Thursday, February 12, 2009

French Letters Virginia's War: Tierra Texas 1944

Today we welcome Jack Woodville London to our writing blog. He is discussing the first book in his trilogy, French Letters -- Virginia’s War: Tierra Texas 1944.

YVONNE: Tell me something about yourself and your writing background.
JACK LONDON: I began writing and editing articles for the International Law Journal in 1970 and over the next thirty-five years wrote a large number of articles on evidence, aviation law, and procedure. I also wrote rules of evidence and uniform jury instructions for the bar. About ten years ago, I began writing short stories for family and friends.

I come from a literary family. My mother wrote a play in her sixties. My aunt was president of Pen Women. And then there was that guy in California who wrote about Alaska, the gold rush, dog stories. He died almost 100 years ago.

YVONNE: What is the title of your book? Give us the basic story line so we’ll know what it’s about.
JACK: French Letters: Virginia’s War is the story of Virginia Sullivan, a lonely young woman in a small town in 1944 who had to decide whether to tell her soldier she would wait for him, then discovered a bit long after he was gone that she is pregnant. Her father runs the town. He and the town are happily oblivious to her dilemma, living the war in tarnished patriotism by counterfeiting ration coupons, hiding things from the government war production buyers, and gossiping about one another.

YVONNE: What inspired you to write this book?
JACK: I am a historian by training and am fascinated by the part of war that falls on the public, all apart from the dates of battles and names of generals. Go to any military base today and you’ll see widows, moms waiting for their men to come back from Iraq or Afghanistan, and children who never knew their dads. World War II is a story of V-mails, the form of letters used to correspond between home and the war front, and Dear John letters, the form used to stick a dagger in some poor soldier’s heart. A lot of V-mails with Dear John letters in them sank during naval battles and more than one unknowing soldier came home in 1945 to find babies that weren’t there when he left. The role of doctors completely changed in World War II; penicillin, sulfa, and boiled water changed infant mortality rates all over the world. The second book of the series is about Virginia’s absent soldier, a doctor sent to France, who comes home to find a child who wasn’t there when he left for the war. And I love double entendres and word-play. How many people know the old-time meaning of ‘French letters?’

YVONNE: Is this the first book you have written?
JACK: It is the first published. Before this, I wrote a 400,000-word courtroom novel.

YVONNE: How long did it take to write this book? Any interesting tidbits about your writing method or how the book developed?
JACK: I wrote five drafts of Virginia’s War over a two year period, then stopped to do a first rough draft of Will’s Peace (tentative title of the second novel). It was essential that the two stories mesh. Virginia’s War and Will’s Peace take place at the same time, 1944-1945, with letters and events shared by a couple who are from a small Texas town. The events, dates, unit numbers, people mentioned in letters--all those had to agree without giving away either story. Once I finished the rough of Will’s Peace I was able to go back to Virginia’s War and finish it in only two more drafts, hundreds of revisions, and one more year--no time at all, really (smiling).

YVONNE: How did you publish your book? Tell me about your publishing experience and what you learned from it.
JACK: Pathway published a book titled Every Town Needs a Trail and I am in the book. Mike Kearby, an author of historic fiction of the American West, encouraged me to seek a small independent publisher with a first rate team. Pathway created the Vire Press division to give me a chance. Mike directed Vire to Mindy Reed and Stephanie Barko and they shepherded Vire, me, and Pathway to the conclusion. I have learned that they are the publishers and I am the writer.

YVONNE: Where is your book available? Do you have a Web site or blog where we can learn more about you or your book?
JACK: It is available through the Vire Press website, and is distributed by Pathway Books which has it listed with the major distribution catalogs. It is now available on Amazon.

And I do have a blog, I invite your readers to visit and comment about the books and about the World War II experiences of their family and friends.

YVONNE: As far as marketing, do you do more online publicity or print/radio/TV promotion? Tell me some ways you have promoted your book. Give examples and links to any sites you feel might help other authors.
JACK: I write and when my publicist, Stephanie Barko, arranges or coordinates something, I do what she tells me. As far as promotion, the book launch is at BookPeople in Austin, Texas on February 13 (make someone happy for Valentine’s Day with French Letters). One of my editor Mindy Reed’s brilliant pieces of advice was to have early readers fill out a blinded questionnaire so that they could give feedback on the book. Those early readers were wildly enthusiastic, not only about the story but also the historical accuracy, such as the correct color of ration stamps and the military draft notices posted on post office bulletin boards. Those early readers and blurb writers have publicized the book by word of mouth. Oh, and the Groom News, my hometown paper, circulation 250 (smiling again).

YVONNE: Have you hired a publicist to help promote this book? If so, what was your experience like?
JACK: Stephanie Barko has done a great job. She lined up some perfect candidates for blurbs and, as a result, the book has jacket endorsement blurbs from Jim Parkel, past president of AARP, from Canadian Playwright Leeann Minogue, from Mike Kearby, from two retired history professors, and from four elected officials. She has arranged interviews and book reviews and has a very good relationship with papers, print, and broadcast media. She has a great talent for identifying the readers who would be interested in French Letters and the right publications to query for reviews.

YVONNE: Any other comment you would like to share?
JACK: As we age, we think we are becoming our parents. French Letters reminds us that before our parents became our parents, they were us--young, uncertain, a bit out of control, and trying to get by in a difficult world. No one who has read the book thinks Virginia Sullivan was their mother, but they do think the book describes someone their mother told them about (and someone their father said he wanted to tell them about, but didn’t).

YVONNE: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to get to know you and learn about your book. I wish you well in your journey as an author.
JACK: Thank you for the visit, Yvonne.

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