Welcome, one and all, to what Nancy and I have dubbed WWII Month! I don’t think it’s ever occurred before, but Nancy and I just ‘happened’ to read books written in the same time period & almost the same setting weeks apart from each other. And what do you know? We discovered two very orange-worthy heroes. After careful thought and much deliberation (cough), we decided October would be “WWII Month” here at FHF.
I have always wanted a bomber jacket. They’re just…cool. And for me, the topic of WWII and bomber jackets go hand-in-hand. It could be because flying is a part of my family history. My husband’s grandfather was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force. During WWII, he was a B17 bomber pilot. I never got to hear all his stories, but I think his favorite one to tell was about the giant python that stowed away on his plane. They discovered it mid-flight and somehow managed to calmly complete their objective and land where they were supposed to, instead of doing what any normal person would do- parachute from the plane, allowing it to crash and thereby kill the snake. Sadly, Grandpa passed away before I really got to know him. And despite my light-heartedness here, I know war is a brutal and dark thing. I want to take a moment and acknowledge the many real heroes whose sacrifices will not be forgotten, and who will always be missed by those who love them.
|Grandpa & Grandma Frost|
With Every Letter is a book to be savored, like a good cup of coffee. Or tea, if you prefer. Plan to settle down, snuggle in, and engage in a story that doesn’t let go. I’m going to be up front and tell you- Tom is a different kind of hero. We all love the step up & take charge, confident, bold hero. The fearless, give orders, and don’t-take-no-for-an-answer hero. Tom isn’t any of those things. At least, not at first. He’s wrapped himself up so tight it’s almost hard to see his shining armor underneath. Why is he here? Because Tom doesn’t stay that way. He learns from his mistakes. He chooses to change, and in doing so, he becomes the man he has always wanted to be. And we, as the reader, get a perfect view of the long, slow, beautiful dance that is Tom and Mellie’s story.
About With Every Letter - Wings of the Nightingale Book 1 (released Sept. 2012):
Lt. Mellie Blake is a nurse serving in the 802nd Medical Squadron, Air Evacuation, Transport. As part of a morale building program, she reluctantly enters into an anonymous correspondence with Lt. Tom MacGilliver, an officer in the 908th Engineer Aviation Battalion in North Africa. As their letters crisscross the Atlantic, Tom and Mellie develop a unique friendship despite not knowing the other's true identity. When both are transferred to Algeria, the two are poised to meet face to face for the first time. Will they overcome their fears and reveal who they are, or will their future be held hostage to their past? And can they learn to trust God and embrace the gift of love he offers them?
Excerpt from With Every Letter:
“Excuse me, gentlemen. That’s not all. Please be seated.”
Tom settled back into his chair.
“With Lieutenant Colonel Black’s permission…” Newman nodded to the commanding officer of the 908th. “I have an invitation for you.”
He put one foot on a chair and raised a sheepish smile. With his square face and dark good looks, he could be in a movie himself. “This is my wife’s idea. Personally, I think it’s corny, but my wife’s a beautiful woman, so what can I say?”
Tom joined in the men’s laughter.
“This movie inspired her. She charmed the nurses in her charge to write letters to you oafs. Anonymous letters, like in the movie.”
He held up a stack of envelopes. “You each get one letter. You can reply or not, your choice. If you do, play by my wife’s rules, or she’ll make my life miserable. No names, no pictures, and no personal details- hometown, people’s names, anything like that.”
Tom sat up taller, and his mouth drifted open. If he were in an actual movie, a shaft of light would have pierced the deck of the ship and landed on him.
Free from the prison of his name, he could be himself. He hadn’t had that with another soul since he was seven. Even with his mother, he kept tight control to reassure her.
He squeezed his eyes shut. Lord, please. Let the letter be from the right sort of woman.
Lieutenant Newman passed out the envelopes, and Tom ripped his open.
A snapshot tumbled out. A pretty brunette in a cheesecake pose.
He sighed. Even though she’d broken the rules, he read the letter. The young woman gushed over movie stars and big bands and dancing with her friends, and said she sent the photo so he’d write back. So he’d know she wasn’t an ugly hag.
Tom looked up. All around him, men smiled and pointed to their letters. Once again, alone in a crowd. He’d pass the letter on to a man who would appreciate her froth and bubbles.
A few rows ahead, three officers broke out into raucous laughter, centered around Lt. Martin Quincy, one of the three platoon commanders in Company B.
Quincy stood. “You fellows want a laugh? Listen to this dame- ‘Before I start this letter, I must be clear that I’m searching for friendship, not romance. I don’t want to mislead you or toy with your affections. I do apologize if you hoped for a romantic letter from a perky beauty.’
“You know what that means?” Quincy shook the letter. “She’s a cross between a monkey and a cow.”
“You lucky dog.” Lieutenant Reed, the third platoon leader, broke down into laughter. “Imagine your children. Your ugly mug and hers.”
Quincy cussed. “Just my luck. Who wants to trade?”
“I do,” Tom whispered, but his voice didn’t carry over the crowd’s jeers.
Quincy crumpled the letter and lobbed it into the trash can by the door.
The men rose to leave, but Tom stayed in his seat, gaze fixed on the trash can. No one deserved to be thrown away. Abandoned.
After the officers left, a private arranged the movie reels for rewinding, and Tom retrieved the letter from the trash.
