It would be fair to say that my interest in WWII started with my grandfather, whose first name I carry. This picture was taken at the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial in Livergnano, Italy—his final resting place. It was profound to me to observe that his marker is one of so few Jewish Stars of David among his fellow fallen soldiers, each of whom gave their lives to a cause greater than themselves.
I don't have many stories about my grandfather or his short life from which to draw. I suppose it's fair to say I was inspired to write some stories of my own, dramas in which a man like him may have participated.
Central to my latest novel, Jingle Boys, is the piano. In particular, I was fascinated in my research to learn about the "Victory Vertical"—a special piano built by Steinway & Sons during WWII when materials like wood, copper, and other metals necessary to create them were strictly rationed. Steinway was allowed to make just 2,500 or so of these pianos in service to soldiers who simply wanted music out on the battlefield. These babies were shipped, flown, and parachuted to soldiers in every theater of war. The one in this picture is being preserved and displayed at a small museum near me! Such a treat to se one in real life!
Check out the story of the "Victory Vertical" at Steinway & Sons:
No research is complete without reading a few things. I hit the mother load at the New York Public Library in Brooklyn, the city where a substantial part of my novel, Jingle Boys, takes place.
They had an entire collection of newspapers, photos, city plans, old subway tunnel maps, and collectibles from WWII that can't be found anywhere else in the world. It was like time traveling to find all the wonderful details that I needed to help be build a rich narrative.
I often say writing isn't a solitary art, even though a lot happens when I'm alone in my head. Nevertheless, good historical fiction relies on good historical research and, for that, I needed help. I was able to schedule time with my instant friend, the librarian, Ben (no longer with the Library) for an hour. And, because he's great, he gave me nearly eight hours of his time! I poured over copies of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and weekend inserts, reviewed old maps and photos, and really felt like I was back in the forties!
Don't think for a minute that research is only about reading and libraries. I like to get outside and have fun, too. That impulse took me to Coney Island. Much of the park has been preserved since the time of my novel (1943-1944). They even sell hot dogs along the pier like the old days. And, while I don't eat meat anymore, I did appreciate the nostalgia.
They say (in writing on the sign) that they don't build coasters like the famous Cyclone anymore. When safety is a concern, I'm not sure that's such a great thing to boast. Maybe there's a reason they don't? Nevertheless, when two complete strangers saw my friend and I mulling over whether we even wanted to try the coaster, they offered to pay for all four of us to leap in and take a chance, which we did. Some things are just meant to happen, people. It was a great ride and a great memory!