Karl Friedrich (website) wrote the historical fiction Wings: A Novel of World War II Flygirls (my thoughts). Wings is a wonderful book about the US Army’s Women Airforce Service Pilot or WASP. Those brave women flew planes for the military around the country providing variety of functions, transport, placement and even target practice. The women of WASP finally got their long deserved acknowledgment by receiving the Congressional Gold Medal (see video at the bottom).
Q. How did you come up with the idea to write about WASP?
A. My muses were failure and a blunt acquaintance. I’d written a science fiction novel that didn’t sell; which was fortunate, as I now realize it was just awful. I was sitting in this fellow’s office, bemoaning the world’s lack of taste and intelligence, and he interrupted with the suggestion that I stop whining and write about something I know something about, meaning aviation and America during World War II. We then more or less hit at the same time upon the idea of using the WASP as the basis for a novel. I headed to the Beverly Hills library the following Saturday to begin my research.
Q. Did you get to interview any of the WASPs? What was that like?
A. I interviewed two WASP (there’s no s on the end, as WASP is an acronym for Women Airforce Service Pilots), and the opportunity to do so was purely a fluke of good luck. I was visiting a friend at his mother’s house when I mentioned that I was starting to research the WASP for a book, and his mom said that a WASP went to her church. She volunteered to contact the lady, who subsequently called me. That brief interview led to an invitation by a second WASP for an in-person interview in her home, and we spent about an hour chatting. She was very gracious. She also was responsible for a bit of dialogue that I use in the book. “There’ll never be another time like it. We were so lucky. So lucky. Of all the women in America, only a little more than a thousand of us got to be WASP. My God, but we did fly the wings off those airplanes. We did it as well as any man!” She was standing next to a huge photograph of a line of parked B-25’s at the time. I believe she was in the picture, though I can’t remember. That interview took place many years ago.
Q. How long did it take you to do the research?
A. I started around 1995. The research took a long time, because I was having fun and meeting really wonderful people and being careful to get everything right. The writing took a long time, too, as did selling the manuscript.
Q. Where do you, as a fictional history writer, draw the line where history ends and fiction begins?
A. Most of the things that happen in the book really did happen to the WASP, though there are a few deviations, and one of those is a perfect example of what you’re asking me about. I created a character, Ira Waterman, a really nasty character, who’s been hired by some members of Congress to find cause to shut down the WASP. To my knowledge, there was no such person, though certain members of Congress did become fixated on getting rid of the WASP. Before he became President, Harry Truman headed a committee to investigate charges that the Army was spending twice as much to train women to become pilots as men. So in my judgment, because WINGS is a work of historical fiction, it was OK to create a character who’s the Everyman bad guy. But it would not have been OK to have Waterman do something that would have been completely out of character, given the time period and who his employers were, such as having a WASP murdered. That would have been a clichéd trick that would have cheapened the plot.
Actually, the real story of the WASP is so rich in plot twists and in bigger-than-life characters that I didn’t have to worry about making the distinction.
Q. What are the challenges of book promotion in the social media age?
A. The first challenge was not knowing what to expect; the second was not knowing how to respond. Luckily, I’ve got a great publisher who’s very supportive. And through trial and error, I learned that I could overcome obstacles and achieve my goals.
For instance, by being persistent and professional, I was able to get onto KCPQ, the FOX TV affiliate in Seattle. I had no idea what to expect, and was blown away when I realized the producer had gone to considerable trouble to assemble stills of the WASP, and even film. I think the interview lasted something like six or seven minutes, and that was during the morning news. Here’s a link to the broadcast: http://bit.ly/kdMwle Following the same formula of persistence, I’ve gotten considerable amounts of air time on several radio stations, and more are in the works. Here’s a link to the most recent interview: http://kboo.fm/node/31317.
So my answer is, yes, it’s challenging; but not as challenging as researching, writing and selling a novel to a legitimate publisher. If you can overcome those obstacles, you can learn promotion. Depending upon your background, you may have to develop a new skill set, but so what? That’s part of the adventure.
Thank you Mr. Friedrich for his facinating insight and good luck with his writing career.
Zohar – Man of la Book