Everything Books
Writing and reading and books, books, books (and anything that might relate)

October 10, 2013

Changing a book title you love

ohtheplacesyoullgo_ipad_screen1large-642x481One of the questions I get asked most often is about titles– where do my book titles come from, does the editor come up with them, do I come up with them, does the publisher weigh in?

The answer can vary from book to book.  I named Ada Blackjack, Velva Jean Learns to Drive, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, and the forthcoming Velva Jean novel, American Blonde (out July 29, 2014).

My mother came up with The Ice Master, while my editor at Simon & Schuster– after the two of us brainstormed words and phrases associated with the 1980s– suggested The Aqua Net Diaries.  My editor at Penguin created Becoming Clementine after the marketing department decided that the third Velva Jean should have its own stand-alone title.

I’m happily attached to the original book title of my first YA novel (due out from Knopf in early ‘15)— You Make Me Lovely.  Yes, I named it, but if I saw that title in a store, I would probably pick up the book out of curiosity if nothing else.

But I’m a girl.  And my publisher (which includes that very important marketing department, as well as the cover designer) is worried that the word “lovely” might be a turnoff to boys of all ages, and since one of my main characters is a guy, I can see their point.  This is a book that should definitely— subject-wise and character-wise— appeal to guys too.

In my search, I first combed through my manuscript to see if there might be a line that would not only fit but stand out.  Then I started combing through the works of everyone from E. E. Cummings to Shakespeare to Lord Byron to Dr. Seuss.

I whittled five pages of possibilities down to twelve titles, which I sent to my editor, who then polled her colleagues at Knopf and Random House.  One week later, there was a clear winner:  All the Bright Places.  I got the idea from Dr. Seuss’s wonderful Oh, the Places You’ll Go!  And I have to say, it’s not only fitting for the story, it’s really starting to grow on me…

oh-the-places-you-ll-go-dr-seuss-screenshot-3Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.

With banner flip-flapping,
once more you’ll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.

Of course, now I have to rename my documents and get used to calling it All the Bright Places instead of You Make Me Lovely, but one step at a time.

August 30, 2013

When a character steps off the page and goes places you never imagined


Briana Harley is an über-talented musician, singer, songwriter, and devoted reader of Velva Jean Learns to Drive.  In 2010, she wrote to say that she’d written a song inspired by Velva Jean and her story.  We’ve since become great friends.  She has also written music for the lyrics that appear at the end of each Velva Jean book, recorded a CD of Velva Jean songs, and, most recently, chosen Velva Jean’s favorite hymn as her project for her Choral Arranging class at Vanguard University.  It’s hard to describe just how cool it is to have your story and characters take on a new life outside of the book, and just how lovely a feeling it is when someone really gets (and is affected by) a story you wrote. 

Arranging “The Unclouded Day” by Briana Harley

As a music composition major I had to take Choral Arranging, which I was  excited about. However, I was the only one who registered for the class so it turned into private choral arranging lessons. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do “The Unclouded Day,” because I’m always thinking of Velva Jean (haha). As my professor and I went over the syllabus on my first lesson, he explained to me what the project requirements were– I could choose to arrange for mixed choir, men’s chorus, or women’s chorus.  It could be any song I wanted.  He told me that people have done the Beatles before or even current pop songs, but explained that hymns usually turn out the best.

So from that moment I was set on arranging “The Unclouded Day.”

I chose to arrange it for Women’s Chorus for a few reasons:  being a female, I would be able to arrange for female voices better, and I used to be in Women’s Chorus so I just had more knowledge about how I could arrange it.  And also because I wanted to capture Velva Jean in the arrangement (I couldn’t for the life of me hear low male bass voices singing and think of Velva Jean).  booksoup3

I knew the form of the piece from the beginning. It starts out with the first verse being a solo.  My goal was to represent 10-year-old Velva Jean from the first book, before her mother died, while she was still innocent.  The first chorus starts with two voices and adds more voices with each line until it grows to be the full choir.  This reminds me of when young Velva Jean was baptized in the river. When I picture a good ol’ fashioned baptism, I always imagine one person singing and then slowly the entire church joining them, which is where my idea came from.

After that I take each verse and chorus and add a little bit more to it each time. It started off simple and straightforward, but then I started adding more tricky descants and blue-note harmonies to give it more flavor. This is supposed to show Velva Jean’s learning and growing, how even when times get tough Velva Jean still pushes through with grace and spunk! She learns from everything she’s been through and is ready for the next battle.

There’s a section where I decided to throw in “one-liners” from other recognizable hymns. These are hymns from my “Velva Jean playlist”– even though they aren’t mentioned in the book and some of them were written after Velva Jean’s time, they still remind me of her. Anytime I hear them I think that Velva Jean could sing the heck out of them.  Also I’ve always been a fan of medleys, which was my first idea.  But there were too many hymns I wanted to feature, plus I still wanted it to be “The Unclouded Day” arrangement.  I didn’t want to have to change the title to “The Unclouded Day & other hymns,” which is what gave me the idea to just use a line from the other hymns while “The Unclouded Day” was still being sung by other voices.  Honestly, my choral arranging professor wasn’t too fond of the idea, but when I presented it to the Women’s Chorus director she loved it!  The last verse is a solo as well but with the choir singing back-up.  To me this represented Velva Jean all grown up– she still has a young spirit but she’s lived a bit, so this solo is a little slower and more heartfelt.

And then it once again ends with the choir singing “The Unclouded Day” (and other hymns) just to show all that Velva Jean has been through– but at the end of the day her heart still lies at “home where no storm clouds rise.”


August 15, 2013

The steps of writing a book

My cousin’s twelve-year-old daughter loves to write (and is already a wonderful writer).  For the past three years, Elizabeth and my author mother have had their own long distance writers group.  My mom is one of the wisest people I know, and I’m lucky to have her as my mentor.  Here is a recent exchange between Mom and Elizabeth that I thought might be helpful to writers of all ages.



Hi Aunt Penny,

I have been wanting to write lately, but I don’t know what to write about. I was wondering if you could tell me the steps you go through when you write a book.

Thanks, Elizabeth


Dear Elizabeth:  I’m so glad to hear from you, and I am happy that you have been wanting to write lately.  Sometimes the hardest part of writing is deciding what to write about.

The first step I go through when I write a book is choosing what to write about. I try to listen to my head and my heart.  I need to know what I THINK about a subject, and what I FEEL about it.  If I’m not excited about writing about my subject, chances are good that readers won’t be excited about reading about it.

When I am deciding what to write about, I think about these two things:
Writing about what I already know a lot about.
Writing about what I don’t know much about yet.

I believe you already know a lot about your family; your pets; dancing; snowy winters; writing, especially detective stories; other activities you enjoy; your feelings about having a brother and a sister; your feelings about different teachers you have had; your feelings about growing up– and lots more things.  I think readers your age and grown-up readers will be very interested in reading what you write about any of these things.

I’ve written five books about people.  I didn’t know much at all about Carl Sandburg or James Earl Jones or Edward Steichen or Thornton Wilder when I started writing about them– but I did lots of research and learned more and more.  It was an adventure to learn about them and then to write about them.  Is there a person or a place or an event or an invention or a discovery that you’d like to know more about?  If you are excited about something, you can be a detective and learn as much about that subject as you can, and write about it.

As you probably already know, you have to be excited about what you are writing if you are going to do your best writing.

Your cousin Jennifer is a writer, and she says she loves to write books that she would like to read.

I suggest that you make a list of things you’d like to write about or stories you’d like to tell.  Set a timer and see how many ideas you can put on your list in 5 minutes.  Take 10 minutes if you want to.  Maybe something will pop out on that list that gets you excited to write about it.

I enjoyed your detective/spy stories so very much.  Maybe you’ll use the same character, or invent a new character, and write another one of those.  Maybe you’ll try writing poems.

You are already a wonderful writer, Elizabeth, and you have lots to say and lots to tell.  You have a great imagination and an excellent vocabulary.  Most writers have times when they don’t know what to write.  Just listen to your mind and your imagination and your  heart, and you will find what you want to write.

Lots and lots of love– Aunt Penny

June 4, 2013

The book that nearly killed me (and my loyal literary cat Lulu)


On Saturday, I sent American Blonde off to New York and my editor.  From February till June 1, I conceptualized, outlined, researched, wrote, and edited 753 pages, which became the 525 pages I emailed on Saturday.  I’ve had to write most of the Velva Jean books quickly– Velva Jean Learns to Fly and Becoming Clementine each were completed in about nine months– but this is the fastest I’ve ever written a book.  (Even though most of the time I was working on it, I felt as if I’d been writing it my whole life and would always write it and that it would never end.  Ever.)

