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Monday, April 8, 2013
Author Drusilla Campbell: Finding My Inner Marine
It’s my pleasure to welcome critically-acclaimed novelist Drusilla Campbell here today to talk about her latest book, When She Came Home, which will be released tomorrow (Tuesday, April 9) by Grand Central Publishing.
Capturing the essence of a woman caught between the ‘call to service’ and her family, Drusilla weaves timely issues of PTSD, school-gun violence and bullying into a poignant story of love and fortitude.
“My grandfather died in World War I and is buried in Baccarat, France,” Drusilla said. “He left a widow and young son. My brother, Kip, was an Army medic in Vietnam. This book is a way of saying thank you to them and to all the brave men and women who risk their lives under the banner of the stars and stripes, and to the families who love them and wait for them to come home.”
Drusilla is here to talk about ‘finding her inner marine.’
Here’s the quickie answer: “I read the paper and a lot of nonfiction, people talk to me about their lives, I’m a good listener.”
Here’s the longer, truer answer:
Partly, the book came from my own history. Growing up, one of my best friends was the daughter of a very senior military officer. I came to know the family well and, being the observant child I was, I thought a lot about how the members showed their love for each other. Particularly the way my friend sought to please her father, the lengths she went to. I’ve never forgotten.
To be a writer, it helps to be part file clerk. That’s why so many of us are Virgos.
During the Vietnam era I was fiercely anti-military. I marched and yelled and rarely thought much about the men and women actually fighting in Vietnam. Mostly I was mad at the government that sent them there. Then one day, after I became a mother and had two sons, I realized that soldiers and airmen, sailors and Marines were just like my boys only bigger. Since then I’ve been ashamed of my blanket condemnation of the military. My brother served. My grandfather died in France. What had I been thinking? What ignorance had made me so callously self-righteous?
I live in San Diego which will always be a city with the military at its heart, particularly the Navy and Marine Corps. In the last few years PTSD has been on everyone’s mind and in our conversations. My husband noticed that hardly anyone talked about the emotional/mental challenges of women coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“You should write a book about a female soldier with PTSD,” he said.
At the time, I was finishing THE GOOD SISTER which is about two sisters, one of them suffering from post-partum psychosis. When I’d finished that, I couldn’t face another book about a woman with a mental disorder so I wrote LITTLE GIRL GONE about a young woman in love with a very bad man. Having loved a bad man or two and being a mother, these were books I felt I could write with authority. But a book about a soldier, a sailor, a Marine?
I didn’t think I could do it until I met Ally. I was in a Pilates class where, as always, I was the oldest person. The woman on the reformer next to me was tall and blonde and lovely to look at. Also crazy strong. Predictably, my competitive spirit kicked in. There I was: skull crushing with ten pound weights and the springs on my reformer set to red and green. No baby blues for me.
In the weeks that followed, I learned that Ally was the graduate of a prestigious university with a degree in Philosophy, descended from a long line of proper ladies, and a Marine Corps officer recently back from Iraq.
“Now’s the time to write that book. What’re you waiting for?”
I dragged my feet, I made excuses. Then, one day, driving down to Jitters for coffee, a name entered my mind and grabbed my attention: Francine Tennyson. She came complete with a family, a history and a problem.
Very soon after that I opened a file and called it WHEN SHE CAME HOME. I started asking myself what Francine Tennyson would do if she had – just suppose -- a father who was a high ranking officer and if she wanted to please him and if, in the course of doing so, her own life fell apart. What would Frankie do? How would she put it back together?
You asked where I get my ideas and now you know. They are drawn from the people I meet in my daily life, from my personal history and current events, and from a passionate interest in children and in individual and family psychology. I take a little bit of something from all these sources, and then one day, from nowhere, a name pops into my head, a name that rings true in my ear.
It also helps to have a husband who believes in you. And nags a little.
Drusilla, thanks so much for joining us and sharing how When She Came Home came about. I like how you take parts from so many different events and combined them to create such inspiring characters.
For those not familiar with Drusilla, she is the author of seven critically acclaimed novels including The Good Sister, Little Girl Gone, The Edge of Sky, and Blood Orange. Before she started school she had crossed the Pacific Ocean three times. She’s lived in Europe and Central America and has a MA in Broadcast Journalism from American University. Drusilla happily lives in San Diego with her husband, the attorney and poet Art Campbell; two rescued dogs; and three horses.
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