Veteran’s Day is such an important day for so many of us, I thought it only fitting that we extend the remembrance a while longer. Today I’m getting to know another fellow Arizonan, Arlene Eisenbise, whose book BIG WAR Little Wars is a YA historical novel about growing up during WWII. I have not read the book myself, but I’m guessing there might be more than a little bit of autobiography in this story. True?
You’ve guessed right, Melissa. The novel is a blend of fact and fiction. I often say that once I write something, it becomes fact to me. The experiences that the character Raymie endured in the story were those told to me by a cousin who served during World War II. He was a sharpshooter sent on a secret assignment as the war ended. None of his loved ones knew where he was or whether he was alive or not. Eight of my cousins served in that war, but I was advised by editors to cut the number because no one would believe they all came home.
That is a pretty amazing stat, and yes, might be hard to believe if people did not know it was true.
There are other fact-based accounts in the novel. The case of the waiting wife, for example, who learns her soldier husband has fallen in love with another woman in a foreign country. Such conflicts on the home front are the Little Wars in the title. The BIG WAR, of course, was World War II.
Can you give us a capsule description of the story? I’m wondering what messages you may have buried in the book for kids (or readers) to remember or discover on their own? This kind of war seems so distant to most of us, both in place and time, that it’s hard to imagine what it was like, both for the people who were directly involved and for the people back home.
It’s vitally important, in my opinion, that all ages are aware of what a war involving the world means. My favorite quote from the book is on the back cover: “Daddy said that nobody really wins a war. They only make it look that way.” I encourage envisioning peace.
I’ve heard from readers aged thirteen to ninety-one who have read or are currently reading the book. Each age discovers something different. Older readers are reminded of a time of great patriotism and/or they relive their personal experiences. One fifty-year-old reader stated she didn’t know her parents had experienced such times. And many readers say their relative who served never talked about their war-time experiences. Younger readers are studying World War II in school and characters in a novel can bring history alive for them. I claim on my website that this is a story for all ages, and that appears to be true.
There's nothing better than telling a story that can be viewed through the lenses of people of all ages. Each generation brings its own experiences to the story, enlarging on it. It is truly a world story.
The story is of a very real time in our history. Most people made sacrifices and did what was required for a common cause. The Great Depression left families desperate—penniless, hungry, and threadbare. Suddenly, there was big money to be made in the war plants. That often meant relocation so trailer camps sprang up near the cities. The novel is set in such a camp in a Milwaukee, WI, suburb. The camps provided space for those taking advantage of the employment opportunities. Camps were also a stop-over for the colorful transients passing through, those following their own dreams.
The story unfolds through the eyes of teenager Milla Jaeger. Her family resides in what her mother labeled “a 6X14 foot cracker box on wheels.” Dreams are placed on hold. Earnings are high but items the money would buy are rationed. And yet terms such as “for the war effort” and “we have to make do” were on everyone’s lips. Soon after the bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor, five of Milla’s cousins left for European battlefields. Milla’s deep concern is for Raymie; they are connected by a long-kept secret. The secret is not revealed to Milla until her family nearly perishes early one bitterly cold Wisconsin morning. Longing for news of Raymie when the waiting becomes unbearable, Milla gazes on an evening star. She makes a promise—a deal, actually—involving her own love interest. She places it on hold until they learn her cousin’s fate.
Between the red-white-and-blue covers of BIG WAR, Little Wars can be found much more than a story. Included are a Study Guide, a Glossary, and an extensive Suggested Reading section for both books and Internet links. The book can serve as a teaching tool or as a discussion guide.
That's what you call a multi-purpose book! On your website, you have a page dedicated to your PHOTONOPSIS (a photographic synopsis of the story). So many of the photos there are reminiscent of those in old, black photo albums we all paged through as kids. Are the photos all from your family?
Most of the photos are right out of the 1940s with one or two of them from an earlier time. Many of the photos were probably taken with a Brownie box camera like one of the props I use during my Story-Behind-the-Story presentation about the book. Some of them are family photos, some not. I had to restrict myself to not give away the book’s ending with too much text accompanying the photos.
I see on your web page that you have two trilogies slated as future releases. In the first, the Crystal Skull series, it looks like you’re combining Atlantis lore with Hopi legend. How is that coming along? How far are you on the three books?
The Crystal Skull books are complete except for the third one about the Traditionalist Hopi. A few of the ending chapters are still to be written. They are a trilogy rather than a series, for they are each stand-alone novels. I have it on “good authority” that the Atlantean, ancient Mayan, and Hopi cultures were connected. Readers can choose to believe that, or not.
I don't think it's too far-fetched to believe that so many of the ancient cultures were connected. With as many similarities as there are, it's probably harder to believe each culture came up with similar ideas without contact.
The Lolly Fox series looks like it might be aimed at younger children, and the stories sound like teaching stories. Again, where are you on that series? When can we expect to see the books for sale?
The three Lolly Fox books are targeted for Early Readers. The main character—a red fox—matures in the series. They are stories with subtle Golden Rule messages. Characters for a fourth book, several endearing nocturnal animals, have begged for attention.
There are no publication dates for any of the other books. For now my energy is focused on BIG WAR, Little Wars. I chose to bring that novel out first because of my original goal to see the book published during my cousin’s lifetime. With amazing help, we did it. Bud is ninety-one and reading the finished product. He’d read an early version many times over.
That is wonderful to hear. I'll bet it was an amazing process for him to be involved in the writing and publishing, to see the story come to life. That's a great gift, for both of you.
It’s obvious that you’re comfortable writing different genres. Which do you enjoy the most? Do you find it difficult or easy to switch gears from one genre to the next?
When characters appear and begin whispering who and where they want to be, it’s time to listen. I get them started and then they take over at some point. It was different with the World War II book since it was more factual. My characters are family. The research and writing for each of the books was a totally enjoyable process. Since I only work with one manuscript at a time, there isn’t a problem with switching from genre to genre.
I think our processes are very similar. I, too, get overtaken with a character or a story and everything else falls by the wayside. I never know what genre a book will be until I'm done with it.
What else can you tell us about the world of Arlene Eisenbise?
I can become totally lost between the covers of a book—fiction, nonfiction, biographies, the spiritual. I’m reading The Book Thief for the second time, after seeing the movie twice, because I cannot let go of those characters and the images that take my breath away. I met with teenagers who were studying that rich book set in Germany and did a comparative of the two stories set during the same war but from opposite sides of the Atlantic.
I am a clergy member, have been trained as a Reconnective Healer, have been Vice-President of the Professional Writers of Prescott, served as volunteer for numerous worthy causes, had writings published in newspapers and periodicals. More can be found within the pages of my book or on my website. And . . . every summer I do water aerobics in an outdoor pool.
How can readers find out more about you and your books?
My website contains many “drawers” where much can be learned about me or the books. The site includes a TV interview, newspaper interview, the blog, events, where to buy, and more.