Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Interview And Review With Dean Hughes
I was privileged to be able to have a phone interview with prolific author Dean Hughes. I met him at a book fair years ago, and the thing that stood out to me the most is even though he had a long line of people waiting to talk to him, he made each person feel like they were the only ones there. He is so personable and I really enjoyed interviewing him about his new book, Home and Away A World War II Christmas Story.
What was your inspiration for Home and Away?
I read a lot of history books and when I was reading about the 101st Airborne at the Battle of the Bulge, it was Christmastime and they were surrounded. Not only was it hard for the soldiers, but what about the families back home? That was an intense time. My first idea was a short story from my boyhood days in Ogden, Utah, when my Dad gave me a $20 bill to buy something for my mom. I found a dress at Penney's and the sales lady told me I didn't have enough money. I loved the navy blue dress, though, and kept coming back to it, and finally she told me she could sell it to me for $20. Years later I was thinking about that, wondering how it happened. Did she pay for part of it? Talk to her manager? And it became part of Home and Away. My mother loved Christmas, just like the mother in the book.
The characters are so realistic, do you ever base them on real people?
Most books I don't. I brainstorm and the characters come to life. This book was based more on real people, although I didn't have a Glen in my life. Mother, Father, Dennis are all based on childhood memories.
What is your favorite period in history?
I enjoy WWII era and early Mormon history. Part of me misses the early 50s, it just seemed like simpler times. But early Mormon history is fascinating. It would be hard to go back to any era, I think. People just carry on in all different situations.
What's the best part of being a writer?
Research. I search out good books and websites, I'm constantly learning. Writing is hard. It's tedious, backbreaking, sitting at a computer for hours. The hardest for me is drafting, though. I like to revise, to have that creative experience of getting into characters and the emotional attachment. I've been able to set my own schedule for most of my life, too, which I like. My wife says I go after life like I'm trying to kill a snake. I've always got something to do, I'm always busy going after it.
Do you have a favorite Christmas family tradition? A favorite Christmas memory?
We get together with our whole family at Christmastime. I love to listen to the Messiah. I make peanut brittle and it's really good. I like shopping for my wife.
My favorite Christmas memory is when I was six, I wanted a bike. On Christmas morning I could see there weren't any presents in the shape of a bike and I was trying to act like it was okay, but most of my presents were bike accessories and I was thinking, hey, what are they trying to do? But then my dad said he'd heard something on the porch the night before and wondered if Santa had left something out there, and sure enough, there was my bike.
The war chapters are so poignant. Do you have an active member in the military in your home?
No, I had an uncle in the Battle of the Bulge and he talked abut the cold and misery. I did a lot of research and read a lot of oral histories.
How does your faith contribute to your writing?
I'm never trying to teach anything with my books, but what you believe comes out in your writing. Elements and feelings of what you believe in caring for others and knowing right from wrong.
What's one thing about you that readers don't know?
I was a rollerskating champion as a teenager. Back then there were lots of rinks and competitions. It was dance skating with a partner and we were state and regional champs, and came in fourth in Nationals. I played football and was on the track team as well.
Do you have advice for aspiring writers?
Be a pro at it, you can't just dabble. Learn techniques. You can't dash off something and think the publisher will fix it up. Work at it until it's finished and learn how it's done. Put in a consistent effort.
What book are you currently reading?
McCullough's book about Truman. I love history. I'm also writing a YA book about the all-Japanese unit in WWII called 442 and how they were the most decorated of the war. They saved a lost battalion, freed 211 fellow Americans, but sustained 800 casualties doing it. That book should come out next summer.
I have to say this phone conversation was so pleasant and light, I could have spoken to him for hours! Mr. Hughes has written over a hundred books and knows his stuff.
His new Christmas book, Home and Away A World War II Christmas Story is a powerful story of love and war, families and fear. I loved the dynamics between the characters as we went with Glen to the foxholes and saw how intense it was for him, and then switched back to just how intense it was at home, but in a different way. The setting is really well done and adds to the overall feel of the book, especially in the war chapters.
Dennis and Glen were written so realistically, I could totally envision them both as they dealt with the emotions of facing death for Glen and for Dennis, dealing with the blush of first love while poor, an abrupt father who drinks, and a mother who he desperately wants to get a nice gift for at Christmas. An emotional, complicated story that will stay with you long after you close the book.
You won't want to miss this Christmas story, but have the tissues handy!
Here's the back copy:
A historical fiction novel told from the perspective of a son fighting on the battlefields of Europe during World War II and his mother, struggling with worry and uncertainty about her soldier son while she tries to keep a semblenance of a normal, happy Christmas holiday back on the homefront.
Norma Hayes has always tried to make Christmas special for her family, but 1944 will make that more difficult with money being tight and wartime rationing making everything hard to come by. Aware of his mother's hardships and the worry from having her eldest son at war, second son, Dennis, is determined to buy his mother a special gift this Christmas, a lavender blue dress he hopes will bring her comfort as a symbol of special times gone by and the hope of a brighter future with the family reunited at war's end.
Meantime, on a battlefield far from home in Holland with his 101st Airborne battalion, her soldier son catches a familiar scent of lavendar which briefly transports him back to the homefront to the perfume scent his mother wore, giving him a short respite and reuniting the family once again if only in his imagination
You can buy your copy here for $12.91