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Dancing In Combat Boots

Dancing in Combat Boots

How did you find the women to interview for Dancing in Combat Boots?
Finding the women for this book required creative thinking and a lot of detective work. Before I started writing the individual stories, I thought about what types of women I'd like to feature in the book. I categorized them under subject headings: Military Women, Working Women, Professional Women, Mothers and Wives, Children, Women in the Thick of Things, etc. I wanted this book to represent all the important roles women played. I also made the conscious decision to include the voices of women from various ethnic and socio-economic groups, voices so seldom heard. And I wanted the book to be a sampling of women's experiences across the country. So I set myself a pretty wide-reaching task.

I started by contacting established organizations like the Red Cross and women's military groups and asking around for names of women with good stories to tell. When I'd find a woman whose story sounded promising, I did an initial interview to see how well she could tell her story. In that way, I was able to track down women who not only had had interesting experiences, but could remember them in great detail. At times, it was the women I interviewed who led me to other women with whom to speak. The search was part of the fun of writing this book, and I talked to many interesting women whose stories, for various reasons, did not make it into the final manuscript. I hope to one day do something with those stories as well.

Why did you decide to write these accounts as short stories?
Initially I conceived of this book as an oral history collection. I actually wrote each of these stories as interviews in the women's own words. When I submitted the book in that format, however, I was told by agents and editors that "oral history collections don't sell." How disheartening that was! I'd put a lot of work into that book and I, for one, loved the format. At that point, I had a decision to make. I could give up on the stories or find another way to tell them. I almost gave up, believe me, but I couldn't let these stories go. So I started the arduous task of turning each interview into a short story. In the end, I wound up really liking this format. The elements of fiction made it possible for me to make the women's memories come to life for the reader.

As a writer, what was the most challenging thing about writing these stories?
Short stories are deceptive. Because they're short, there's a tendency to believe they are easy to write. Nothing could be further from the truth! Each of these stories took several months to write. Then you add on the extra challenge of writing a fictional story that is based on fact. It was important to me to remain as close to the women's actual experiences as I possibly could. At times, this meant sacrificing a bit of dramatic tension or poetic license, but I felt sure the reader would respond to the underlying, subtle truths in these stories. In nearly all of the stories, ninety percent of what you read really happened. I used that same technique with Remember Wake and it served me well.

Where did the title come from?
The title came from the opening story of the same name. The Red Cross volunteer I interviewed for this story recalled a wonderful detail. She said that when they danced with the soldiers in their high-cuffed combat boots, their ankles actually bled. It was an image that seemed to resonate on several levels, and it was also a great-sounding title.

You are now asking people to record their own stories on your website. Why is this important?
I've often been asked why I keep writing fiction set in WWII. Well it's largely because I keep coming across wonderful stories I've never heard before. The breadth of that war is astounding. 70 million people in 50 countries participated in WWII. That's 70 million stories we haven't heard. The World War II generation is fast passing from us. It's my goal and passion to try and save as many of their memories as I can. Today's kids are learning very little about this critical period in our history and I'm hoping the website can serve as a repository to help them find out more.

What makes Dancing in Combat Boots unique?
To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time such a diverse collection of women's voices from that time period has been gathered in one work of fiction. It's my hope that when people finish reading Dancing in Combat Boots they will have a better appreciation of the contributions of women. It has been argued that the hard work of the women on the home front had a direct correlation to our victory in that war. Knowing how busy women are today, we can well relate to how difficult it must have been to work a job, care for kids, volunteer for the war effort, tend a Victory Garden, deal with rationing, etc. while husbands and brothers were away at war. What we can't always see and what the women couldn't see while they were living those experiences is how our seemly ordinary lives can change history. It's my hope that this book honors and celebrates our mothers and grandmothers who set women on a new course.