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!