Excerpt used with permission. All rights reserved.
Gallant ScoreHe dug her letter out of the garbage, ok? Does that resonate with anyone else? Reading this scene took me back to that awkward, gangly, teenage stage when I just wanted someone (besides mom or dad) to think I was worth something just the way I was. Tom values Mellie as a person even before he knows who she is or what she looks like. Throughout the story, he continues to give her guidance and be a listening ear that she desperately needs. At the same time, he is giving her the confidence to become a better person, because he loves her from the inside, out. When he finds himself drawn to a flight nurse, Tom makes the choice to avoid her, choosing to honor his anonymous sweetheart and his love for her, instead.
Wounded ScoreTom has some deep wounds. His need for anonymity comes with good cause. What do you do when your name is synonymous with “murder”? Tom comes across as wishy-washy, and he has a hard time earning respect. Tom knows what he needs to do, but can’t bring himself to cross that line. He has a reason for that- a good one. But being so bound to his past brings a wrecking ball to his present and threatens his future in a big way. He is literally forced to become what he always feared. When the dust settles, Tom must choose whether to let his wounds become scars, and bear them with honor, or to bleed out, and watch his dreams die slowly.
Softie ScoreI think Sesame is proof enough of Tom’s worthiness here. (What can I say? I’m a dog person) But ya’ll probably need more, so…Tom cares about Mellie, too. And he isn’t afraid to show it. He treats her with respect, kindness, and honor. He continues to love and reach out to her, encouraging her to trust him and overcome her fear.
Stupid StrikesThe nature of Tom’s character kind of makes me want to pop him a few times. Ultimately his choices come with appropriate consequences. And when it comes to Mellie, he really is doing the right thing. But there is one thing that I must strike him for… YES! That’s for not putting your buddy’s life first.
Swoon ScoreTall. Blond hair and blue eyes. Sun tanned. Tom is a good looking guy (see above link again for a reminder). But what is so great about this story is that the focus isn’t on appearances. To borrow a quote from one of my favorite movies, you learn to love and “…trust the soul of a man (or woman) rather than the look of him (or her).” Tom is swoon worthy because of his gentle, patient pursuit of the woman he loves. He doesn’t give up, and his persistence pays off. Tom and Mellie’s story isn’t perfect. Sometimes it hurts. But I loved it because it’s real. And their flaws and failures are not often dealt with so honestly in fiction stories.
Sarah Sundin is the author of On Distant Shores and With Every Letter in the Wings of the Nightingale series, and also the Wings of Glory series. In 2011, A Memory Between Us was a finalist in the Inspirational Reader's Choice Awards and Sarah received the Writer of the Year Award at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. Sarah lives in northern California with her husband and three children. When she isn’t ferrying kids to tennis and karate, she works on-call as a hospital pharmacist and teaches Sunday school and women’s Bible studies. Please visit her at http://www.sarahsundin.com.
The FHF Exclusive Directly from the AuthorCharacter inspirations can come from the oddest places. Lt. Tom MacGilliver’s character was inspired by a newspaper article about a man who was about to be executed, leaving behind a young son. My heart broke for that little boy. What would it be like to grow up knowing you were the son of a condemned murderer? And what if—the gears turn in my devious author mind—what if the son bore the murderer’s name? What if that murder carried a “Lizzie Borden” notoriety? What if he had to spend every waking moment convincing people he wasn’t dangerous?
So Tom MacGilliver came to be. I’m not totally heartless. I gave him a determined and loving mother, a strong relationship with the Lord, and a naturally sunny personality. Then Tom is offered a chance to enter an anonymous correspondence with an Army flight nurse, inspired by the classic Jimmy Stewart movie, The Shop Around the Corner (which also inspired You’ve Got Mail). Tom leaps at this opportunity. Anonymity means freedom. For the first time in his life, he can be genuine and open and have a true friendship.
As an Army engineer in World War II, Tom faces challenges from the moment his Engineer Aviation Battalion lands in North Africa. He struggles to build airfields under fire, in the mud, in primitive conditions, and with limited supplies. He struggles to lead his “misfit squadron” when he’s been trained all his life never to show anger or make waves. And he struggles with his growing feelings for his anonymous nurse. If she knew his identity, would she still love him?
This story was a lot of fun to write and a challenge—with dual identities for hero and heroine, delays in letters being delivered, and keeping track of who knew what and when—all set against the backdrop of the turquoise Mediterranean.
***And another bonus- if you all love the cover of this book as much as I do, check out this cool inside look at the biggest challenge for the photo shoot here: http://brandonhillphotos.com/with-every-letter/ ***
Thanks so much to Sarah for sharing Tom and With Every Letter with us.
The giveawaysWe’re giving away one copy of With Every Letter, print or e-book, winner’s choice, to a randomly drawn commenter. Make sure you tell us if you want in the book drawing and leave an email address in a spam fighting format like bomber jackets rule (at) I want one dot com
If you’ve already read Letter, you can still win a $10 Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift card by leaving us the name of a character from the book. Once the character name has been used here in the comments, you have to find another.
Drawings will be courtesy of Random.org on October 14th.
And just one more thing, before we go. Imagine you’re alive during WWII. What would YOU do to help your country? Be a Rosie the Riveter? Work in a hospital or become a flight nurse like Mellie? Or maybe a female journalist, braving all to put the truth in print for the loved ones at home? I want to know!