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  I handed in the original version of American Blonde last September.  But by the time I received my editor’s notes on the manuscript months later, I’d decided that the book needed to be rewritten from page 15 on.  Not just tweaked or edited, but COMPLETELY REWRITTEN, as in an entirely new plot, new characters, new everything.  This wasn’t something my editor requested, but I knew in my writerly bones what the story needed to be.  And it wasn’t.  So I wrote it.  Again.  Only in less time!

I went through more upheaval while working on this project than I did with any of the others.  To name just two of the upheavaliest… There were the recurrent eye problems from sitting at the computer every single day since February 1.  These last few weeks, I often had to type with my eyes closed because it hurt too much to keep them open.  Ahhh… And in March, my wondrous literary agent of fifteen years went missing, only to turn up in the hospital, where he died April 27 very unexpectedly.  I’d been with John Ware since the beginning, and suddenly, in the midst of the hardest work I’ve ever done, I found myself without my creative champion, mentor, and dear friend.  (During the roughest deadlines, John would call me just to tell me a joke or leave an old, scratchy blues tune on my voicemail.  “Onward, kid,” he would say.)


So when I crossed that long-dreamed-of finish line this weekend, the only sad moment was realizing all over again that John isn’t here to read the book.

But my eyes have slowly but steadily started to clear a little, and my mind is beginning to relax a little (as much as it ever does), and I am damn happy with the state the manuscript is in. (Lulu, incidentally, is exhausted. She has been sleeping nearly non-stop since Saturday, and this is a cat who rarely ever ever sleeps.)

As my mother says, You write it anyway and in spite of and because you have to (on so many levels).  And as someone tells Velva Jean in American Blonde:  “You have to be willing to work.  Just when you think you’re giving your all, know that you can go past that and give more.  You can always give more.  Don’t give up.  Don’t just rely on what you know you can do.  Think of what you hope you can do and then do it.”

Here’s a very tiny (and I mean seconds-tiny) movie that captures how it feels to have this book– for the time being– off my desk:

THIS JUST IN:  My editor has sent that manuscript back to me, asking me to trim 19,000 words before she reads.  And so, it seems, I spoke too soon…

April 20, 2013

Things I couldn’t write without

As many of you know, I’m currently doing a very fast, very intense, very daunting, and very complete rewrite of the fourth Velva Jean novel, American Blonde (due out next year).

In this last stretch of the Book from Hell, as I’ve taken to calling it– otherwise known as That Damn Book– I’m making a list of the things that are helping me get to the end of the Worst Deadline I’ve Ever Known.

(Not including my computer and my imagination, of course. And my loved ones, who, I hope, will still love me once the book is completed.)

Thank you to:

  • My readers, who write me the most wonderful notes and emails, reminding me why I’m doing this in the first place
  • Robeks, which gives my weary brain sustenance
  • Scrivener, the greatest software for writers ever
  • My early morning walk/workout/girltime in the park with my friend Lisa Brucker (please watch her show, Ex-Wives of Rock!)
  • John Green, Melvin Burgess, and Raymond Chandler
  • Google
  • My fab intern, Laura Burdine, who, at lightning speed, can research everything from wire tapping in the 1940s to the Los Angeles streetcar system circa 1946 to the U.S. postal system in postwar America (not to mention her ability to help one brainstorm love triangles and ways in which to solve a murder)
  • The CW, Switched at Birth, and Adam-12, for good, fluffy fun
  • Newspaperarchive.com
  • My literary cats (a special shout out to Miss Lulu for being at my side throughout each long work day)
  • My copy of MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot, which I’ve practically worn to dust
  • My team of experts– private investigator, medical examiner, and toxicologist– who are patiently answering my endless questions
  • Daryl Dixon, the most inspiring badass I know (or wish I knew), and my hero (as well as pretend boyfriend)
  • Lululemon, maker of the most comfortable writing clothes on the planet
  • Briana Harley, who not only helps me with Velva Jean’s music, but is the very best resource for Velva Jean idea bouncing–  after all, she knows Velva Jean almost as well as I do
  • My bosu ball and elliptical machine, which are productive places to have a good book think
  • Netflix, which, without complaining, delivers 1940s-era movies to my door or directly to my TV
  • The Los Angeles Public Library
  • And Ryan Bingham, who is Butch Dawkins

I couldn’t do it without them.

Speaking of Ryan Bingham, here’s a video that I use for inspiration. It really could be Velva Jean’s friend Butch sitting on her granddaddy’s porch.

