Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Interview with Cara Langston, author of Battle Hymns

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Cara Langston to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her latest release, Battle Hymns. 

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Cara. Great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Battle Hymns.
Thanks for having me, Erin! Battle Hymns is the story of a young woman, Charlotte Donahue, whose life is forever changed by the attack on Pearl Harbor and the entrance of the United States into World War II. Her fiancé, Nick, enlists in the Army, and while Charlotte waits for him to return so they can marry, she volunteers as a nurses' aide with the American Red Cross. It's here she develops a passion for nursing and meets a wounded fighter pilot, Will, who helps her cope with many of the emotions that arise from Nick's deployment.

What inspired this story? Where did it begin? 
When I start brainstorming a new story, I generally begin with the time period or setting. In the case of Battle Hymns, I chose the 1940s after listening to a lot of classic Christmas music during the holiday season. It’s the only time of the year you can hear Bing Crosby, Irving Berlin, Judy Garland, and Lena Horne on the radio! The story blossomed from there as I developed characters that fit the time period. 

WWII is a popular historical period. What did you like most about writing a story set in this era? 
World War II was such a pivotal moment in history. Because so many lives were disrupted across the globe, the era offers a plethora of potential characters arcs, which you can easily see in the wide variety of WWII fiction, from the Holocaust survivor to the French resistance fighter or the German SS officer. It was also recent enough that there’s a ton of written history and eyewitness accounts, sources of information that might be more difficult to find in earlier historical periods. Finding research material was easy.

Historically speaking, what sort of research went into Battle Hymns?
I’d love to say I visited certain locations or spent hours upon hours at the library. But as a debut author with a full-time job and limited budget, most of my research was done on the Internet. You have to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, but it’s an invaluable resource. I was able to read love letters from soldiers, view photos of the Army Medical Center in 1942, and study digitized non-fiction books that delved into certain WWII battles. I was also lucky enough that my pre-reader’s boyfriend does some work for The History Channel with a background in World War II, so he answered a lot of the questions I couldn't resolve online. 

You probably have many, but is there a scene that particularly stands out to you?
One of my favorite scenes is the first chapter of Part Two, where Charlotte decides to become a Red Cross volunteer. It was a last minute addition to the third draft (along with the beach scene later in the novel), and I really love how it turned out. I can’t imagine it not being part of the story, and yet in the first two drafts, the entire scene was condensed into a paragraph. That’s why editing and re-writes are important!

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it?  
I actually find scenes depicting physical intimacy to be the greatest challenge. For the most part, it’s because I remember that my grandmother will eventually read the scene once published and I become rather self-conscious. I remind myself that my grandmother is no prude, but she is the primary reason I avoid too much detail in those scenes. Eventually I’ll get over it!

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time with or expanded on?
When I started writing Battle Hymns, I originally crafted a more complex subplot for Natalie Armstrong that delved into her relationships with John and her parents. For example, her mother was a pacifist, which I thought would be an interesting perspective since everyone else in the novel supports the war. But halfway through the first draft, I cut most of Natalie’s backstory in an effort to streamline Charlotte’s. 

William Kendrick suffers PTSD from his time overseas. How did you approach depicting his affliction within your narrative? 
The most difficult part was not being too obvious or clinical about it, given that PTSD wasn’t diagnosable until after the Vietnam War. I also didn’t want it to be Will’s defining characteristic. When we first meet him in the Army Medical Center, he goes through a brief period where he doesn’t speak to anyone, but he gets over that pretty quickly and seems well adjusted during his extended stay in the hospital. He’s worried about his ability to walk or fly again, but those are normal concerns. It isn’t until he’s discharged from the hospital that he starts having the nightmares, his working with aircraft again being the trigger. Delayed onset is common. 

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing Battle Hymns and if so, what did you alter and why? 
There is one detail I slightly altered to fit my storyline. In my novel, the 60th Infantry Regiment lands in Sicily during the initial invasion. In reality, they arrived a couple weeks later. I tried so hard to make the real date work with my timeline, but in the end, I gave up and took the liberty. It’s a small alteration, and I doubt many readers would’ve noticed without me confessing to it right now!

