This summer marks the 100th anniversary of World War I, a global military devastation that took place between 1914 and 1918.
In his first published book, Flower of Iowa, openly gay author and writer Lance Ringel crafted a historical fiction that takes place during the summer of 1918. The book centers around U.S. soldier Tommy Flowers and British military man David Pearson, two young men in their late teens who share a close friendship that soon blossoms into romance, played out against the backdrop of WWI.
Windy City Times talked with Ringel about two soldiers in love, meeting war veterans and working with Meryl Streep.
Windy City Times: When did you start writing your ebook Flower of Iowa?
Lance Ringel: I came up with the notion of it way back and started writing it 21 years ago in 1993. It took me four-plus years to do the first draft, and I had been tweaking and revising it ever since. It's felt like it has come of age and it needed to get out in the world and now it is.
WCT: As you moved forward in life since 1993, were there changes you made to the book?
LR: Actually, no. It's more about how I've been received because there were a lot of people who found the topic kind of controversial when I started shopping it after I finished the first draft. Another wonderful thing that happened to methat made everything possibleis that there are now ebooks and there wasn't such a thing in the 1990s.
WCT: Have you ever met any WWI veterans?
LR: I was actually working at Windy City Times during a time when I was writing this and I was living in Chicago. I had gone to the 75th-anniversary observance of the end of the First World War; [the event] was held in suburban Chicago. At that time, in 1993, there were still people alive. There were about 70 vets there and they were all in their 90s and they're all gone now. The last doughboy [the nickname given to members of the U.S.Army in World War I ) died a few years ago, so that was the most striking difference where people with first hand memory of this warin terms of having been in uniformare gone. Anybody else that is still alive is in their 100s and was a very small child.
WCT: Did you talk to any relatives of men who had been involved in romantic relationships with other men during that war?
LR: I've not met anybody personally but in the research I came across, a reasonable amount of evidence showsgiven how much we've been erased from historythat there was that kind of activity and romance in the First World War.
I took several trips to Europe to research this. I was on a plane coming back from Iceland and there was this woman on the plane sitting next to me; she asked me what I was doing and I told her. She then said, "My aunt was one of the only American women who went over to France during the First World War and served as a nurse." I've got copies of her letters. I had already been thinking about a character like Sister Jean [the Canadian nurse in the book], and that really helped me solidify part of what I wanted to do around her character.
WCT: Tommy and David do not refer to themselves as "gay" or "homosexual." Would there have been another label put on them?
LR: You have to keep in mind that the period that we are writing aboutmost people don't even have words for it. On the flip side of that, most men, amongst each other, were much more physically casual and comfortable with each other. When Tommy and David first meet, they literally sleep togetherall they do is just sleep togetherbut soldiers did that because there wasn't any label that anybody put to things like that.
WCT: Neither of these two soldiers feel any sense of regret after being intimate.
LR: What's interesting about what happens in the book is that they cross the line while in England but it doesn't happen while they are at the front. The morning after they have to learn to come to terms with it. In some ways they do and in some ways they deal with it the way a lot of soldiers may have dealt with it. They don't have a sense of being part of a different group; they just realize that this is something that makes them happy.
WCT: Was it difficult to write a historical fiction book?
LR: It was challenging but rewarding. WWI is very well-documented and when you're writing historical fiction, one way you can do itwhich is the way I chose to do itis to really do your research about what happened and weave your characters and your plot with what happened. That is a lot more work and it is also more fun.
WCT: Did you pull from your own life to write Tommy and David's story?
LR: I lived in a very different time and I came out later than these two did and I also think of coming out as a continuous process, from the time you first tell one person to the time you tell the world.
WCT: You are a writer at Vassar College. What does your job entail?
LR: The job is to write primarily for the president of the college. I have also had the good fortune of being the principal writer of the stage reading that we did all around the country and in London for our 150th anniversary. We premiered it in New York, with alums like Meryl Streep and Lisa Kudrow reading.
The ebook Flower of Iowa is at www.smashwords.com/books/view/434195 or www.barnesandnoble.com .