I have been reading historical novels my entire life. A few years ago a file of papers from my father were mailed to me, describing covert operations in the South Pacific during World War II. The stories were confirmed in US Army Counter Intelligence reports that were released recently. So, the search began for the pieces to link up the stories. This book can’t be a memoir, because too many pieces are missing. The actual report identified a spy ring operating out of a South Seas bordello. How can you write about that without making up some interesting characters? The choice at this point is to use factual information in a work of biographical fiction.
We went to New York for 10 days and walked the entire novel as it stands in the second draft. Many days it was an eerie experience. For one thing, I had assembled a hasty conversion of a Jewish boy to Christianity, and selected a picture from photos of old NYC churches. It turned out I had picked a Presbyterian church that my father actually attended several years later. In the conversion sequence I had also put together a meeting with a Presbyterian and Episcopalian minister as they are proselytizing the young man. They walk together to feed the less fortunate on an island in the East River, a place with a smallpox hospital, a mental hospital, and homeless people. On the island was a tiny old church. “If that’s Episcopalian, I’m going to faint.” It was.
We drove over to Fall River Massachusetts to Battleship Cove. The curator of the Patrol Torpedo boats spent hours with me on a PT boat figuring out how to apprehend bad guys in the Pacific. Dad’s notes had left off with a brief comment that the Vichy French coastwatcher was apprehended as well as the location of the plantation. We came up with a very likely scenario as to how that may have happened.
So, I am in the process of taking things that I do not know, and making them into my own experiences so that I can write about them. The downside to this? I brought home another stack of history books.