February 7, 2013

The creative hunch

“A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.” — Frank Capra

Right now I am at my desk many, many hours every day (that includes weekends). The current project: American Blonde, the fourth novel in the Velva Jean series. Technically, I’m supposed to be editing the novel right now, based on my editor’s first round of notes. But what I’m actually doing is re-envisioning and re-outlining and, for the most part, rewriting the entire book from about page 15 on, which means I am throwing out around 600 pages of material.

While my editor did have lots of notes, rewriting the book wasn’t one of them. That’s all me.

I have until May 1st to do this, and it’s going to be– let me think of the polite word– challenging. The easier thing would be to implement her notes and some of my own, cut and rewrite here and there, work on one of the characters who needs working on, and maybe move some scenes around or re-envision small sections. But that would be cheating Velva Jean and American Blonde and, ultimately, myself.

Because I know, deep in my creative bones, the story I want to tell in this book. The story I should tell. The story that is more organic to Velva Jean and her journey and the setting she finds herself in. It’s the story I almost wrote last year when I was working on the book for the first time, but ended up putting aside for one reason or another, mostly time constraints– I just didn’t feel I had enough time to do that original story justice in the short period I had to write it.

The lesson: Always, always listen to your first instinct. This is something I’ve learned time and again. Usually I listen. This time I didn’t. Now I have less time than before to come up with, essentially, a brand new book. But it has to be done.

If I didn’t rewrite it, maybe no one would know. Maybe they would even enjoy the story as I wrote it last summer. But I would know. And every time I picked up that book, I would think of what it could have, should have been.

So the next time you have a creative instinct, listen to it, try it out, sit with it for a while, let it simmer, see if it flourishes. Honor it. That particular idea may not be something you need to follow all the way to the end. But then again, it may be exactly where your story wants to go.

It’s funny how stories let you know the way they want to be told.

February 4, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Our Town!

My mom’s brilliant biography of Thornton Wilder debuted in October of last year, and today marks the 75th anniversary of his most enduring work, Our Town. Here’s a little something Mom wrote up for the Wall Street Journal in honor of the play, the day, and the man himself.

Why Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’ is 75 Years Young
By Penelope Niven

When Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” opened on Broadway February 4, 1938 – 75 years ago today — no one was more surprised by its success than Wilder himself. He did not foresee that the play would win the Pulitzer Prize, or that well into the 21st century, “Our Town” would survive and thrive on and off-Broadway, and in theaters across the United States and around the world. As the play went into previews, Wilder was afraid it would be a failure. In January 1938 he wrote, “OUR TOWN, opening in Boston, had such bad reviews that a second week was canceled, and the manager engaged a New York theater which was free for only a week and a half.”

But 75 years later, people are still watching the play. Ford’s Theatre in Washington is hosting the national celebration of this anniversary with an “Our Town” production that runs through February 24. There are 75th anniversary stagings around the country and abroad. “Our Town” was borne out of the American experience, yet other countries import it as their own. The play still speaks across cultures, across time zones, across languages. By some accounts it is the most produced American play ever.

I discovered “Our Town” as a teenager in Waxhaw, North Carolina, population nearly a thousand. I was positive the play was written about Waxhaw. This was 1957 in my town, not May 7, 1901 in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, Thornton Wilder’s mythical town. In a 1938 preface Wilder wrote that his play “sprang from a deep admiration for those little white towns in the hills and from a deep devotion to the future. These are but the belated gropings to reconstruct what may have taken place when the play first presented itself — the life of a village against the life of the stars.”

He went on to clarify the “unremitting preoccupation which is the central theme of the play: What is the relation between the countless ‘unimportant’ details of our daily life, on the one hand, and the great perspectives of time, social history, and current religious ideas, on the other?

“What is trivial and what is significant about any one person’s making a breakfast, engaging in a domestic quarrel, in a ‘love scene,’ in dying?”

Wilder the dramatist was writing, he said, for and about everybody, for and about each one of us. “Since my play is about Everybody, everybody is in my play,” he reflected in later years.

He had been writing plays and acting in them since boyhood. In the fall of 1938, he briefly played the Stage Manager in “Our Town,” filling in while actor Frank Craven took time off from the very successful Broadway run that would ultimately total 366 performances in ten-and-a-half months. Wilder was nervous about memorizing the lines he had written. He “wasn’t very good,” he wrote to his sister Isabel after one performance. He got better, however. “I went through my paces without a single fluff, ‘tho’ I perhaps didn’t put quite enough umph into the prelude to Act III,” he wrote. He took the criticism in stride when reviewers assessed his performance: “I see in the paper. . . that I was no ball of fire.”

