I'm so glad you agreed to be interviewed on my blog. I loved your latest book, The Unsurrendered, and what's more, I feel as if I learned so much about WWII that I never knew before. I will definitely be going back to read your other two books!
Please give us a short introduction to your trilogy, and highlight The Unsurrendered.
“The Pearl of the Orient” is a romantic historical fiction trilogy. My first book, A Healing Place, was published in 2010, the second, Blessed Are the Merciful in 2011, and The Unsurrendered in February 2013. All three books are set against the backdrop of WWII in the Philippines. In The Unsurrendered, an American intelligence agent and his Filipina wife join the partisan group called “The Unsurrendered” to fight behind Japanese lines. The Filipino people fought back by forming guerrilla groups. When American soldiers either escaped or were ordered to become “unsurrendered” before and after the fall of the Philippines, they joined the guerrillas, often leading them in their fight. It is estimated that between 260,000 American men and women banded together to fight for the freedom of the Philippines from its Japanese conquerers and the return of the Americans to the country.
About how many hours did you spend researching your nonfiction topics?
I have no idea, but I researched about three months for each of the first two books before I ever started writing. I wanted the love stories in each book to be central to the theme.
In A Healing Place, my characters are caught in the Dustbowl of the Great Depression and must struggle to stay together. I watched a special about the Dustbowl on the history channel. Then I researched every newspaper and book I could find on the subject. The actual camp where the Millers finally settle is a camp where I lived until I was ten. My family ran the grocery store there, and although there were mostly horrible oil camps at the time, it was certainly a model one. I found instances of the other kind, however, and used them in the book. When the family’s son-in-law, Jed, finds himself in the Philippines during the war, he is forced to walk The Death March, and that gave me a small taste of the history of that region during WWII. It was then that I became obsessed with learning more about what happened in the Philippines. It was almost like peeling an onion. Every time I discovered something, there was more to learn. It wasn’t until after I had finished the third book that I felt satisfied with the job I had done, although there is a topic I would love to explore but probably never will. I’ve read three books written about the American POWs who were shipped to Japan during the war and what happened to them. It’s a fascinating subject, but one that is difficult to write about and would require a tremendous effort.
In Blessed Are the Merciful, the two main characters fall in love just prior to the Japanese attack of the Philippines. Elton was an American soldier, and Susan, was a American nurse. I wanted to show what a vital role the women played on Bataan and Corregidor. They literally set up hospitals close to the front lines. I read diaries and letters from actual nurses to their families in the States, and was inspired by their courageous spirit. After the fall of Corregidor, the women were interred in a camp for the duration of the war and were starved almost as badly as the men in their POW camps. Some became involved with the Filipino underground, as Susan does. In my research, I also found letters and poems written by a 19 year-old soldier. These literally made me cry when I first read them and again as I included them in my book. This young soldier wrote of the bravery of his fellow soldiers rather than his own perilous situation. I wrote a parallel plot of the lovers, Elton and Susan, as they struggle to survive and find their way back to each other. It was challenging but worth it because I felt through my research that I had discovered the true nature of many of these men and women caught the grips of such horrible times.
Before I even began writing The Unsurrendered, I spent about five months reading nonfiction books about the war, including biographies of many historical figures that I include in the book. My fictional characters meet and interact with all of them. I felt compelled to give an honest accounting of their personalities and how much they contributed to the war effort. In order to relate the war realistically, I needed to include these Filipino and American individuals who contributed to the Allied effort, risking their own lives in the process. Of course, they were not all protagonists.
For instance, before writing this book, I was under the impression that Emperor Hirohito was simply a figurehead. After I wrote the first four chapters of my book, my husband who is a WWII history buff and owns many WWII books, came into my office with an enormously thick two volume set,Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy, and asked me if I had read it. After reading just a portion of it, I deleted all of my previously written work. I knew that I had to start over. Hirohito had a mind that was as devious and evil as Hitler’s. He was personally responsible for what has been termed as The Asian Democide, or massacre of 3 to 10 million innocent civilians from 1934 through 1945. The Japanese never kept accurate records, but they regularly went into every country they conquered, raping the women and burning their villages. That happened in the Philippines. They took many young girls from their homes and made them “comfort women” for the soldiers in the front lines. Of course, the villages where they had lived were burned to the ground. Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy gave me an authentic look into the Japanese culture during that time.
In preparation for the latest book, I bought and read about ten WWII books, adding to my husband’s already large collection. His books were an enormous part of my research.
I wanted the love story of the two main fictional characters, Carla and Jacob, to be central to the plot and what is more dramatic than love in the midst of war? But first I had to find a way to relate the events of the time in which Carla and Jacob found themselves, and that is where all of my research came in.
What made you choose these particular subjects?
When writing about the Miller’s story through the American Depression, I knew that I wanted to send their son-in-law overseas to WWII, and my husband made the casual suggestion of having him walk The Death March in the Philippines, in which over 10,000 men were slaughtered by the Japanese. It was then that my fascination with the Philippines began.
What do you like to read?
My favorite writer is Nelson DeMille, who writes contemporary mysteries with a humorous slant. I love his characters and find myself actually laughing aloud when I read his books. I buy every new one when it comes out. I am a mystery lover.
What made you want to become an author?
I was an English literature major in college and picked up the writing bug from there. I just never had enough self-confidence to actually write an entire book until I was 58. I credit my husband, Dennis, with encouraging me. After publishing my first book, I joined a small writing group, Writing Well, and the writers in it have also given me the courage to keep writing.
What is your writing day like? Do you have a routine?
Yes. As soon as we have eaten breakfast, I sit down at the computer. While writing my trilogy, I spent all morning and most of the afternoon writing. I did some research as I went along, where I felt it was needed. I love to write and if I weren’t so busy marketing my trilogy, I would be writing more. I have written some short stories.
Do you write anything other than historical novels?
My trilogy is historical fiction, and I have started writing short stories.
Where would you reside if you could choose any place in the world? Why?
On a beach someplace where I could listen to the waves and feel the breezes. I would love to write in that atmosphere, but I’m afraid at this point in my life, it’s just a pipe dream.
What is the scariest thing you’ve ever done, or the most thrilling?
I think the scariest thing I’ve ever done is publishing my first novel. I had no idea how it would be received. I have been pleasantly surprised with my reviews and reactions from readers.
Would you care to brag about your family?
My husband is an M.D. and board certified in Addiction Medicine. I am really proud of the work he does. We have two wonderful daughters, both great mothers with busy careers. Our four beautiful granddaughters are ages 4 to 16. They all have enormously kind hearts and are an absolute joy to be around.
If you could choose one thing to do over or do differently in your life, what would it be?
I wish I had started writing at an earlier age. At 62, I seem to experience more frequent “senior moments” and tire more easily.
What makes you get up on your soapbox?
Violence. After writing about what war does to us as individuals, it enrages and saddens me to hear and read about Syria. Their losses are tremendous, beyond comprehension. I am also an advocate of gun control legislation. I can’t imagine how any person could not be a supporter of tougher background checks and the elimination of future sales of assault rifles and large magazine rounds. There is no logical reason for anyone to own these instruments of destruction unless he or she is in law enforcement. If we save is only one life with tougher gun control laws, isn’t it worth it?
Joyce's books are available at these sites: