L is for Letters Home

April 13, 2015

For the A to Z blogging challenge I’ve decided to blog about the 1940′s. And in the spirit of the 1940′s, at the end of the month, I’ll be giving away an ebook copy of one of my favorite books, Summer at Tiffany, to one of my newsletter subscribers (sign-up on the sidebar if you are so inclined.) It’s a light-hearted memoir of two college girls let loose in New York City for a summer. What a hoot.

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In our current culture of email and video chat, it’s hard to remember those days of hoping and waiting for a personal letter to come in it the mail, let alone waiting for a letter from someone fighting overseas during WWII. These letters were precious.

While I was researching for my 1940’s novel, I stumbled across a gem of a little book called Letters Home by Nan Snow. It documents the story of a teen named Floyd Davis who enlisted in the Army Air Force following graduation in 1943. The book gives a detailed picture of what life was like for these young men going through boot camp, and then off to war.

As I was reading this book, I kept a list of the slang he wrote in his letters, and used these terms to inform my characters. I used this technique with several books and vintage magazines to capture the cadence and voice of the times.

I just realized it now, but I inadvertently named my main character’s brother Floyd. Kate’s brother had gone through several different names as I was writing, searching for the name that felt right. I had long since put the book Letters Home on the shelf, having mined it for my slang and boot-camp timeline. I suppose, since I was patterning Kate’s brother’s career path after the real Floyd, my subconscious must have clicked in when I tried the name Floyd and found I liked it.

If it is any consolation to the real Floyd, the fictional brother Floyd is one of the characters my readers seem to like the most. I get enough comments about how wonderful he is that I am tempted to write a bonus scene told from his point of view. It would be swoon worthy, for sure.

UPDATE: After writing this blog post, I sent a letter to an email address I hoped would reach Nan Snow to tell her the impact her book made on my novel. I was thrilled to find an answer from her the next morning (again, the contrast in communications between now and the 1940’s!) She forwarded my email to Floyd’s sister, who had kind words to say. If you would like to see Floyd’s actual letters for yourself, Dorothy has donated them to the University of Arkansas’ archives. They have not yet been processed, but would likely be made available upon request. Thank you again, Nan and Dorothy for sharing Floyd with the world.

Unrelated to the book, Letters Home, here is a modern tale about a WWII love letter that never made it home, but the impact it had on this generation:

4 responses to L is for Letters Home

  1. There are few things more precious than a real letter – a handwritten, heartfelt letter. They are treasures, and I’m always grateful and touched when someone thinks to write something by hand and drop it in the mail. I try to remember that others appreciate that too.

    • I’ve got an aunt who is diligent about sending cards several times throughout the year. We always look forward to her notes.

  2. This is absolutely fascinating. Letters are indeed a lost art.

    2015 A to Z Challenge Co-Host
    Matthew MacNish from The QQQE

    • Speaking of art, I’ve got a board on Pinterest for “mail art” to collect ideas on how people decorate envelopes. Maybe letter-writing will make a resurgence.