But he got mostly stellar reviews as a playwright, including a recent tribute from Edward Albee: “If I were asked to name what I consider to be the finest serious American play, I would immediately say Our Town– not for its giant Americanness but because it is a superbly written, gloriously observed, tough, and breathtaking statement of what it is to be alive, the wonder and hopeless loss of the space between birth and the grave.”

Albee’s words go to the heart of Wilder’s intentions for the play. Wilder wrote, “In the last act of ‘Our Town’ the author places upon the stage a character who – like the members of the audience – partakes of ‘the smallest events of daily life’ and is also a spectator of them.

“She [Emily] learns that each life – though it appears to be a repetition among millions – can be felt to be inestimably precious, though the realization of it is present to us seldom, briefly, and incommunicably. At that moment there are no walls, no chairs, no tables = all is inward. Our true life is in the imagination and in the memory.”

Seventy-five years ago, having poured his imagination, his memory and his heart into his play, Wilder grew more confident about the future of “Our Town.” He wrote to a friend, “At all events I do not mind from critics the charge of immaturity, confusion, and even pretentiousness.” The play was “a first sally into deep waters.” He hoped “to do many more – and better – and even more pretentious. I write as I choose; and I learn as I go; and I’m very happy when the public pays the bills.”

January 29, 2013

True Confessions of an inspiring lady

Last April, I received an email from a woman named Gretchen E. Ganas, who thanked me for writing Velva Jean Learns to Drive, and who told me about her own book, which she wondered if I would read and, hopefully, endorse. I have so little reading time that normally I have to say no to requests like this, but I couldn’t resist Gretchen or her book, True Confessions of a Dying Lady: How to Lie and Bribe Your Way Into Heaven.

In 1983, Gretchen was diagnosed with cervical cancer. In 2001, she was diagnosed with lung cancer, which resulted in having part of her lung removed. Early last year, she was diagnosed with Stage IV mantle cell lymphoma. This time, she was given six months to a year to live.

Due to allergies, she cannot take chemotherapy or radiation (though she isn’t sure she would have done so anyway). Instead, she has done what she calls “literary therapy”– writing down her life and adventures in one rowdy and rollicking memoir, and sharing her particular brand of well-earned wisdom (as well as her own delightful illustrations).

I lost my father to cancer in 2002, and because of that, I typically avoid books and movies about cancer or any terminal illness– they’re just too upsetting and sad. But Gretchen– who is brave and bold and bright– has made me laugh and cry (the good kind of cry) and focus on the fact that, as she points out, this dying stuff is all just a part of life. This is a woman who truly makes the most of every moment. She is inspiring.

As I wrote in my blurb for True Confessions of a Dying Lady, “I recommend this book to anyone who has: experienced aging, gone to the hospital, struggled with another’s illness (particularly cancer) or been ill themselves, loved, lost, or lived. In short, True Confessions of a Dying Lady is for everyone. You’ll be moved, entertained, enlightened, comforted, and, most of all, you will laugh out loud. It’s wickedly funny. It’s also an absolute joy. Be warned though—don’t begin True Confessions if you’ve only got a few minutes because you will want to read the entire book, start to finish, in one sitting. And then you’ll want to read all your favorite parts to friends, family, neighbors, and random people on the street. Ganas may be a ‘dying lady,’ but she embraces life as much as anyone I know.”

So please read, enjoy, and spread the word. And then read the sequel: More True Confessions of a Dying Lady: Where Did I Go Wrong.

For more on Gretchen, listen to her interview with Growing Bolder and follow her on Twitter.

January 23, 2013

The Guilty Pleasure

I once read that Charlize Theron, while filming the movie Monster, cleared her mind after long and grueling days on the set from the intensity of playing a serial killer by watching The Bachelorette.

When I was working on my first book, my mother was working on her third, the first comprehensive biography of photographer Edward Steichen. It was then that she introduced me to the necessity of having at least one guilty pleasure, but preferably more, to sustain me throughout the long, grueling, solitary process of bringing a book to life. Her big guilty pleasure at the time: Baywatch.

I have certain guilty pleasure staples which have helped me through the writing of several books— Supernatural, 90210, The Bachelor, Revenge, and, most recently, Ghost Adventures. Currently, I’m working on more than one project, but the largest and most time-consuming and brain-draining is the rewrite and extensive edit of the fourth Velva Jean novel, American Blonde.

