Front Porches to Front Lines uses the story of your great grandparents to tell a larger story about a small town affected by WWI. What was the inspiration that made you want to put this story into a book?
There were actually several inspirations which motivated me to turn my great-grandparents’ story into a book. Perhaps the most basic of these is simply the fact that I love history and thoroughly enjoy doing the research and writing about it. With that being said, the best way to cover all of the inspirations behind this book can probably best be told by talking about how the book began in the first place.
Front Porches to Front Lines is actually the expansion of a college essay with a similar title. I had always heard from my mother that there was letter somewhere in a box which talked about what took place on Armistice Day in 1918 in the small town of Springfield, Vermont where my great-grandparents were living at the time and I’d always hoped that I would find it someday. When I re-enrolled at the University of Connecticut in 2014 to finish my B.A. in American Studies I made up my mind that I wanted the remainder of my coursework to include an independent study project which would be completed under the guidance of a faculty advisor. Fortunately I found this letter and soon after found an advisor in Dr. Walter Woodward, a professor at UConn and the State Historian of Connecticut.
During the Fall 2014 semester, I researched World War One and the subsequent Influenza Epidemic of 1918 and in turned used the letter about Armistice Day and about 300 more family letters to tell the story of my great-grandparents’ experiences at this time as a microcosm of how the war and epidemic impacted people on the local, regional, national and international levels.
While, one of my biggest inspirations to write this book was to record my family’s story, I chose to tell this story in particular because of the wealth of primary resource material available to me and also to help expand the knowledge and scholarship of a chapter in the history of the United States which in some ways has gone largely overlooked until recently.
Lastly, I chose to turn this story into a book because it simply kept me busy with something I enjoyed doing. Since finishing my degree in the spring of 2016, my job hunt has been largely unsuccessful and expanding the essay which was my “senior thesis” of sorts into a book had given me a project to focus on amidst my bad job prospects. Plus, I was also of the belief that it would make my resume stand out in the future in a way that not many recent undergraduates’ resumes do. However, these last reasons are all somewhat secondary to those mentioned above.
I enjoyed the historical information provided in the book. What kind of research did you undertake for this book?
The scope of my research for this book was very broad and in fact I learned a lot of doing research and research methods on the fly while compiling the materials for Front Porches to Front Lines. The bulk of my research, about 60% of it, involved the careful analysis of the letters between my great-grandparents as well as those written between other family members and a few of their friends as well. I feel very fortunate to have had such an archive at my disposal while writing my book because it’s those letters which make up the majority of the family story which is at the center of the book.
Aside from the analysis of the letters, I conducted a handful of interviews, one with my great aunt, who is my only living relative at this time who knew all of the family members referenced in the book; I also interviewed the couple who run the historical society in Springfield, Vermont on two occasions to get a sense of what materials the town had left from the World War One era; and lastly, I interviewed a number people who had lived in Springfield during the first half of the 20th century and had some recollections of stories their parents and relatives had told them about Springfield during the 1910s.
I spent many hours in the public library in Springfield going through the microfilm they had copies of their local newspaper going back to World War One and was an excellent source of soldier letters as well as advertisements relating to both the war effort as well as the many remedies people were trying to cure themselves of the Spanish Flu. I spent time combing the objects and other materials at the Springfield Art and Historical Society and lastly, I used any primary source material related to war that I could get hands on along with a handful of pictures and other items from my family’s records.
What were some things that you found surprising about your grandparents lives?
To be honest, the majority of the information about my great-grandparents’ lives which I included in the book was all new to me. Since the location of their letters had been somewhat unknown for such a long period of time and since my family didn’t talk about many of the aspects of their lives that were detailed in these letters, much of what I learned from them was both new and surprising. For instance many of the down to earth details about daily living during this tough chapter in our nation’s history left me both surprised and amazed, especially given the circumstances of the world in which I grew up in the 1990s and 2000s. I was repeatedly left in awe of my great-grandparents’ ability to press on from one day to the next, when under the constant threat of a potential German invasion, the rapid spread of an infectious disease or both.