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?
I’d want to sit down and ask Will Kendrick about his time in the RAF. For one, I’m an Anglophile. I studied abroad at Oxford and married an Englishman (those experiences are unrelated, by the way), so I’d want to know all about his time in Sussex and Kent. I also find aviation fascinating, and he’s nearly an expert.

Authors are famous, or infamous depending on your point of view, for writing their own experiences, friends and acquaintances into their narratives. Is there anything in Battle Hymns that sprung directly from your personal history? 
A portion of John Cartwright's character is based on a man from my hometown. He and his wife attended my parents' church. When I was just a kid, my parents told me that Mr. Robert participated in the D-Day invasions during World War II and he never shared the experience with anyone, not even his wife. For some reason, that idea has always stuck with me, the fact that someone can experience first-hand an event that was so significant in our history and yet take their stories to the grave.

Battle Hymns is your first novel. How are you enjoying the experience and what advice, if any, would you give to aspiring authors? 
Although I really enjoy the writing aspect, I’m still warming up to the publishing aspect. It’s very nerve-wracking to put your book—into which you’ve poured your time, money, and soul—out there for the world to critique. But as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. My advice to any aspiring author is to remember your love of the craft when you inevitably get frustrated with everything else that comes along with publishing a book – building author platforms, blogging, formatting, writing taglines, etc. Besides, the pride that comes with holding a bound copy of your book is worth the frustration.

If you could start the whole process again, is there anything you’d do differently?
I would have outlined Battle Hymns more in the beginning. I started writing with a vague direction, outlining only a few chapters ahead. During the first draft, I got to the halfway point and thought, “Now what?” So on my second, third, and fourth drafts, I had to draw some of the themes from the end into the beginning and vice versa. On my new novel, I outlined the entire story before I began writing. Although the outline has changed as I further develop the characters, I feel better knowing exactly where the story is heading.

What do you hope readers take from Charlotte Donahue’s story?
The people who lived through World War II sacrificed so much for the cause, whether they supported it from home or fought on the front lines. The U.S. has been a wartime nation for most of my adulthood, and yet as a civilian, it doesn't affect my everyday life the way it affected Charlotte's in 1943. We no longer have conscription and rationing.  The "total war" sacrifice is unique in that way. It's what has always drawn me to this time period and one of the main reasons I wanted to tell this story.  

Okay, we've talked a lot about your book. Let's switch gears and talk a little bit about you. How would describe your writing process? 
I'm still figuring it out! My process today is wildly different from what it was when I began writing Battle Hymns in college five years ago, and it will continue to evolve. These days I find I'm able to write more easily in the morning when I have a cup of coffee next to my laptop at the dining room table. Unfortunately, I have a day job so this only happens on the weekends. Sometimes I'm able to write during breaks at work or in the evening before my husband comes home, but it's much more difficult to focus later in the day. Generally speaking, I write from 8 AM to noon on Saturday and Sunday, and I save my workday breaks for outlining, fleshing out character profiles, researching, etc. I really do wish I had more time to write.

Two words: writer's block. How do you deal with it? 
When I have writer's block, it's usually because I haven't read anything lately. I have a hard time balancing my reading with writing, working, and living. There's so little time! But after I pick up a new book and spend time in someone else's story, I usually get inspired in some way or another, whether it's a poetic phrase, a new character trait, or overall style.

Who are your favorite authors? 
I read a wide variety of authors, and I don’t necessarily have favorites. But there are a few authors I always come back to. When I was 13, my mom hooked me on Mary Higgins Clark mysteries and I've been reading her books ever since. I will also read almost anything from Sophie Kinsella because I have a background in Finance and so do most of her characters. I've also recently discovered the works of Jojo Moyes. The Girl You Left Behind is one of my new favorites. My favorite book of all time, though, continues to be Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.

What are you currently reading? 
I recently got pulled into the Outlander series. They’re not my favorite books and I maintain they could be cut in half without losing much. But after I read the first one, I couldn’t get the characters out of my head. I continued reading the series and now I’m addicted. As I’m writing this interview, I’m nearly finished with the fourth book. By the time you post it, though, I’m sure I’ll be on the fifth!

