When readers say they can "see" the scenes in my book, I'm pleased because I wrote the story as though I were watching a movie. I wanted to immerse the reader into another time and place and to make the characters seem real. In the early story development stages, I photographed places in North Little Rock. A friend's World War II era snapshots from North Africa provided groundwork for that part of the story. The pictures triggered my imagination and the story flowed from there.
The story begins in Berlin with the introduction of protagonist Uwe Johannes, who is Nobel laureate Werner Heisenberg's graduate student. Showing how scientists think and speak, how they respond to problems, was one of my goals as a writer. The bakery and St. Florian scenes contrast mindsets. The novel is a "what if" for what might have happened if Heisenberg had sent his atom bomb making data out of the country. The story changes with Uwe's ejection from the relative safety of the laboratory into the harsh world of a combat soldier deployed in Africa.
Uwe's experience as an Afrika Korps soldier and his subsequent capture by the Allies in Tunisia launch the next stage of the book. Following Uwe and his fellow captives on a ship across the Atlantic, a march through New York City and then onto passenger trains crossing the USA provides a mutual introduction. The captives' first experiences in the USA spark comparisons of American and German cultures. The trip ends with the soldiers' internment in Arkansas.
Life in a prisoner of war camp is a new normal with an uncertain outcome. It is a chance to see what life in a World War II era American POW camp was like, what the people ate, where they worked, how they occupied their time and how they perceived the outside world. The International Red Cross inspection documents for Camp Robinson, a real POW camp in Arkansas, provide a detailed review of that camp and its administratiors. A foray out of camp, written after reading first hand accounts of escapes, is a harbinger of bigger things to come. The years pass as the soldiers adjust to life in camp, but for some the adjustment is an illusion. Tensions within camp mount when the war turns in the Allies' favor. The undercurrent of political unrest climaxes with a brutal attack on Uwe that finalizes his change of allegience to the Allies.
Uwe's transfer to a private home in town provides a chance to introduce local characters and show how they thought and spoke and interacted. Plunking a foreigner into the family and watching what happened was fun and a way to highlight their cultural differences. When Uwe emerges from his cocoon on 8th Street, he is both a hunter and the hunted. He needs a lifeline and gets a firecracker in the form of Fredericka. When these two young people band together and head to Pine Bluff, things start shaking.
Adventure and exotic places come to mind when I think of classic World War II stories like Casablanca, South Pacific, Father Goose, Operation Petticoat and Indiana Jones. I wanted to create a vintage piece with settings in Berlin, Tunisia, New York, Arkansas, Manila, France, and Moscow. I also wanted to show how events in one place affected those in another, and to tie them together. The book is a tribute to my dad and uncles who served their country in the Pacific and European Theatres, and to the folks waiting for them back home.
A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (the 1963 epic-comedy film produced and directed by Stanley Kramer) goes to Pine Bluff is what I was thinking when I wrote the last third of the book. It is mostly dialogue in order to make the story accelerate, and it's all over within 24 hours. Action, humor, and positive interactions between people from different backgrounds provide counterweight to the heavy totalitarian story elements. It is another "what if," this time of people behaving well instead of poorly, and a time for the women to shine. There's a dust up in the night in Pine Bluff and the good guys come out on top. If you can't quite keep everybody straight, don't worry overmuch. You can refer to Gwen's notes or hang on for the ride and surface with Uwe for the showdown in North Little Rock.
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