Today I am thrilled to welcome Lorelei Brush here to A Bookish Affair for an interview. Don't forget to check out my review of "Chasing the American Dream" from yesterday and come back tomorrow for a guest post from Ms. Brush!
|Author Lorelei Brush|
Chasing the American Dream takes place in a very different time period than your first book. What inspired you to visit World War II and the 1950s through this book?
I’ve found my source of inspiration for both of my books in conundrums I’ve faced in my life. My first book, Uncovering, takes place in northwest Pakistan, an area of conservative Islamic beliefs. I lived and worked there for two years, directing a USAID-funded education project and had the privilege of working with an inspiring group of dedicated Pakistanis. These women and men were committed to bringing the best possible education to children. Part of the difficulty we faced was a prevalent belief that girls didn’t need an education. I wanted to figure out how woman with Western values—like me and my female staff—could manage a full work and personal life in such an atmosphere.
For Chasing the American Dream, I was inspired by a puzzle in my family. As I was growing up, my father told my brother and me tales of his adventures during World War II as part of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He sounded like a superhero with his sneaking about behind enemy lines and sending coded messages to the Allied forces. His stories were full of swashbuckling actions, and yet my experience of him throughout the 1950s was of an angry, unfulfilled man. Why was he so angry? What happened during the war that precipitated his strong negativity?
What was your research process like? What was the most interesting tidbit you found in your research?
After I retired from my paying job, I spent about six months in the National Archives where the OSS records are stored. It was a treasure trove! I could trace my father, who was a Captain, from the day he set sail for Europe to the day he returned to the U.S. Almost everything he’d told us kids turned out to be a fabrication. (There’s a “tidbit” for you!) He’d never been “behind enemy lines.” He’d never acted like a “superhero.” So, why did he need to portray himself as one? I believe, now, his war was a huge disappointment. It didn’t give him the chance to be the hero he wanted to be. And he was angry. My challenge was to figure out how he might have acted in the 1950s to work out that anger. And, of course, to become a more loving father.
Did you know, before you started, about the historical events you describe?
Though I was a child in the 1950s, I wasn’t particularly aware of the politics of the time. I knew about the Red Scare, as we regularly had drills about what to do in a nuclear attack (i.e., we had to crawl underneath our school desks). I heard about Joe McCarthy. But for the book, I had to do a lot of research to figure out how McCarthy’s accusations hurt individuals. I also had to research lots of details about the last year of World War II. My father left a badge saying he was in the Target Forces, but I had no idea what that was. When I found out he was tracking down German scientists, my imagination went into overdrive, and I had a big story to tell.
Who was your favorite character to write about in this book?
I loved writing about Jacob, who is a Jewish electrician required by the Third Reich to assist in building V-2 rockets. The protagonist, David, liberates the labor camp, meets Jacob, helps him come to the U.S., and involves him in the adventures of the 1950s. Jacob grapples with what it will take to forgive himself for his activities in the camp, his survivor’s guilt. His process is grueling and critical to his own well-being. I, too, went through a process of forgiving as I grappled with my father’s lies and anger. Writing this story allowed me to create an alternative story of how he might have spent his life with greater happiness and satisfaction.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
My advice would be to take a conundrum, a persistent niggling issue, and devise characters who work through it. It’s an excellent way to find inspiration and produce a gobsmacking good novel. Some writers advise authors to “write what you know” or “write from your life.” I think this idea of “rewriting” your life, solving one of life’s puzzles, is a corollary to that: home in on an enigma and invent a story that untangles the threads and weaves them together into a more beautiful whole.