One particular episode during the 1910s which I found particularly curious actually was referenced in a letter between my great-grandmother and her sister. In this letter, my great-grandmother’s sister talks about hearing former president Theodore Roosevelt speak at a rally to raise awareness of the Armenian Genocide. Given, my family’s rather apolitical stances on things, it was surprising to find out that any of them participated in any event that was about an issue which didn’t directly threaten their lives or the nation’s security.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I have just begun the research for my next book, which at the moment is going to be a more comprehensive look at Armistice Day and how that day was celebrated around the world. However, since I am also in the process of getting ready to go back to graduate school, I do not have a good idea as of yet as to when that book will be completed and made available. I know that some of it will depend on my graduate school commitments as well as my ability to amass the resources I need to complete this project and do the topic justice.
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World War One and the 1918 Influenza Epidemic. Two events which will alwaysdefine the 1910s, a decade which saw great political and social change; a long list ofdisasters and a realignment of the global stage, something which would help define manyof the subsequent events of the twentieth century. When the United States declared war onGermany on April 2, 1917, it was just the first of two major calamities which would in someway impact just about every American man, woman and child during the latter half of the1910s.The second of these wars, the Spanish Influenza of 1918, came right on the heels of theGreat War’s conclusion on November 11, 1918 as many of the returning soldiers camehome with the influenza virus, having caught it either in Europe or sometime during thejourney home from France. Front Porches to Front Lines tells the story of how the citizensof one small New England town, came together to confront these two wars and in doing sobecame one of the most generous towns when it came to contributing to the war effort inthe form of Liberty Loans, war gardens and war supplies as well as dozens of soldiers, RedCross nurses and civilian workers, such as machinists.
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Friends of the Tsar is inspired by your personal experiences and your family history. Why was this an important book for you to write?
The diversity of my knowledge, which was given to me by spirit, was something too important to have lay dormant. The knowledge I accrued from many camping and four wheel driving trips was gained through life and death situations I encountered. If, by getting this information out to the world could save just one life, then I will have had good reason to write it.
The many miracles that kept my family and I safe on these learning adventures were so profound in that they were logic-defying, and I thought what better way to tell of my miracles than through an Australian character who entertained the Zuckschwerdts, my grandparents, with the narratives while snowed in.
What were some things that you felt had to stay true to real life and what were some things you took liberties with?
I felt that the horrific conditions in which my grandparents were successful in decamping from Russia had to stay true to life, also their personality.
I took liberties with the negative aspects of their plight because it would have been too depressing for a reader to continue reading. Too many family members were murdered by the Bolsheviks.
I also wanted to honour them with an acknowledgement of their plight after which they were positive in the rebuilding of their future together.
I felt like faith and family were important in the book. What were some themes you wanted to capture in this book?
The pivotal themes I wanted to capture were miracles, spiritual awareness, hope, danger awareness in nature, remembering ones heritage, and faith and family.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
My mother, on the other side, wants me to write children’s books. My previous vocation as artist allows me to illustrate the books myself, and my eagerness to encourage young people to speak up when put in danger, especially when dad’s driving is too scary, strengthens my resolve.
It won’t be until this time next year that a book would be ready for publication, should I decide to do so.
1917–The Russian Revolution. Danger and chaos abound, and the aristocratic Zuckschwerdt and Orloff families are desperate to escape to safety. Enter Blue, an Australian cattle-breeder with a big heart. Blessed by a heap of miracles from the Outback and beyond, he shares his gripping adventures with the snowed-in families. Blue has survived everything from bushfires to crocodile attacks.
With wolves and winter nipping at their heels, the Zuckschwerdts prepare to depart for the lucky country. Plunged into hostilities and espionage in Petrograd, they make a break for the high seas, only to find themselves in a deadly game of bluff with a German U-boat skipper.
Blue is in a predicament of his own when three of the Orloff daughters fall for his red earth charms. Will he find true love with one of them? And will his Aussie anecdotes help the family understand that awareness and preparation can spell the difference between life and death? As miracles begin to unfold, the Russian refugees discover the power of faith.
Inspired by Jon de Graaff’s personal experiences and his grandparents’ family history, ‘Friends of the Tsar’ is a thrilling tale. Spiked with humorous twists, tragic turns, perilous encounters, and life-saving lessons of survival. It offers spiritual insights into forgiveness and unconventional love.
