Friday 22 March 2013

In His Stead Interview with Judith Sanders

I have kidnapped the wonderful Judith Sanders to talk about her book "In His Stead". In my life time I've seen different sides of war and I thought it would be interesting to get her opinion on different aspects of war and the morality of taking a loved one's place. Check it out.

In His Stead” is an inspiring story of a retired Army Ranger, Thomas Lane, who finds himself in a battle with the US Army, it’s legal JAG corps, and a vengeful officer to prevent his last son from serving in Afghanistan by offering to take his son’s place. While at home another conflict ignites with the very son he’s trying to protect and his own wife who has the Solomon-like choice of either sending another son or her husband off to war.


The military and more precisely war has been the backdrop of Judith’s life. As a civilian nurse Judith had the honor to serve the military at Fort Detrick in Maryland. Her brother served in Japan after the Korean War. Judith’s husband, Frank, served with the U. S. Army for seven years as a physician and during the first Gulf War. The Vietnam War took high school friends and extended family & debilitated others (PTSD and injuries). Some of these brave men lost their lives, others lost their souls. Now she has two grand nephews, one in the Marines, the other the Army, who have just returned from their first tours in Afghanistan.
These proud, capable young men, like all of our military are always in her prayers.
As a mother, as a single mom, as the wife of someone in the military, as a caring nurse, and as a person who has felt the pain of separation from a loved one during a time of war, Judith has pulled out all of those emotions and experiences and released them into her writing.
Judith is blessed to have been allowed into the lives of the many soldiers, civilians serving for the military, patients, and family who were kind enough to share their stories. Judith is an avid reader and a natural storyteller. She feels the best stories are those based on real people living and struggling through this life one chapter at a time.
Judith now makes writing her full time career and divides her time between her homes in New Hampshire and North Carolina.


Ø  Tell me in one sentence what the purpose is of "In His Stead".

The intention of In His Stead is to redefine the cost of war in terms of its impact on families.  

Ø  Is this subject something that steams from personal experience?

Like so many people, war has been the backdrop of my life. My father worked in a defense plant during WWII where he contracted lung cancer from asbestos exposure. My father in-law served in the Navy. My brother served in Japan after the Korean War. I lost high school friends in Vietnam. My brother in-law was an Army sniper during that war and still suffers from Post Traumatic Stress. My husband spent seven years as a physician in the Army. I worked as a civilian nurse for the Army. And right now I have two grandnephews serving; on in the Army and the other with the Marines. They were both very much on my mind while I was writing this novel. They have just returned from their first tours in Afghanistan. This stimulus for this novel as you have read in the foreword was a ‘gift’ from my nephew, Jim.

Like many high school graduates, Jim’s son was undecided on a career path and could not find a job. Jim did not want his son to blindly put himself in harm’s way simply because of Uncle Sam’s tempting signing bonus. If his son chose the military after high school then Jim said he would try to take his son’s place. I hope In His Stead gives my readers an inside view of not only the personal cost of war paid by the soldier but the ripple affect that a soldier’s life, loss of life, and/or deployment has on society, family, and all those he or she encounters. While writing, I interviewed military service personnel returning from Afghanistan and their sentiments made me realize that this story needed to be told.

Ø  What is your view on the morality of taking someone's place when going off to war.  

The morality of war and the morality of taking someone’s place are miles apart and yet connected by cause and motive. So let me explain where I am coming from.

