Thursday, August 2, 2012

Darkness and Light during the Depression and World War II: An interview with historical fiction author Joyce Shaughnessy

Today I am talking with Joyce Shaughnessy about her historical fiction novels focusing on the Great Depression and World War II.


1) Tell me about your books. 

 I self-published two books with Xlibris. As part of a series of three books, A Healing Place takes the reader on a journey from the Dustbowl of the Great Depression to their healing place, an oil camp, Texon, Texas. They encounter dangerous oil camps, only to find a place where their family can heal from the devastation of the Depression. I lived in Texon as a child and it was a wonderful community. Then, Jed, their son-in-law, joins the Army and finds himself in the Philippines during WWII. He lives through the starvations and diseases in the battle of Bataan, but when the Americans surrender seventy-six thousand starving, sickly soldiers to the Japanese, they have no idea what a terrible fate awaits them. They are forced to walk the infamous Death March. The Japanese murder over 12,000 men, only to deliver them to cruelty. While in a prison camp, Jed finds his healing place in the power of prayer. The Millers never stop believing in each other, the strength of family, and the healing power of prayer.

My second book in the series is Blessed Are the Merciful, Our Forgotten Soldiers. Elton, a soldier and Susan, a nurse, both stationed in the Philippines, fall in love before WWII. Nine hours after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attack the Philippine Islands. Because General MacArthur is caught by surprise, the Filipino and American soldiers must retreat to Corregidor and Bataan. They fight desperately for six months, the nurses rendering aid at their sides, even living and working close to the front lines. Bataan and Corregidor aren’t stocked with enough food or medicine for the amount of troops they have, and they are all forced into combat while on starvation rations. Susan is interred at Santo Tomas where the civilian captives are also starved, and works in the hospital and the Filipino Underground.

2) What inspired these books?

 I watched a History Channel episode about the Dustbowl of the Great Depression, and it impressed upon me the devastation caused by it. The people caught in the Dust Bowl not only lacked any crops or food, they fought the dust that penetrated their lungs and choked their livestock and children. These people were literally fighting for their lives and those of their children. Then I started reading the about The Death March during WWII in the Philippines and couldn’t stop the research. The atrocities committed by the Japanese against civilians as well as soldiers was horrifying, and the more I read, the more I found. There were also a lot of instances of tremendous courage, which inspired me. There seems to be no end to the reading.

3) What sort of research did you do to prepare to write these books?

 I read about 20 non-fiction books before starting each book. They were about the cause and effects of the Depression and the cause and effects of WWII in the Pacific. I also did research on the internet while writing. I wanted to get all the facts, dates, and personal information correct. My husband is a WWII buff and has a library filled with books about it. I read those and added many more to the collection.

4) You're an American writing from the American perspective. Is there anything you think a lot of Americans misunderstand or have forgotten about this chapter of World War II?

 Many Americans, especially young ones, have no concept of how the war started and especially about the Japanese war in the Pacific. I had one young woman read A Healing Place and comment that she wasn’t even aware that the U.S. fought Japan in WWII. That amazed me. A lot of men and women were involved in that part of the war and many died because at that time, Japan treated all POWs with extreme cruelty. They told them that “they did not deserve to live and that their families would be ashamed of them for 10,000 years.” Many men died trying to retake the Pacific theatre, plus China, Burma, and India.

5) Find anything that surprised you during your research?

I was taken by surprise when I read that the Japanese were very outspoken regarding their aggressive intentions to conquer people who “were non-Japanese.” They even signed an Anti-Comintern Pact with Hitler in 1936. The American Ambassador to Japan, Joseph Grew, warned the U.S. that Japan had announced that they could “take any Western occupied territory and that they “can do anything we want.” The U.S. didn’t heed the warning and was taken by surprise by the Pearl Harbor attack, even though they had also tracked an enormous buildup of Japanese ships in the Pacific theatre in 1939. The Philippines (a U.S. property at the time), was attacked only nine hours after Pearl Harbor, yet General MacArthur didn’t react after hearing about Pearl Harbor. His planes remained sitting ducks for the Japanese.

6) The Depression, World War II, and Imperial Japanese abuse of POWs aren't exactly the most uplifting topics. That being said, your books also deal with overcoming some of that darkness. Can you discuss some of the "rays of light" you may have found during your research?

The rays of light during the Depression were the many families who struggled to stay together to overcome the terrible times. One example of someone who helped them find a place to work and live in harmony was the philanthropists Joe Trees and M.L. Benedum, who hired Levi Smith to form the oil camp in Texon, Texas. What resulted was mind boggling considering the other oil camps at that time that didn’t even provide tents, much less homes like were in Texon.

I found rays of hope in the nurses who served beside the soldiers on the front lines and risked their own lives to save others. They continued to work in the internment hospital although they were living on starvation rations. That is where I first conceived the name Blessed Are the Merciful. Also, there were many men caught as POWs who tried to save other lives, such as the ones who worked as doctors in the camps and spiritual advisors. There were Filipinos who gave their lives trying to feed the men on the Death March.

7) What do you hope people get out of your books?

I hope they become more aware of some important eras in U.S. history. I also hope they feel inspired by the courage of not only our fighting soldiers but also the ones who aided them. I also hope they are inspired by the Miller family who stayed together no matter the hardships, believed in and loved each other. It also cost a tremendous amount of money during that time to build Texon, and it saved lives and families for years to come.

8) Please tell us about your future works.

I am writing my third book in this series, The Unsurrendered, A Search for Jacob. It is a much more substantial work. I make Jacob a secret agent in pre-war Tokyo when he tries to warn the U.S. about the impending threat. Also my heroine, Carla, who is Filipina and a college professor, goes to Tokyo in 1936 to study the culture and language in Japan. She discovers very quickly that she is unwanted there and has to escape with her life. They both eventually fall in love and marry and become part of the partisan group (250,000 men and women) fighting behind the lines in the Philippines during WWII. Jacob is captured by the Japanese and Carla must save him! 


Thanks, Joyce.

If you'd like to read more from Joyce, please check out

Her books can be purchased at Amazon.


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