In AIM - my forthcoming historical novel, Junior Bledsoe hears about German U-boats attacking first British and then American ships. The news brings war closer to Junior's world. But always, the submarines are a distant thing.
In her non-fiction book, DIVE, Deborah Hopkinson does something totally different with submarines. She takes the readers deep into ocean and gets us up close and personal with a topic I knew little about. I'm honored to host Deborah on my blog today.
1. When I think of submarines I think of hardware – of something hard and cold but also deeply mysterious. I would never think to write about them. What drew you to this topic?
Each book I write seems to have a different inspiration. I like to tell students that writers are like insects with their “story antennae” out! For this one, I just happened to have read a WWII adventure book about submarines when I was a girl, and never forgot it.
But the real inspiration for DIVE! came from my husband, Andy Thomas, who one day brought home from the library the classic German U-Boat film, Das Boot. Our family somehow got into watching all sorts of submarine films after that, and when I was searching for a topic for one of my three nonfiction books on WWII, I decided I wanted to know more about the actual history. And I learned so much – one of things that keeps me coming back to writing nonfiction.
2. Always learning! Writers are lucky that way. You made the topic immediately accessible for me because you focused on the sailors (and others) who lived and worked on submarines. I could relate to the human story that naturally goes along with the submarine. Can you talk about how you found the sailors and their stories?
When I visit schools and talk to students, I always encourage them to think carefully about sources whenever preparing for a research paper. Good sources are essential.
For DIVE! I read as many primary and secondary accounts as I could get my hands on and in the end focused on the sailors and submarines whose stories I felt young readers would enjoy.
3. Is there one individual or incident in particular that you found exceptionally compelling?
In my research, I was fortunate to find three memoirs from sailors on the Wahoo, all of whom shared their own perspectives. One of the Wahoo’s most amazing patrols took the boat to an unknown harbor called Wewak, in Papua, New Guinea, where the submarine took a compelling “down the throat” shot at close range at a destroyer. Each of the three sailors was deeply affected by the incident, and each shared what happened and their role.
It’s a famous incident to begin with, but being able to “experience” it through the eyes of three different individuals made it especially exciting to write about.
4. Yay - layers! What special quality did you find in the sailors that inspired you and how do you hope they will inspire your readers?
What I loved about the submariners I “met” through their first-person accounts and memoirs was their humor and sense of teamwork. One of my favorite chapters in the book is how some female nurses were evacuated by submarine from Corregidor in the Philippines. One young woman described how the submarine cook had made a chocolate cake to welcome them!
Of course, probably the most impressive thing about these young men was their indomitable courage and perseverance, and I hope this comes through in the book to inspire young readers.
5. I remember the cake story - just one example of the human element of a story about a submarine. And what about submarines, themselves? Any particular finding that fascinates you?
My husband and I took a tour of the USS Blueback, which is based on the Willamette River as part of OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. One of the most fascinating things to me was the compact, efficient design, and just how close the living quarters really were. I am quite short, barely five feet, so in truth I felt pretty comfortable walking around!
6. Clearly you are a master of research and I imagine you must thrive on it. For this particular book, what was the most challenging aspect of research? Do you have a fun story to share about tracking something down or some unexpected treasure you found?
Probably the most challenging aspect of the project was to try to hone a very complex, multi-faceted story into a compelling narrative. Several of my research books were hundreds of pages in length. I also wanted to help readers see the submarines as separate characters, and wanted to limit unfamiliar place names.
As far as an unexpected treasure, students who have seen me present in person or via Skype know that I love dogs. So, even though it didn’t fit all that well with the chronology, I wanted to include a chapter about wartime mascots and “stowaways.” As I worked on that, I found something wonderful. Copies are available online of original submarine war patrol reports. They’re images from microfilm, and not very easy to read. But I stumbled upon the birth of a litter of puppies recorded – as it happened – by a submarine captain at sea, and therefore made part of official Navy historical records.
|Speaking of dogs - |
meet Deborah's writing companion, Rue.
7. Deborah, I know lots of writers are introverts. We get our energy from being alone. And yet, writing also takes us into the public arena. You do lots of workshops, conferences and school visits. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How do you rest or re-energize after a big event?
While I enjoy meeting people, especially young readers at schools, I am probably most happy at my desk surrounded by a pile of books (with my little dog Rue sleeping beside me just as she is at this moment). The Portland, OR area abounds with parks, and I love to take my dogs on walks. I also find exercise helpful, and after a long plane ride, I’ll head to a Pilates class to re-energize.
And, of course, I read!
Yes, of course! Thanks, Deborah for dropping by. And thanks to the rest of you for listening in. I'm sure you know that Deborah is a prolific and much acclaimed author. You can learn more about her and her diverse titles at www.deborahhopkinson.com
or follow her on Twitter@deborahopkinson.