LOVE AT WAR by me, Viola Russell, takes place during WWII. It is the story of Nuala Comeaux Roussel, a young New Orleanian who marries Keith, a friend of her brothers’. When Keith is presumably killed in battle, Nuala joins the military and is recruited by the OSS.
How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?
The idea for the novel was a germ in my brain for a long time. All of my uncles served in WWII, and my Uncle Russell (who never returned) wrote passionate letters home to his young wife. When my mother died, I read Russell’s letters to my grandparents. That summer, my cousin Sandy let me read her dad (Russell’s) letters to her mother and her mother’s letters to him. Wow! They were passionate. I’m not telling their story (even though I did name Nuala’s daughter Sandy), but I’m telling the story of that generation. Many young people went to war as innocent kids. Many lost their lives and their innocence.
How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?
I think part of me is in any of my main characters, but I only pray I’m like Nuala. I am somewhat like her because many people see me as very ladylike and proper, not very forceful or powerful. Nuala’s family sees her in the same way, but she shows her power, even ruthlessness, when she is recruited by the OSS.
Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favorite? Why?
Nuala Comeaux Roussell is the main character. She is fragile and gentle on the outside but strong and determined on the inside. She’s beautiful but outwardly modest, and her demeanor makes her the perfect covert operative. Keith Roussel is her husband. He is loving and passionate, but he is a fierce warrior and expert marksman. He doesn’t break, even when tortured. Nuala’s brothers also play major roles in the novel, particularly George. George begins the novel as a lovable smartass. By the novel’s end, he’s battle-hardened, but he still has immense passion and love inside. He’s a very complex character, one of the most complex I’ve ever written. Chiye Toguri is also a covert operative. She becomes Nuala’s confidante, and her character is as complex as is George’s.
Who is your most unusual/most likeable character?
This is a tough one. The character who evolved the most is George, but Nuala has a special place in my heart. I imagined her physically like my mother–who also was a beautiful woman–and I even sent Nika Dixon, the talented cover artist, a picture of my mother when she deigned the book. Nuala embodies everything implied in the term “steel magnolias.”
How long did it take you to write your book?
I began writing the book in earnest after extensive research. I had written the first scene for the Dixie Kane contest, which is offered by my local RWA chapter. Then, I read books and scoured the internet. The actual writing took less than six months, but I wrote mostly in the summer. I was like a person possessed. This book was intensely personal.
How do you develop and differentiate your characters?
My characters developed as they faced certain trying situations. The more I researched, the more I wanted to add to my plot, and my characters evolved with each new adventure. They spoke to me, and I heard their voices. Many, like George, grew in ways I hadn’t anticipated.
How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?
I had to see the war end in LOVE AT WAR. I didn’t want to stop at Normandy because the war still raged. I wanted to show the aftermath. Several characters also had to face justice. Karma will out!
What challenges did you face as you wrote this book?
The most difficult part was that I wanted to be accurate about the history and facts, and I tend to be a perfectionist. I’d be in the middle of a scene, and I’d then have to move quickly to the internet to confirm a detail. I wanted accuracy on things like the types of weapons the various armies used and on the various uniforms.
Writing the book was a profound experience for me. This book was the most personal one I’d ever written. It was a Valentine for my mother. In many ways, I was writing the book for her, and I dedicated it to my uncles.
How has your background influenced your writing?
My mother encouraged me to read and to study. She read to me often, and I owe my love of reading to her. My father had uncommon guts and gall. He bootlegged during the Depression, trained prize fighters, and also trained race horses. He had four wives. My mother, his widow, was seventeen years his junior. One day, I’ll tell his story. Both of my parents had grit. They grew up poor, worked hard, and had pride.
What writer influenced you the most?
Louisa May Alcott was probably my biggest influence. I read LITTLE WOMEN and wanted to be Jo. I also loved Anna Sewell’s BLACK BEAUTY. My dad trained horses, and I think they are gorgeous creatures. It was after I read those books that I told my mother I wanted to be a writer.