Jeff Foltz received a B. A. in history from Marietta College and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine (the Stonecoast Program). He has three grown children and seven grand kids and lives with his wife, Sue, in Camden, Maine.
The Backstory for Birkebeiner
The American Birkebeiner, with its 8,000 participants, is the largest Nordic ski marathon in North America. Jeff Foltz has completed the 52 kilometer (32 miles) race five times. It was there that he first saw a portrait of two medieval soldiers, heavily armed, on skis, and carrying a curly haired infant. He made the reasonable assumption that the men were not baby sitters, but what were they? The story behind that portrait by Knud Larsen Bergslien drew him to Norway where he researched the history of the two Birkebeiner soldiers and the baby. During his studies, he discovered Inga, the baby’s mother, and how much Norwegian history and the people of Norway revere her. She had to be the main character.
Never one to miss the opportunity to cross country ski, Foltz made his visit in the winter and skied terrain similar to that which his characters traversed over 800 years ago. The result is this novel, Birkebeiner.
The Backstory for Two Men Ten Suns
When the corners of history don’t square or details of an historical event ride on the stooped shoulders of coincidence, it is fodder for a fiction writer. I wrote Two Men Ten Suns as I did because this event has some of those fascinating loose ends.
What first disturbed me during my research was Truman’s rush to drop the bomb. The test at Trinity Site took place on July 16, 1945. The Enola Gay dropped the first bomb (Little Boy) on Hiroshima exactly three weeks later, on August 6, the first satisfactory weather date after August 3. Components of both bombs (Little Boy and Fat Man) , though many accounts indicate that only the Hiroshima bomb was on the Indianapolis, reached Tinian Island on July 26. Only ten days elapsed while the military moved a nine thousand pound weapon from New Mexico to the middle of the Pacific. In 1945 that’s as fast as they could transport anything so large and so classified. It’s reasonable to ask, “Why the hurry?”
Second, it was clear, even to the Japanese, that the Allies would win the war, especially if and when the Russians kept their Yalta Conference pledge to declare war on Japan. But from May 8, 1945, when Germany surrendered, until August 8, Stalin was content to let the U.S. military do the heavy lifting in the Pacific. Was it a coincidence that Stalin entered the Pacific war two days after Hiroshima? His spies had informed him of the success of the Trinity test. He had had three months to find evidence in German records of at least one shipment of U-235 from Germany to Japan. How could he have not suspected that the Japanese had a viable uranium bomb project? How could he not want the opportunity to be first to reach Japanese atomic bomb data?
With those anomalies as a starting point, it was fun to postulate an alternative reason for dropping the bomb. Was there pressure on the national security nerve? Were Truman and his top advisors disturbed by more than the possibility of half a million military casualties in a full scale invasion of the main islands of Japan? Did they have knowledge, or at least sensible and genuine fear, that the Japanese might use an atomic bomb to annihilate an American city?
A word about the nature of historical fiction
There is no shortage of articles and blogs about what historical fiction should be. Some readers want absolute accuracy. Others want more emphasis on fiction. For me, an historical novel can and probably should be less accurate than a history text book (but some of those are becoming a bit trumped up), but fall short of fantasy. Age of the history, the bias of the historical source, and the reader’s willingness to suspend disbelief are some of the factors that delineate an author’s boundaries as he or she puts together a story. Ten-year-old history is likely to be more accurate than history ten centuries old. Some recorders of history may have biases or agendas. Others may feel a need to protect secrets or perceptions. Some may never be privy to the facts or misunderstand them or the relationship of one fact to another. Enough history to feel authentic blended with adequate fiction to be entertaining is probably a good recipe.