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Reflection: The Paul Mann Story by Titan Frey is an amazing work of fiction interweaving alternative history within it. Paul Mann is 104-years-old and in a nursing home. Every day he writes in his journal about his life and has a sack of journals that tells the story of his lifetime. He is reunited with his son and grandson in this book, where Paul tells his story through his journals. An intimate family relationship is born between grandson and grandfather where we see the hectic, heartbreaking, and even heartwarming life Paul Mann has led while also following his current adventures.
I love this book. It was intriguing and hard to put down. At first, I did not like many of the characters, but then I saw, as their story developed, that they were shaped by their pasts. The main characters are well-developed in that sense, and we get to know these characters as if they were complex, real-life people. It truly felt as if I was witnessing these events pass and getting to know them. I would have liked to understand the side characters motivations more, though, as they did seem cruel without real reason. Though sometimes, that is the harshness of the world, and this book’s theme seems to be how callous and brutal the world can be, but that love is still important.
The main aspect of this book was learning about Paul through the eyes of his past in the form of a journal, and it was done so well. I love how the journals truly seemed to be written by Paul Mann. It shows incredibly strong character development. I liked the idea of learning about someone through journals; it put me in the mindset of Marlin, the grandson, where I felt like Paul was my grandfather and I got to connect with him in that way. Frey does a marvelous at humanizing her character and allowing you to grow attached to them.
This book is an emotional roller-coaster with lots of twists and turns. Terrible things happen, but you get to see the love Paul has for his family, and that beauty shines through. The portrayal of the nursing home struck a chord with me and made it relatable; at least to me. It made me feel for the residents, especially Paul. In a way, this book made me feel more connected with my own grandmother.
I highly recommend this book. It puts you in the head of an older person by relaying their life experiences. It also shows how sometimes you do not really know a person or how they came to be who they are until you take the time to listen, or read in this case. The book also illustrates the importance of life and spending time with loved ones. In addition to valuable lessons, the book is also intriguing, thrilling, and mysterious. Marlin and his grandson truly have a special bond.
Pages: 186 | ASIN: B07MTSFWJG
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Four Letters by Lucy Hensinger follows 14-year-old Emily as she discovers letters that belonged to her great grandmother, Lucille. She reads them and while seeking out details of Lucille’s story, she learns a few things about herself as well. Her journey takes her both literally and figuratively to the place where Lucille lived. She traces her steps both in her real life trip to Boston and in her vivid dreams where she follows Lucille’s life. Emily becomes fascinated in her great-grandmothers story and can’t wait to see where her story takes her.
Four Letters has a nice flow and is easy to follow. It’s short enough that the length wouldn’t feel daunting to younger readers but at the same time is engaging enough to keep readers interested. The story doesn’t get weighed down with Emily’s problems or her great-grandmother’s tumultuous love life. Hensinger manages to keep things light throughout the book.
I liked the incorporation of real places in Boston and the surrounding areas. I have been to Boston before, and recognized the narrow streets and great big buildings with countless windows. I have also been to Salem to the House of Seven Gables and some of the museums there. Hensinger did a good job giving the reader a feel for those places and will likely inspire people to visit.
Emily is a character that many readers will identify with. She is a fiery, feisty redhead who has found her way into some trouble at home. She doesn’t always shy away from a fight. She takes a trip to see her grandmother and discovers bits and pieces of her ancestry and becomes enthralled with her great-grandmother’s story. That is probably a good and productive escape for her from the trouble she found herself in at home. I identify with the ancestry myself. I thirst for any knowledge I can acquire about my own family history. It is easy to get wrapped up in the search for family history.
If I have any complaint at all, it would be that I felt it lacked a big “aha” moment. There wasn’t a big plot climax for me. I feel like the build-up was great. I was interested to see what happened between Lucille and Opie. I followed along and felt like I was as anxious Emily to see why they didn’t end up together. I don’t feel like that really got resolved. I know Emily just sort of resigned to the fact that she was grateful that her great-grandparents ended up together, but I would have liked to know the details of what happened between them after becoming invested in the characters.
It was a good, well-written story with characters that young readers will enjoy. Any reader will enjoy touring Boston and Salem with Emily. I look forward to more stories about these characters.
Pages: 108 | ASIN: 1481733419
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