debut novel, LETTERS FROM HOME.

Were there obstacles you faced on your journey toward publication specifically due to your time period?

I tell ya, if I had a nickel for every time I've heard "World War Two will never sell"….

Due to my blissful ignorance of the marketplace, I'd simply penned a story I was passionate about. When my first agent shopped the manuscript, the book's era caused a good deal of resistance. But a few years and many self-imposed revisions later, I signed with my current agent, who sold the manuscript very quickly. Around that time, it seems that WWII women's fiction was quietly gaining momentum with novels like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Those Who Save Us, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet, and The Postmistress. So far, the timing of this trend has worked in my favor, leaving me even more grateful my first version didn't sell.

What were some of the greatest challenges you faced while researching for your novel?

Though logic should have warned me, I had no inkling just how overwhelming the research could be for WWII. There's also a lot of conflicting information out there, as I imagine is true for any highly documented era. So sifting through and cross checking became very time consuming.

Aside from wanting to do justice to what the heroes of the Greatest Generation accomplished, I admit my motivation for nitpicking over details largely stemmed from my fear of critics blasting me for inaccuracies--especially those who actually lived through the time period. The sheer number of WWII enthusiasts was also intimidating.

Do you have any research tips for other historical novelists, no matter their era?

One suggestion I would give is to find an "expert" in every major field included in your story, and ask them to read your finished manuscript--or even specific chapters--for fact checking. Also, unless you're not a writer who plots, I think it's very helpful to create an outline. By knowing the probable time frames and locations of most of my chapters beforehand, I was able to narrow my research tremendously.

In the end, of course, all we can do is hope that our efforts will be reflected in the work and, if need be, remind ourselves that we indeed write fiction!

What book are you working on next? Is it another historical?

I actually just turned in my second novel to my publisher. BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES is about a Caucasian violinist who secretly elopes with her Japanese-American boyfriend--against families' wishes and societal molds--the night before Pearl Harbor is bombed.

I'm very eager to share this one with the readers, as it features some shocking aspects of history that most people have never heard about, as well as heroes that are too often passed over. Also, being half Japanese, I was able to infuse a unique perspective of living between worlds.


Thanks so much for stopping by today, Kristina! And readers, you can follow Kristina on Twitter and Facebook. If you'd like the chance to win a copy of LETTERS FROM HOME, here's Kristina's question for you:

What is your favorite historical period to read or write about? What specifically draws you to the era? If you're a writer, what has been the most challenging aspect of research you've faced?

I'll choose the winner at random next Sunday. Void where prohibited. Best of luck!


LilMissMolly said...

I love historical fiction. I love Highlander stories set about 1400. Don't know really why. I enjoy Regency's too but can't stand the Georgian era...

Virginia said...

I love book wrote in the Civil War period and the old west. Not real sure why I love books during these time periods.

Kristina said...

Molly - I've never read anything set during the 1400s. I imagine the era would be fascinating to learn about. Thanks for stopping by!

Kristina said...

Virginia - I'm a huge fan of the Civil War period too. I automatically think of Patrick Swayze in a uniform, riding on a horse toward a beautiful plantation. I admit, I still own the 12-VHS tapes set of North & The South. :)

Delia DeLeest said...

I love the 1920's, but I always thought a USO love story would be fun to write. I have to say, the story of your grandparents courtship made me tear up a little at the total sweetness of it. I enjoy reading historicals, but get frustrated sometimes when the limitations of the time period cause problems for the characters. I keep thinking things like, pull out your cell and call him or just Google it, you doofus!

ps: I still think of Orry Main (Patrick Swayze) when someone talks about the Civil War as well.

Kristina said...

Delia - Your very mention of Orry's name has hereby solidified our bond, lol.

Thanks so much for the kind words about my grandparents. I'm so excited that my grandmother will be at my official launch party this coming Friday, where I'll be reading excerpts from my grandpa's letters. :)

I LOVE the '20s too. And yes, I agree about the frustrating limitations of historicals. Btw, your use of "doofus" put a smile on my face. That word is absolutely underutilized.

Cindy L said...

Medievals set in Scotland are my favorite. I've always been drawn to them. My hubby and I went there for our honeymoon and it was everything I had imagined it to be. We can't wait to go back.

I immediately went and added Letters From Home to my wish list. During Wartime, you would always hear about soldiers that would come home and find that the woman they loved didn't wait for them. It's terrible to think that these young men were going through horrific times and the only thing that got them through was knowing that they had a girlfriend waiting at home for them. I can't wait to see how your story plays out!

JenM said...

I have to admit that I'm one of those people who loves reading Regency romances. I also love Georgian set ones because the clothes were just to die for - strong men wearing heels with diamond buckles and little beauty patches get me every time. Aside from that, I enjoy the early and mid-20th century time periods. Loved Guernsey Literary Society and as it happens, I'm reading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet right now for my bookclub, so your book would fit in great with those.

Kristina said...

Cindy - Ooh, what an amazing honeymoon! I've been to Ireland and LOVED it, but am still hoping to make it to Scotland one day. You're probably very familiar with Kris Kennedy, who writes fabulous medievals set in England and Ireland....not Scotland, but very close! :)

I'm thrilled to know you added LETTERS to your wish list. Thank you! I hope you enjoy seeing how the story unfolds.

Kristina said...

Jen - Those are both great WWII novels. And I couldn't agree more; my book would fit right in. HOTEL is actually the novel that gave me the courage to write my second book, involving the internment camps. Soo happy I did!

Thanks for swinging by. :)

JenM said...

Years ago (in the 1970's), as a teenager, I remember reading a fiction book about the internment camps and I was shocked to learn about them. At least when I was in high school, it wasn't something that was taught in our schools and I'm sure there are plenty of people who are unaware of this part of our recent history. I'd definitely be interested in reading that book.

librarypat said...

I actually like to read about most historical periods. They each have their own special character. It would be boringto read much the same thing all the time. The fiction we read often brings out historical details we are not familiar with. That is the biggest bonus to reading historical fiction for me.

Best of luck with these two books. I look forward to reading them.

Kristina said...

Pat - That is definitely one of the best parts of reading historical novels -- how much we learn without feeling like we're reading a textbook. It's like the sugarcoating on Advil. :)

Vonnie Alto said...

Hi Kristina,

My favorite historical era to read about is the 19th century/early 20th century because the world was changing. Women were becoming more independent, gaining a voice, achieving more, and striding towards emancipation which was evident in their interests, leisure, work, and attire. The most challenging aspect of research as a writer of this era has been to uncover the nuances of the culture/heritage of my hero/ine.

That said, I applaud historical authors such as yourself who explore their heritage and ancestry. It's truly mining for gold and where the uniqueness and conflict of a historical story lies. It's often an untapped territory and what makes a historical fresh and exciting--especially one with an American setting/character(s). Since the U.S. is a melting pot of many cultures, interracial love is inevitable. Why not explore that and the diverse cultures in America! That's probably why your LETTERS FROM HOME is getting such great reviews.

Kristina said...

Vonnie - Thanks for the thoughtful and generous comments. I certainly agree about the transformation of female roles in society. Warm wishes!

Carrie Lofty said...

We have a winner for the drawing: CINDY L! Details here:


Thanks to everyone for stopping by!