Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Erin Rainwater's Army Nurse Background Contributes to Her Historical Novels
As an Army nurse during the Vietnam War-era, Erin Rainwater cared for the bodies and spirits of soldiers and veterans, including repatriated POWs and MIAs. Her military experience has helped in writing parts of her novels.
Erin now serves as a nurse in the National Disaster Medical System, and has deployed to disaster areas around the country. Her support of the military is ongoing, and she currently volunteers at the USO in Denver.
She is the recipient of the 2009 Military Writers Society of America (www.militarywiters.com) Gold Medal for Historical Fiction for her novel True Colors, which she talks about below.
My passion has always been for the historical, thus my novels are set in the 1860s. Being a nurse, I couldn’t help but make one of the heroines a nurse, too (write what you know!). And I have an absolute fascination with American history.
I think you need that if you’re going to write historicals. Anyone can research and report on subject matter, but the author of historicals lives vicariously in that era when writing. At least I do.
Good storytelling places the reader in the moment, makes them feel the danger, the meaning of consequences. With historical fiction you get all of that plus a telescopic view of a time and place with the customs, culture, dress and vernacular of a different time.
Yet you still experience those timeless issues, such as separation during war, grieving the loss of a child, or dealing with a traumatically acquired handicap. And the perseverance that must accompany all of that.
I do my own research, and I absolutely love that part of writing. The hard part is sorting through what can be used and what simply doesn’t work. There are so many fascinating (to me, anyway) historical facts I want to include. But you won’t see them because I couldn’t work them into the story without it seeming forced or contrived.
Another hurdle is sorting through varying accounts of the same historical incident. The best you can do is choose the source that seems the most credible and hope it’s the most accurate, then go with it.
True Colors takes place during the most enigmatic time in our nation’s history, the Civil War. Cassie Golden is a Pennsylvania farm girl turned government nurse, whose father was a physician, so she believes she is well-equipped for caring for patients with acute illnesses and wounds, although nothing really prepares her for all she comes to deal with.
I’ve long been fascinated by the medical care delivered in those days. True Colors incorporates those primitive ways with some of my military nursing experiences, as well as some personal, real-life family history.
There is a scene where the hero (an intelligence officer) and heroine deal with the internal struggles of his accepting a mission that would take him away for an extended period. A portion of the male character’s dialogue in that scene is taken word-for-word from letters my father (an intel officer) wrote to my mother after he left for service in WW II.
There are some real-life characters in the story as well, such as Colonel Thomas Rose, who was captured at the Battle of Chickamauga and imprisoned in Richmond at the infamous Libby Prison. (I have visited the site where it once stood and where now only a plaque on a stone wall reveals where the building was located, but cannot describe the horrors that took place within.)
President Lincoln makes a cameo appearance, having visited the Confederate capital in the closing days of the war.
American history, when well told, is not only fascinating but can contribute to our identity as a nation and its values. I believe historical fiction can do the same, which makes historical accuracy a must. And if we include our Judeo-Christian roots, there can be an added “take-away” value—a lesson learned or at least a point to ruminate over. My goal is to incorporate all these things into my stories.
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Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the author of the novel MRS. LIEUTENANT and the co-author of the Jewish holiday book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION. She is also an Internet business consultant and the co-host of the BlogTalkRadio show YourMilitaryLife.com.
Phyllis' company provides Internet marketing training as well as social media marketing to promote your business more effectively.
Visit the site of Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel.