Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Featured Author, Shawna K. Williams is Learning about History through Historical Fiction

"No Other," my new release, is a 20thCentury historical romance. The story actually came to me in a dream, so in many ways I feel like it was given to me, more so than made up. There are certain things I've always know about this story because of the dream. I always knew my characters' names – though I played with variations on the spelling. I always knew that Meri was a little bit older than Jakob, and was his teacher by some odd circumstance. I also always knew the time period when the story took place, and that Jakob's family had endured hardship due to their heritage. What I didn't know was how all of these details fit together to form a complete story.
As I began to research the time period, many of these details found their place in the puzzle fairly quickly. For example, I discovered that a fair number of GI's quit school to serve in the war. Some turned eighteen early in their senior year. Some had been held back and were a year behind, and some lied about their age to join. When they returned there was the occasional circumstance of a school giving them a diploma for serving, but many had to finish the old-fashioned way. It made sense that if Jakob's life was somehow interrupted by the war, this would be the case for him too.

One aspect I wasn't satisfied with from the early draft was that discrimination alone counted for the hardship endured by Jakob's family. Whatever happened to them had to be extreme enough to necessitate his need to quit school, and since people of German decent are common in American society, discrimination from this alone didn't seem enough.

One night my husband and I were watching a documentary on the Japanese internment, and it hit me. Had citizens from other cultures associated with the Axis Powers during WWII faced anything similar? My answer was one Google search away. Yes.
Italian Americans and German Americans were both singled out. Because their ethnic appearance blended easily into American society , their discrimination was less frequent than that of Japanese Americans. But if they did find themselves under suspicion, it was harsher.

The internment process was different in that it was treated more like an arrest, complete with a trail. Though evidence in these trials often consisted of things like, a postcard from a relative still in Germany, speaking German where others could hear, or belonging to a German social club (these were clubs where the German culture – music, holidays and food, were the primary focus). These trials rarely resulted in a person being released. Once arrested, the citizen, and often their entire family, was taken to an internment camp. Some of these camps had facilities such as schools and hospitals, but they were surrounded by fifteen foot barbed wire fences, with guard towers stationed every fifty feet or so, and search lights roaming the area at night.

Also, the property of internees was confiscated and sold at auction, bank accounts frozen, and even upon release these things were not returned. The internees were made to sign papers of secrecy, with threat of imprisonment if they spoke of their experience. Many were also harassed for years after the war, with phone calls made from the FBI to employers and landlords.

One of the most disturbing things I learned while researching this topic was about a program called Repatriation. The offer was for volunteers to be released and returned to Germany in exchange for American citizens held abroad. Since many internees had no desire to return to Germany, and in fact feared it, this volunteer was unsuccessful, and soon coercion through various means was necessary to make Repatriation work. Sadly, those that were repatriated were often killed shortly upon return.

This is a dark time in American history, of that there is no doubt. And it's not my wish to make any political statement in conveying this knowledge. But what has surprised me, was that I never knew of any of this until I was 37 years old and took it upon myself to discover it. And as I've promoted my book, I've come across many other Americans, older than me – and some even alive during WWII -- that had no knowledge of this either.

I have many hopes for my book – to encourage, entertain, and hopefully move the reader emotionally in some way. But I also want it to educate. This is a piece of history that should not be lost. If you're curious about individual stories, this is the best place to look.

"No Other" is avail at Desert Breeze (link in the title)
All Romance Books, and Amazon for Kindle.


  1. Shawna, fascinating the little stuff history leaves out. The idea of repratating Americans back to their country of their enthicity is surprising. Thanks so much for sharing this little piece of history with us.


  2. Shawna, I had heard about these camps, since there is reported to have been one near where I live in Horseheads, NY, but I had no idea the degree of persecution these folks endured. Your book sounds fascinating. Best wishes on a successful launch!

  3. Thanks Kathleen. If you get the chance, look at the web address at the bottom of the post. There are some truly heartbreaking stories. We can't change the past, but we can learn, and I think it's really important that we not forget, or dismiss these things.

    There was a camp called Crystal City in South Texas. It was dismantled long ago, but about two years ago they finally had a service for the families and relatives of those interned there, acknowledging what happened.

  4. I think it is absolutely fascinating that this story was birthed in a dream. That is not something you hear every day!

  5. I loved, loved, loved this book!!!