Welcome to the blog, Karl! Could you tell us a little bit about your book?
Hello, Rachel. Thanks for inviting me.
Wings is about women who broke the rules and became heroes, despite the demands of a lot of men that they knock it off and act like everyone else. The women were WASP, Women Airforce Service Pilots. Though civilians, their airplanes were military and the missions they flew were as dangerous as combat. Thirty-eight died.
The heroine, Sally Ketchum, is a student pilot who vows never again to let life make her a victim. But she no sooner starts her WASP training than powerful government forces suddenly and mysteriously want to destroy her. Her instructor, who couldn’t control an airplane if it were cemented to the ground, desperately wants to marry her. And the love of her life, whose qualities she’s decided are near-biblical, has a flaw, after all: he’s dead. Sally’s unbending determination to survive and have the life she dreams of is the driving force of the story.
What led you to write this book?
Failure! By that, I mean I’d written two other novels that I couldn’t sell, and someone said why don’t you write something that you know something about, like airplanes and the WASP. That was the light bulb moment.
When I was probably four or five years old, I was in my backyard in Tyler, TX, with my mother, and for some reason she started talking about World War II military organizations for women, like the WAAC and the WAVES. She mentioned the WASP, and suddenly I got the most vivid image of women with wings and stingers, buzzing about creating all kinds of havoc. That picture stuck with me, and so I’ve always been intrigued by the WASP. Also, I’m an amateur aviation historian; so the two subjects came together nicely.
How did you blend fictionalized elements with history?
That was easy. As I read histories that had been written by former WASP, I marked events that I thought were interesting with a yellow Sticky tab, onto which I wrote a few words that descried the event. So at the end of my research, I had a stack of books that sprouted Stickies. I chose the tabs that were the most interesting and that best fitted my general idea of the story I wanted to write. That was my “roadmap.” Then I created characters, which lead to interactions and a plot. But those Stickies were the pylons. The story always drove toward them. They are a big part of the glue that holds the story together. Most of the things that happen in this book really did happen to the WASP.
What challenges did writing about this era present? What was the most interesting thing you learned when writing Wings?
Thanks to the Internet, and the fact that I already knew quite a bit about our homeland history of the time and about airplanes, the research was pretty easy. But I hadn’t realized how badly the WASP were treated by the other half of the human race – men – or how gritty their determination was to withstand it all and keep flying. Talk about underdogs! These women did everything they were told to do: they flew airplanes that no man would fly – that weren’t fit to fly – and then they were kicked in the butt and thrown out like old dishwater. They were rightfully angry; and that anger still persists.
Many years ago I was in a restaurant with a buddy of mine and we were talking about my book, which at that time was still more of an idea than a real manuscript, and I could see that this elderly woman, who’d already knocked back a few glasses of wine, was listening to us. Suddenly she blew up! I mean, she came uncorked and started spewing venom about the army. That’s when we learned from her husband that she’d been a WASP. Let me tell you, that lady’s stinger still worked just fine!
What is your best advice on writing?
The same advice that everyone gives: keep trying, don’t give up. But I’ll add a couple of things. Once you’re well into the writing, hand some part of your manuscript to everyone; to strangers on the street, if you have to. I did that. More than one hundred women, many of whom I never met, got a look at my book as I was writing it. When they started asking for more (without any prompting—many of these were strangers, remember. Someone I knew had given it to someone they knew, and often then to someone else), I knew I was learning to write a novel. What I didn’t do was join a writing club. I didn’t care what would-be writers like me thought. I wanted feedback from readers who didn’t owe me anything.
Also, don’t become myopic. If your path isn’t getting you anywhere, try to find out why and find another path. If you have talent and skill and a story that readers want to read, chances are you’ll eventually succeed.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Karl!
Karl Friedrich is a former advertising and public relations writer and newspaper reporter. WINGS: A Novel of World War II Flygirls is his first published book. He lives in Camas, WA.
Karl Friedrich can be found on Twitter as Novelistguy and on Facebook as Karl Friedrich. His website is www.kfriedrich.com, where the first two chapters of Wings: A Novel of World War II Flygirls can be read, as well as a number of anecdotes about living in the Pacific Northwest. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wings: A Novel of World War II Flygirls is available from most bookstores.