The bombing of the Twin Towers certainly sent me in to revenge mode. But, I have always found that my target (excluding Ben Laden) for my righteous indignation to be somewhat elusive. Reprisals by our military aimed at the guilty, have caused innocents to suffer. And from this, morally I have two concerns. The first is that I fear that moving towards drone attacks may make war too convent. It is the horrors of war that remind us of its consequences. Without seeing the shocking devastation of our secret attacks, how can we suffer the repulsion necessary to seek peace? My second concern is that this war against terrorism may be repeating a lesson I thought we had learned from history. During the Civil War in 1863 New York City suffered the largest civil insurrection in American history. The violent response by the working class and poor immigrants who were discontent with the new draft laws passed by Congress was due to the fact that the rich could opt out of military service by paying for a substitute. Hence the newspapers dubbing it “A rich man’s war but a poor man’s battle”. While we no longer have a draft I am still concerned that as more and more of our lawmakers in Congress and those in the executive branch have no military experience, that a gap is again forming. This time it is not between rich and poor but between civilians and the military. Daily news broadcasts, of this our longest war, are now glanced over like the daily weather report by the 99% of civilians who have no direct family member involvement. This is unfortunate.

A Pew Research Center survey in 2011 came to the conclusion: “A smaller share of Americans currently serve in the Armed Forces than at any other time since the era between the World Wars I and II, a new low that has led to a growing gap between people in uniform and the civilian population, according to a new survey…The result is a military far less connected to the rest of society; a condition that some academics have said might not bode well for the future of military-civilian relations (the military is run by civilians). Others have warned that less connection between the military and the rest of society could lead to less-informed decisions about whether to go to war, because conflicts and the people who fight them are not part of most people’s lives. What we have is an armed services that’s at war and a public that’s not very engaged,” said Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew research Center.

So the answer is not short but pure. Parents sacrifice in one-way or another for their children every day and no one knows it least of all the children. Working extra hours for soccer shoes, forgoing new clothes to pay for medicine for a sick child…I could go on and on. It is true that at the worst of times, humans shine. Strangers help one another at car crashes, dive in to raging waters to save someone drowning. The impetus for a parent to give their life without thought of a monetary reward is almost a reflexive action. Life, especially the life of our young, must be preserved.

To pay someone to take your seat on a plane that will most certainly crash is repugnant to me. It assumes one life is more valuable than another. It is a judgment that plays on the weaker, more desperate of society. It would be interesting if we could go back in time and interview Andrew Carnegie’s paid substitute. I would love to know if that poor Irish immigrant survived the Civil war. And to what purpose did the $850 Carnegie gave him go? It may have been a bottle of beer or may have been to fed his children. Who knows?

Ø  Can you talk a little about Hearts Apart? - What is it, why are you donating a portion of the proceeds to it?

HeartsApart is a charity for military families. It was started in Wilmington North Carolina by local businessman Brett Martin and professional photographer Brownie Harris. The charity was a finalist in the Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden Joining Forces Community Challenge. The goal of HeartsApart is to keep families connected through professional keepsake photos.

Professional photos are taken of a family who has a member deploying. The family receives a set of these photos and the member deploying receives a trifold card with the same photos. The trifold card is dirt, rain, and sweat proof. You might say ‘war’ proof. The soldier can roll it up and place it in their helmet or pocket.

There are now over 350 professional photographers all over the United States volunteering with HeartsApart. Even though phone and internet have helped connect soldiers to their families, in my interviews I’ve learned that those soldiers are often in harms way for extended periods without those luxuries and holding and looking at those photos is a huge boost to the soldier sitting alone in a bunker or on a mountain in Afghanistan. Because of those in my family now serving and having served, HeartsApart was the ideal connection to give a little back to those who protect my family and me.

Ø  How do you write? Are you a planner or a pantser? Do you have a set writing location? Do you have dead silence or background noise?

I am an extreme planner/plotter. I outline every chapter, map out plot points, and do separate and complete profiles for each character. After I have done this mapping for the novel the characters and their problems become very real people to me. I am completely invested in their movements. My workspace is central to my home. Noise helps me focus. I was a single mother with three very active boys. While they are now grown and have their own families my earlier experience with juggling family, work, and college has trained my brain to screen out distractions.

Ø  What are you currently working on? 

 I am currently working on a squeal to my first novel, Crescent Veil, a children’s ‘green’ novel, and a novel that addresses stereotyping in our society and how it distracts from understanding, and getting to know those interesting people who do not fit the accepted norms.

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