What do you like to do when you're not writing? Any hobbies?
My husband and I recently moved into our first house together, and I enjoy decorating it. It's a slow process given that I want a more collected look, but eventually, it will all come together. I also like doing genealogical research; I can talk your ear off about my famous ancestors. Finally, because we live in Texas, I consider consuming guacamole and margaritas a delicious and worthwhile hobby.

Where do you stand on the coffee or tea debate? 
I'm more addicted to coffee, but I have recently begun augmenting my caffeine addiction with cups of Earl Grey tea at work in the late morning and mid-afternoon. The coffee at work is awful, and you can’t go wrong with hot water and your own tea bags.

And finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? Planning a vacation? Anything exciting and/or noteworthy? 
I’m writing the first draft of my next novel, The Glassmaker’s Wife, a historical romance set in 1925 Chicago. It’s not your typical gangster/flapper tale, and I’m really excited about it. My husband and I are also planning a trip to Australia and/or New Zealand next February. We’ve never been down there before, and we figure it’s a good destination for a pre-kids vacation. Who knows when we’ll be able to take a two-week vacation and manage an 18-hour flight later in life!

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Cara is a novelist of historical fiction. She has two novels in the works. Battle Hymns is a historical romance set in Washington, D.C. from 1941 to 1943. It will be published on June 3, 2014. The Glassmaker’s Wife is a historical romance set in 1925 Chicago and is still very much in progress.

Cara has been an avid reader – especially of historical fiction, classics, and mystery novels – since she was young. She read all of the American Girl books when she was in 5th grade, even though her parents could not afford to buy her a doll. In middle school, she was obsessed with the only two Ann Rinaldi books in the school library. They taught her about the 1770 Boston Massacre and the Salem Witch Trials before her history classes ever did. And that was when Cara’s love of historical fiction was born. She didn’t begin writing, though, until her senior year at the University of Georgia, where she studied Finance and had already committed to a career in the corporate world. One day she will be able to quit working for The Man and focus on her writing. Until then, it pays the bills.

When she’s not writing or working, Cara enjoys drinking red wine, watching bad television, doing genealogical research, obsessing over the Duchess of Cambridge’s every outfit, and finding the best guacamole in Texas. Cara currently lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband and their dog.

Website  Facebook  Twitter  Goodreads  Pinterest

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"Peppered with authentic detail, Battle Hymns is an eloquent historical that offers rare insight to the intimacies of lives touched by conflict. A poignant debut that holds much promise for Langston's future efforts." - Flashlight Commentary Book Reviews

"The romance in Battle Hymns is tastefully constructed, and the author represents the time period very well, which isn't an easy feat. Furthermore, Ms. Langston is knowledgable on medical terminology, protocol, and clinical skills, without it coming across like you're reading a medical journal. I highly recommend Battle Hymns to anyone who loves a well written romance with multi-layered characters." - Author Alexandra Richland

"More than anything, this novel is about love and survival; Charlotte's wave of emotions carried me through love, heartbreak, grief, recovery and love again in a natural way." 

- Stephanie, Goodreads Reviewer

"So many novels written during World War II are set in Europe and I enjoyed this perspective from the American home front. It was a wonderful debut novel and Langston proves she has a talent for historical fiction." - Ashley LaMar, Closed the Cover Reviews

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Format: Paperback & eBook
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
Released by: CreateSpace
ISBN-13: 978-1499180374
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Check Out All the Stops on Cara Langston's Battle Hymns Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Monday, June 2
Review at 100 Pages a Day
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, June 3
Review at Booktalk & More
Wednesday, June 4
Review at Closed the Cover
Thursday, June 5
Interview at Closed the Cover
Monday, June 9
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews
Tuesday, June 10
Review at Lit Nerd
Wednesday, June 11
Interview at Lit Nerd
Friday, June 13
Review at History Undressed
Sunday, June 15
Review at History from a Woman’s Perspective
Monday, June 16
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, June 17
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, June 18
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Interview at Layered Pages
Friday, June 20
Spotlight at Too Fond Beth


Jenny Q said...

Great interview!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jenny!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jenny!