Ghost Adventures is a kind of “reality” Hardy Boys, featuring three paranormal investigators from Las Vegas, Zak Bagans, Nick Groff, and Aaron Goodwin. (Zak’s the muscly, ghost-taunting leader, Nick the poker-faced one, and Aaron– my favorite– is the bald, bearded one who gets easily spooked.) The show first aired in 2008 and, in its eighth season, remains the Travel Channel’s highest rated series.

Using night vision cameras and various ghost-hunting equipment, the trio is famously locked down from dusk till dawn in such spooky locations as the Lizzie Borden House, the Edinburgh Vaults, the Winchester Mystery House, the Eastern State Penitentiary, England’s Hell Fire Caves, and various asylums, hotels, nightclubs, lighthouses, and frontier towns with dark and twisted pasts. They’ve even visited Loretta Lynn in her haunted Kentucky home, and talked to the ghost of Johnny Cash while visiting his Jamaican plantation. Each episode is comfortably similar– Zak taunts and bosses both the ghosts and his crew (and sometimes gets possessed), Nick doesn’t smile and invites the spirits to “use my energy,” and the ever-affable Aaron is used as bait.

It’s wonderful. While I’m watching, I don’t have to do a thing. No research, no outlining, no coming up with ideas and storylines out of thin air, no writing, no editing. For that precious hour (or two, depending on how many episodes I go through), I just turn my brain off and let the guys entertain me.

Next to the sometimes chill-inducing shadow images and EVP’s (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) they often capture, the very best thing about each episode is the sordidly fascinating in-depth history they relate about each place– the only ghost investigation show to do this– and Aaron’s wide-eyed reactions.

So thank you, Ghost Adventures, for seeing me through this stressful time. You’re a much appreciated healing balm for an overextended mind– a kind of brief spa break for the girl who doesn’t have time to go to the spa.

Have any guilty pleasures? Please share them! And enjoy this little clip from the show:

January 14, 2013

Dear reader (aka Yes, the WAC did serve in WWII Paris)

One of the best things about being an author is hearing from readers of my books. I love receiving emails and notes and comments and questions and feedback. But every now and then, you hear from someone who takes offense at something you’ve written and has a giant bone to pick.

One man wrote me recently to tell me he found one particular portion of Becoming Clementine “insulting to anyone with the minimum of knowledge of contemporary history! And Gossie in a WAC uniform, no less!” (The exclamation marks are his.)

The apparently offensive passage dealt with one of my characters– the aforementioned Gossie– who works as a member of the 3341st Signal Battalion in German-occupied Paris during World War II. I had no idea, when writing the book, that the details of Gossie’s work, and the wearing of that uniform, would cause such an uproar. (Other readers have also written to question the plausibility of such a thing, and to take me to task for having Gossie wear her WAC uniform in public.)

So I submit the evidence here.

Not only were these women of the 3341st Signal Battalion very much in German-occupied Paris during World War II, they did courageous and daring work. (Work too extensive for me to detail here, but those who are interested can follow the links at the end of this post to learn more.) I based Gossie’s experiences on their first-hand accounts.

One of the members of that battalion, Ida E. Simpson, vividly remembered the training her WAC unit received in England, the deployment to France, the landing on war-ravaged Normandy Beach, and the arrival in Paris in the fall of 1944, where she spent a year operating field switchboards. As she recalled, “When we got to Paris, they assigned us to the 3341st Signal Battalion. We sent messages back and forth across the English Channel and all over the European Theater.”

The women put through hundreds of telephone calls every day. During each call they had to say, “Will you guard your conversation, please? The enemy may be listening.”

The women stayed in Paris until after Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day. “Before we left France, the French people wanted to show their appreciation for women who served there during the war,” Simpson said. “So they had a big parade for us that went all the way from the Arc de Triomphe to the end of the Champs-Elysees.”

You can read more about the work and life of the WAC in occupied Paris here, read an obituary of a WAC who served in Paris here, and read a portion of Ms. Simpson’s interview on the U.S. Department of Defense website.

In my reply to this man, I told him that while I certainly welcome and appreciate comments re. my work, I do expect them to be well substantiated and well informed, particularly when I am being scolded.

To deny these women their history and their selfless contribution is insulting to them and the brave and dangerous work that they did!

(The exclamation mark is mine.)

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