James Diehl is the author of World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware, a fascinating and absorbing book that is sure to be a hit. Please be sure to check it out, it is due to release on a most appropriate day, Veteran's Day, November 11, 2009. In the meantime, I want to sincerely thank Mr. Diehl for taking the time to answer a few questions. He came up with some really great answers and I hope everyone enjoys them as much as I did.
Tell us a bit about World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware. What is the story about, who are the characters, etc.?
Heroes is about the experiences of 48 men and two women who have ties to southern Delaware, but it is not at all about the nation’s first state. It’s about their experiences in Europe, in Asia, in Africa and throughout the world as America and its allies fought about Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany during World War II. It’s about the sacrifices they made then so that we may live as we do today in the greatest country in the world. These brave souls risked their lives in defense of our country during a time unlike any other, before or since. They are all heroes, and I’ve been privileged to tell their stories.
How do you come up with the names of your characters? It almost seems as though, as an author, you have the continuous fun of naming children.
Both of my books thus far have been works of non-fiction, so the “characters” have already been named for me. In the case of Heroes, they were named between 80 and 90 years ago, but many of them are definitely characters. Some of their stories, their remembrances, are better than any fiction I could have possibly come up with. That’s what makes Heroes so engaging; the stories are very real and very emotional, told first-hand by men and women who lived through one of the toughest times the world has ever known.
What do you want readers to take away from reading World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware?
I want readers to truly comprehend and grasp the sacrifices the men and women of the 1940s made all those years ago. Every person in my book is a hero, though not of one of them is comfortable with that moniker. To hear their stories and feel the emotion in their voices as they tell them was something I’ll never forget. I only hope I’ve done their stories justice; I feel in my heart that I have.
What was the most fun about writing World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware?
When I began on Heroes, I thought I knew quite a bit about World War II; I soon learned I was very wrong. It was a lot of fun learning about this important time in history from the perspective of men and women who were actually there. It was such a complex time in the world and to have that opportunity was something truly special. That chance will not be available much longer.
What was the hardest part about writing it?
The hardest part was capturing the essence of these stories in a way that I felt did them justice. These brave men and women endured so much during the 1940s and I wanted more than anything to tell their stories in the best possible way. It took lots of tweaking and many hours of obsessing, but two years later I’m hopeful the final product speaks for itself. It was a long journey, but I’m very proud of the way it turned out.
Could you please tell us about your writing process?
As a journalist, my writing begins with what I’ve always termed the “reporting.” I do the interviews, transcribe my notes, conduct my research, get organized and then sit down to write. I like going through a story or a chapter the first time without taking a break, trying to nail down the flow of the piece. I find if I have to walk away in the middle of a story or chapter, it’s difficult to recapture the flow of that particular piece. It’s not impossible, just a little more difficult. So I like to write a rough draft first for flow and then go back and start the cleanup process. With Heroes, it was several rewrites on each story and continuously obsessing about each one. It was a very emotional project for me, which I hope shows in the writing.
Do you have any particular habits that you take part in while writing? By that I mean certain music you like to listen to, foods you like to eat, environment that helps you write better, etc.
I do a lot of my best writing between 4 and 8 a.m., when my mind is sharp and the Red Bull is flowing. I know a lot of younger writers enjoy listening to music while they’re writing, but I just don’t do well with that. I need things to be quiet, which is why I get up so early in the morning when my kids are still asleep and the chaos of the day has yet to take effect. As far as food is concerned, I’ll sometimes head to the drug store and buy a box of Junior Mints if I’m stuck on a particular story or passage. Cures the writer’s block every time!
Where do you get your ideas and inspirations?
In addition to the two books I’ve written, I also write for several magazines and newspapers and I find I get a lot of my ideas from simply going out in the community and talking with people. I’m a firm believer that everyone has a story to tell; as a writer, I enjoy the challenge of finding that story. For World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware, however, it was all about inspiration. These men and women inspired me in a way that I hadn’t been inspired in quite some time. They are such wonderful souls and I am very grateful that they opened up to me in such a special way.
If you had to summarize your life and give it a book title, what would that title be?
He’s Just a Good Ole’ Boy.
What are you reading right now?
The Associate by John Grisham.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I love anything by John Grisham and am also a big fan of J.A. Jance. I also enjoy reading classical novels when I have time, which seems to be less and less often these days.
What were some of your favorite books as a child?
Growing up, I always enjoyed reading the Hardy Boys series. Frank and Joe’s lives were so exciting, always filled with all these mysteries and colorful characters. Much like the old Scooby Doo cartoons, it was often pretty easy to figure out who the culprit was in each tale, but that didn’t make them any less fun to read. I probably read every Hardy Boys book two or three times growing up. Even if I knew how they ended, they still filled my life with excitement. When you’re a kid, that’s all you really want.
If you could have lunch and chat with any author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
I think I would probably have to say Ernest Hemingway, simply because his writing has always inspired and intrigued me, as has his life. I would love to sit on the porch of his home in Key West, sip on some fruity drink with an umbrella sticking out of it and pick his brain. It would likely be the greatest lunch of my life, whether we actually ate anything or not.
What do you hope to accomplish within the next five years?
I want to build on the success of World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware and write a couple more books profiling brave men and women from that era. The window is obviously closing pretty rapidly on doing such a project, so I need to move rather quickly. I’m hoping to dedicate a good deal of time to such a project over the next few years
James Diehl is an award-winning journalist who has covered Sussex County, Delaware for various media outlets since 1998. Since 2007, he has owned and operated a freelance writing company based in Seaford, Delaware and is also a partner in a Lewes, Delaware based public relations and marketing firm. He is the author of one other work of non-fiction — Remembering Sussex County, from Zwaanendael to King Chicken, published in 2009 by The History Press. You can follow James on Twitter (@sussexwriter), on Facebook, at his blog, or via the book's official website.