I mentioned last week that one of the reasons I wrote Notes of Love and War, set in Baltimore during WWII, was to try to capture what it might have been like to fall in love through letters written during a war. The only way I know what it was like is by reading my parents letters to each other during and after the war and trying to read between the lines. My mother was very forthright but also I could sense a hesitancy to speak her mind. But I did see hints of it.
Those hints helped me to imagine Audrey Harper’s personality and how she’d approach difficult conversations while trying to get to know Charlie Powers better through their correspondence. Let me show you a couple examples of my mother’s letters to give you a clearer image of what I mean.
The following transcription of the letter in the picture comes from a friendly letter dated March 23, 1948. Note this is after the war, but they’d been writing as pen pals for years before. However, in one of my mother’s letters she confesses that after my father became engaged to another woman, she threw away his letters! He apparently must have done the same thing, because the first extant letter I have is dated November 1945 from my mother to my father. This is after my dad had been discharged from the army and the war was over for all intents and purposes. So let’s pick up with this:
“My Dear Friend,
Today had been so warm! Right now no one, I don’t believe, could talk me into visiting Florida. Hot weather and I are better enemies!
Murray, how’s the work coming along? Keep learning, Friend, and building on that solid foundation you’ve laid! I know that whatever you do, will be done to the best of your ability! Keep it up and I’ll be pulling for you!
And about that receptionist you’re looking for – there’s a friend of mine who has always wanted to be a receptionist. She would be just the one for the job except she doesn’t like Florida’s warm weather! Goodness here I am complaining about the weather again –
The funny part about it, I have been thinking, just a little, about looking for a job as receptionist. I’m getting tired of sitting at a desk punching keys. Nine years is enough of that. Oh and another thing, what would the starting salary be? After all that is an important thing to consider.
I sure was sorry to hear about your tennis rackets being stolen. Why don’t you ask Santa and maybe next Xmas you’ll find one in your stocking. It worked this Xmas for me. Try it!!
Murray, there’s an old saying ‘Action speaks louder than words.’ If I’m to be your girl, seems to me the best thing for you to do is to prove it. – How about coming up the last week of April? Could you manage to be here on Thursday April 27?
This warm weather has really brought the frogs out! I love to hear them at night time. Seems to put me in a dreamy mood!
Friend, don’t let your dreaming run away with you – concerning us. Just remember that I have made no promises of any kind!
But I do think you should come up so we can see each other and know how we stand – that is, whether we want to continue along the “boy and girl” lines or – just pals!
Knowing what I do about their future, let me point out some hints. The first big one is her commenting twice about the weather, and emphasizing the heat and how she doesn’t like it. This becomes one of the key reasons why my dad moved to Maryland instead of insisting on her moving to Miami after they married: he knew she didn’t like hot weather.
The second hint is her asking about changing jobs to do something different than what she’s been doing for nine years. Dad’s letters talk about how she won’t need to work after they’re married, but she’s laying it out for him in this letter that she intends to do so.
Both of these points I’ve incorporated in my story but with a bit of a difference in how they are addressed by each of my characters. Please keep in mind that while I’ve pulled insights and concerns from my parents’ letters, Notes of Love and War is definitely not their story! For one thing, as a fellow author pointed out to me, I really didn’t want to try to imagine my parents’ intimate moments. Better to leave that to fictional characters!
Another interesting tidbit popped up in a letter Mom wrote after she’d become engaged and was planning their wedding. Dad was still living and working in Miami when she wrote this letter on September 8, 1948. I’ll only include the most relevant snippet this time and leave out the mushy-ness. <grin> She wrote in part:
“Honey what songs do we want sung at our wedding? There’s one I would like sung after we are pronounced
Man Husband and Wife –– ‘Bless be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.’
Do you approve of this being sung?”
This blew me away to read! I mean, to me my mother was always very circumspect, feminine, and traditional. This seems far more feminist and progressive to me for her in 1948! To equate the married pair as “husband” and “wife” instead of he being “man” and she his possession. Instead they belong to each other. And yet she’s still seeking his agreement if not permission to have one of her favorite hymns sung at their wedding. What conflicting views, to my mind. Or perhaps she’s showing a willingness to work with him, to compromise, in order to have a partnership—look at that ‘fellowship of kindred minds’ line—in their marriage.
I’ve read through all the letters in my possession, absorbing as much of their mindset, their concerns, references to music and plays, and to family doings, in order to create an echo of that culture and situation in Notes of Love and War. Please let me know if you think I hit the mark!
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Now available for preorder! Notes of Love and War will release on July 28, 2020, in honor of my dad’s 100th birthday!
Audrey Harper needs more than home and hearth to satisfy her self-worth despite being raised with the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. Working as a music critic for the city newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland, during the Second World War, she’s enjoyed both financial freedom and personal satisfaction in a job well done. When she uncovers evidence of German spies working to sabotage a secret bomber plane being manufactured in her beloved city, she must choose between her sense of duty to protect her city and the urgings of her boss, her family, and her fiancé to turn over her evidence to the authorities. But when her choices lead her and her sister into danger, she is forced to risk life and limb to save her sister and bring the spies to justice.
Set against the backdrop of the flourishing musical community during the 1940s in Baltimore, Notes of Love and War weaves together the pleasure of musical performance with the dangers of espionage and spying.