Origins: War Sonnets

What do you think of when you see the word “sonnet?”

Love poems, right? So imagine my surprise when I first read my uncle’s sonnets about his war experience.

Who writes sonnets about fighting?

And yet, he did. And they are awesome—one might say beautiful.

When I was trying to come up with a list of story ideas one day, I thought of his sonnets. I am fascinated by the World War II era. Have been since I read Anne Frank’s diary years ago. And I thought, Why not write a story about a soldier who writes poetry?

I considered what kind of antagonist I could have. “The Japanese” was too broad, and the idea of a single Japanese soldier didn’t feel right either. My uncle’s book of haikus answered that dilemma: I would have two protagonists, similar but different, each who wrote poetry, each with a belief they were on the side of right.

It felt like a daunting challenge. How could I, an aspiring author and a woman, write about a man—a soldier who writes so eloquently? How could I ever meet that standard?

About a year ago, on a day I felt like I couldn’t write another word I decided to take up the challenge. What did I really want to write?

Yup—My uncle’s story. Well, not quite his story, but a story based on his experiences, using his sonnets and haikus as a springboard.

I spent a few months creating characters, researching the War in the Pacific, the geography of the Philippines. I read my uncle’s diary and his letters home, I read Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, I read both fiction and nonfiction accounts, watched movies, absorbed everything I could about what it might have been like being a man—a soldier—fighting the Japanese in World War II. And after I couldn’t put it off any longer I started writing.

By June I had a first draft. Well, sort of. There was a plot. I knew what would happen and how it would end. But boy was it stinky!

It’s okay—supposedly all first drafts are stinky. There is comfort in that.

In July I started Draft I, Version II, taking apart each chapter and putting it back together, sometimes totally rewriting it. It’s slow going. I think I’m on chapter ten. But I feel good about this novel, so much stronger than with the previous (and my first) attempt. I’ve learned. I’ve grown as a writer.

And, dammit, by my seventieth birthday I just might be a published author!

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