Interview with Barbara Hawkins, author of Behind the Forgotten Front
Welcome to Passages to the Past, Barbara, and congratulations on the release of your novel! Thank you for stopping by and letting us get to know you better. First, can you please tell us a little about yourself.
Hello Amy and thank you for inviting me to interview on your blog.
How to tell you about myself without sounding like I’m interviewing for a job? Well, I have an active mind that doesn’t stop when I go to sleep. I’ve been known to sleepwalk out of a hotel room onto the street in my PJs. I was at a party several months ago when someone I hadn’t seen in twenty years remembered me as the woman who had just returned from the jungle with a Botfly larvae in her skull. I’ve been to six continents and dragged my daughter to five of them; Antarctica being one that’s not on my bucket list having grown up in Minnesota. I make it a habit to have fresh flowers in my house. And my favorite job is being a mom, but being an engineer brings home the bacon.
What inspired you to write Behind the Forgotten Front?
I’ve taken a crack at writing several stories but was ‘inspired’ to write only one, Behind the Forgotten Front. While growing up I remember Ed Pfeifer, a friend of my dad’s from The War, coming to visit and always being shushed away while they relived their previous lives as soldiers. That only made me want to listen more. I come from a family of seven kids and not a lot of money. So when my dad pulled out his purple silk bag from the time he spent in Ceylon during WWII, with trinkets of tiny ivory elephants, rupees, jade, and rubies, my imagination got the better of me and I daydreamed of Siam. Three months before my dad died he told me about his final days in The War and flying into Shanghai for the surrender. My dad was not one to spare the belt and spoil the child but I never saw a man who cried as unashamedly as him at the funeral of a friend. So knowing he hadn’t met one of his life-long goals, to write about the boys who never came home from The War, I decided to pick up the gauntlet for him.
What was the hardest scene to write?
The hardest scene for me to write in Behind the Forgotten Front was Collin’s death. I don’t think they had a term like Traumatic Stress Syndrome back then. That doesn’t mean they didn’t suffer from it. What I wanted to portray in Collin’s breakdown was being drafted or volunteering to fight in a war, far from home, wasn’t something they taught in school, then or now. Getting into Collin’s shoes was next to impossible for me. But I felt I owed it to all the soldiers who have had to face that struggle.
What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?
Getting into the voice of a character is the biggest challenge for me as a writer. I haven’t perfected a method, but I’ve learned that I don’t know my characters very well until I’m about half-way through the book. So go back to the beginning and rewrite the book to make sure everyone’s personality is reflected from the start. Sure, I could plow on and finish my stories faster is I just kept writing, but my characters would be flat at the start.
What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?
The reason I enjoy writing Historical Fiction is because it gives me an excuse to research whatever I want. I’m fascinated by people who made history rather than historical facts. It’s been said if we learned from history we wouldn’t repeat our mistakes. But if we only study the facts we won’t understand the origins of the problems. If we understood the people who made history and the conditions that shaped their lives, then we might have a chance to ‘learn from history.’
What do you want readers to take away from your book?
If readers take anything away from my book I hope they think of the soldiers who never came back as real people, with parents, children, and lovers they left behind. In one of the WWII cemeteries I visited in a recent trip to India the following was written on one of the grave stones: He gave the greatest gift of all, that of his unfinished life.
Who are your writing inspirations?
I got hooked on historical fiction after reading Leon Uris’ QB VII. Following Uris, I found James Clavell. Once I find an author I like, I can’t move on until I’ve read everything they’ve written. After Clavell, Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett caught my attention. Then I tackled Bernard Cornwell’s writings, starting with Stonehenge, moving on to the Sharpe series, which I couldn’t believe I was reading with all the gore and guts. I don’t know how I stumbled upon Phillipa Gregory’s Boleyn series but was pleased to find a female Historical Fiction writer and just recently started reading Anne Perry, who’s been around forever. My all-time favorite is Paul Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown.
What do you like to do when you aren't writing?
Adventure travel is a passion of mine. I generally don’t stay at five star hotels and will lose about twenty pounds after trekking to remote sites. But I know I can always return to 1st class comfort and will gain back all that weight. I marvel at the people I meet along the way and treasure the memories of our time together. I realize this is a luxury for only a few, and I was lucky enough to be born in the USA in the 20th century.
What was the first historical novel you read?
I read my first historical fiction novel in the fifth grade. I don’t remember the author or title but it was about a boy living in the Middle Ages, an ignorant period in history, or so I thought. It was a time when books were burned and people tortured for pursuing what we value now; astronomy, medicine and art. But it was also a period of critical change. When I was ten years old I tried to find similar novels, but there were none. Instead I was encouraged to read detective novels about teenage girls, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Still, I believe historical fiction was severely lacking in YA novels then and now.
What is the last historical novel you read?
The last historical fiction novel I read was by Anne Perry, A New York Christmas. Her stories are like a tapestry of lives, interwoven and full of peculiar depth.
Lastly, are you working on something new and if so, can you tell us about it?
Right now I’m working on a Young Adult SciFi/Fantasy novel. I’d say it was also Historical Fiction, except I recently read that to be Historical Fiction it can’t have any speculative nonsense. My story starts in the 22nd century but moves back in time to 350 C.E. Being a scientist, I get to throw in make-believe inventions and as a historical fiction addict, I include scenes from the Roman Persian Wars. I want our youth to learn about the past and believe in a positive future, not be bullied into accepting a dystopian end of the world. I’m having a blast writing this story.
About Behind the Forgotten Front
Publication Date: August 22, 2014
e-book: ISBN 978-0-9915984-2-7 (309 pages)
Paperback: ISBN 978-0-9915984-1-0 (318 pages)
Genre: Historical Fiction/World War II
It’s 1942 and Harry Flynn enlists to fight in the war expecting to find the thrill of danger and honor of military service. He leaves behind the love of his life to journey into a world of tigers, elephants and Himalayan Mountains. Instead of a fighting position, Harry is sent to the Forgotten Front in the Indian subcontinent as an ordinary supply officer. There, General Joseph ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell is constructing a ‘road to nowhere’ through Japanese-occupied Burma. The general will do anything to get the road built.
In this exotic world with Naga headhunters, opium-smoking Kachin tribesmen, and marauders who scorn both life and death, Harry forges unlikely friendships. He’s forced to obey orders that challenge his principles and is torn between being true to himself or ‘no man at all.’ Eventually, not willing to let Uncle Sam needlessly condemn the road crew to death, he rebels.
He tries to sabotage the road’s progress where an Afro-American construction regiment is losing a man a mile due to disease and crumbling mountain slopes. Then a commanding officer spots his unconventional skills. Immediately he’s transferred to America’s first guerrilla-supported unit: Merrill’s Marauders and later the Mars Task Force. Here, he must entrust his life to others. During a time when boys were forced to come of age on the battlefield, Harry must find what makes his life worth living or die.
The lessons learned in World War II apply to all wars, where men walk away carrying unspeakable memories and lives that ‘could have been’ haunt those that lived. Behind the Forgotten Front brings them all back to life and shows that history is about facts driven by passions and sometimes the mistakes of real people.
Praise for Behind the Forgotten Front"Barbara's debut novel is a compelling examination of man and war and the interaction between them. The miracle of this novel is how Barbara brings this `forgotten front' to life. Barbara accomplishes her goals in this her debut - bringing to our attention the impact war has on all soldiers, no matter their assignment. She also sets a very high standard for her next book. Brava!" - Grady Harp, Amazon Reviewer
Buy the BookAmazon (eBook)
She knew he was stationed in Sri Lanka, but she didn’t find much to write about there. So she gravitated to what she knew best, engineering and jungles. The story of the Afro-American construction regiment building Stilwell’s Road grabbed her attention and who could not be mesmerized by American’s first guerrilla supported units: Merrill’s Marauders and the Mars Task Force? Half-way through the book her sister found her dad’s diary from the War. He was actually in the Mars Task Force. The scene with Lt. Jack Knight was taken from his diary and the ending was from a conversation she had with her dad just before he died. Having given a promise to keep his WWII missions a secret for fifty years, it was the only time her father spoke of the War.
Ms. Hawkins holds BS degrees from the University of Minnesota where she studied Botany and Mathematics. She taught mathematics and science in High School until she realized she hated being a disciplinarian. From there she traveled to jungles in Latin America collecting plant specimens for several universities. She also has a MS in Civil Engineering. For the last twenty-five-years she has worked as a professional engineer. Her hobbies vary from cooking and yoga to bicycling and adventure travel.
For more information visit Barbara Hawkins' website.
Behind the Forgotten Front Blog Tour ScheduleMonday, May 11
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Interview at Boom Baby Reviews
Tuesday, May 12
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Wednesday, May 13
Review & Giveaway at Forever Ashley
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation
Thursday, May 14
Spotlight at CelticLady's Reviews
Friday, May 15
Review & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More
Saturday, May 16
Review at Impressions in Ink
Spotlight at Just One More Chapter
Monday, May 18
Review & Giveaway at Unshelfish
Tuesday, May 19
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
GiveawayPassages to the Past has one paperback of Behind the Forgotten Front up for grabs! To enter the giveaway please leave a comment below with your email address.
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