With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin

Monday, September 10, 2012

Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong? Have you ever felt like you couldn’t be your true self?

In my new World War II romance, With Every Letter, flight nurse Lt. Mellie Blake and Army engineer Lt. Tom MacGilliver feel that way

Mellie has never belonged. Raised by her widowed botanist father, she bounced between California and botanical excursions in the Philippines. Too American in the Philippines and too foreign in America. She dresses funny. She wears her hair funny. And she’s naturally shy. While she’s brave and adventurous, caring and merciful, she has never fit in. More than anything, she longs for friendship, for someone to know her and accept her as she is.

Tom lost his father at an early age—when the man was executed for murder. Not just any murder, but the notorious celebrity kind of murder that spawns jump-rope rhymes. And Tom was named after that father. He refuses to lie and change his name, but he bears it as a burden. If he’s angry, sad, or too quiet, people think Tom’s dangerous. So he puts on a friendly, benign façade to put people at ease. But he desperately wants to be his true self with one person.

When Mellie’s chief nurse sees The Shop Around the Corner starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan (the movie that inspired You’ve Got Mail), she recruits the nurses under her command to write anonymous letters to the engineers in her husband’s battalion. Anonymity allows Mellie to make a friend, unencumbered by awkwardness.

Anonymity allows Tom to be genuine, free of the prison of his name. Through their friendship, Mellie learns to be more likeable and social, and Tom learns to be…less likeable and more genuine. Along the way, the friendship takes a romantic turn. However, revealing their identities could lead to heart-wrenching rejection and the loss of their friendship, their lifeline. When they’re both transferred to Algeria, they’re poised to meet in person, which could shatter their dreams—or make them come true.

Tom and Mellie were such fascinating characters to write about, and they made me ponder the difference between our internal selves and our external selves. Most of us, if we’re truly honest, don’t reveal the fullness of our genuine selves. We’re just too flawed. Too weird.

Just as we don’t go out in public with bed-head, unshaven legs, and no make-up (scared you, didn’t I?), we don’t flaunt our rumpled, unshaven, blotchy personalities. We dress up our personalities to make ourselves socially acceptable, to please people.

But this can be overdone, like a fourteen-year-old girl with her first eyeliner pencil. When we conceal all our flaws and quirks and weirdness, we become bland. No one can relate to us. And friendships can’t be genuine unless the friends are genuine.

So we experiment. We try on different hats until we find ones that fit and suit us. We find balance. We develop an external self that reveals the essence of who we are, with the ugly parts properly covered. If we’re truly blessed, we develop a few deep friendships in which we can reveal even the nastiest parts of ourselves, and we grow and love and accept.

I had so much fun playing with these concepts while telling Tom and Mellie’s love story. In addition, I marveled at the exciting work done by the first flight nurses, pioneering women who flew into forward airstrips and evacuated the wounded—without a physician on board to give them orders. I discovered the quietly heroic work done by the Engineer Aviation Battalions, building airfields with inadequate supplies in primitive conditions under enemy fire. And I got to follow Tom and Mellie through Algeria, Tunisia, and Sicily—exotic and harsh and romantic lands.

Thank you for having me here on RomCon. I’m giving away a copy of With Every Letter! Please leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing.

To celebrate the release of With Every Letter, the first book in the Wings of the Nightingale series, I’ve teamed up with Litfuse Publicity to give one winner a Kindle Fire! Click here for more information: http://litfusegroup.com/campaigns/with-every-letter-by-sarah-sundin-kindlenook-giveaway-facebook-party-and-blog-tour

To learn more about Sarah Sundin and her books, please visit her website at http://www.sarahsundin.com, her blog at http://www.sarahsundin.blogspot.com, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SarahSundinAuthor, or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sarahsundin.