The Tail Gunner Guest Stars at Kirby’s Lane

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Kirby Larson is an inspiration. We first met at Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, then again when I was producing ColumbiaKids online magazine. Kirby was one of our first “One Day in History” fiction shorts authors, and we were lucky to have her. Soon after she was nominated for the Newbery award for her novel Hattie Big Sky. I like to think that her ColumbiaKids story about a boy who had to leave behind his dog to go to a World War II internment camp was the inspiration for a number of her World War II era books that followed, but I know that’s probably a stretch. She had them in her all along.

DASH by Kirby Larson. Can't wait to read it.

DASH by Kirby Larson. Can’t wait to read it.

Kirby’s work and her indefatigable spirit are just some of the reasons why I was so honored to have her ask me to be a guest on her blog, Kirby’s Lane. While THE TAIL GUNNER and Kirby’s historical fiction books are quite different in approach, they do tackle the challenge of catapulting readers into the past, into eras that current generations can hardly comprehend. I’m very excited to begin reading Kirby’s recent release DASH, the story of a young Japanese girl who must leave her dog behind to go to an internment camp at the outbreak of World War II. Sound familiar? I thought so too.

Want to find out more Kirby and her work? Pop on over to Kirby’s Lane, a place for readers and writers. You’ll be  glad you did.

News From the Front

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Pamphlet and tickets, Italy

During World War II, the Vatican Museum held an unprecedented amount of Italy’s most treasured art. Places that were in the most danger of being bombed moved their art to the Vatican for safekeeping. KBL Family Collection

Shhh, I’m not a liberty to share details, but I can say that the supremely awesome folks at the Seattle Chapter of the Awesome Foundation recently awarded me a grant to complete the cataloging and scanning of THE TAIL GUNNER collection. Said collection will be at the heart of a covert mission happening in the coming months between March and August 2015. I can’t tell you what it is, but I can tell you it is way cool. And yes, it does just happen to have something to do with the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Peace.

It’s Finally Here!

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Get it while it's hot! Now available on Amazon or through your local bookstore (through Ingram).

Get it while it’s hot! Now available on Amazon or through your local bookstore.

Back in 2004 when I lived in Los Angeles, I began the first draft of this amazing novel. I didn’t know if it would be fiction or non-fiction, but I knew it was a story waiting to be drawn from the dusty pile of pictures and papers my dad had left behind. If Dad was still here, the story would be much different, but since I had only the clues he left behind, the project took on a life of its own, twisting and torquing like paper on fire. Yes, it’s based loosely on his story. Yes, it’s based on solid historical research into what life was like in the Army Air Corps in Europe between 1943-45. But it is also a young girl’s journey toward adulthood with all its awkward twists and turns. The stories of Sylvie and Bish intertwine in letters, diary entries, and angsty teen-penned poems. As a result, the book is a cross-genre experiment that took seven years to take shape.

During those seven years, I lost my mom and my fiancee, two of the most wonderful people I had the good luck to know. As I stand here by myself, book in hand, I think of all the times they encouraged me, pushed me to keep writing and rewriting, to keep believing that what I was up to was worth the time.

Now, thanks to the support of so many, it’s here—the best Christmas present I could imagine. I think back to the words of the real gunner as he was kicking me in the butt to finish college, “It doesn’t matter how long it takes, it just matters that you get it done.” Well, Dad, this book be done.

But there are still more stories to be told.

Wishing you all the happiest of holidays,

Stephanie

 

 

Here’s to Veterans Everywhere

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Dad carried a postcard set that contained "The Gunner's Vow" all through the war. As the survivor of 59 missions as a WWII tail gunner, he always made a habit of sitting with his back to a wall, facing the door.

Dad carried a postcard set that contained “The Gunner’s Vow” all through the war. As the survivor of 59 missions as a WWII tail gunner, he always made a habit of sitting with his back to a wall, facing the door.

One of the most amazing things about this project has been getting to know and understand more about active service. Writing THE TAIL GUNNER has led me into a world that Dad barely talked about for many reasons. It was a painful time and he was a “forward thinking” man, always more interested in embracing the future than reminiscing about the past.

For those reasons, as well as the fact that I was born in the 1960s when war was way out of fashion, I never wanted to study much about wars or the men who fought in them. Dad didn’t mind a bit.

But what has been intriguing is the mystery of all that he left behind, and the people it has led me to. At one point, I had the good fortune to do a phone interview with Norm Doe (since passed), one of the pilots Dad thought highly of. Norm filled me in on so many mysteries like why it took so long to get across the Atlantic when they shipped out (U-Boat dodging), and how Dad and Doe hadn’t flown together outside of training but once.

In another instance, I found a list of names at the back of Dad’s diary that I figured must have been good friends. As I found out later, they were men in his squadron that had been killed in action. Although I couldn’t use their real names in the novel, their story was memorialized by the characters StuBoy and Valentine. Getting shot down in enemy territory was every bomber-boy’s nightmare.

Despite the difficulties the characters face in THE TAIL GUNNER, it is also a story of hope, and a story about how the dead have the opportunity to choose how to end their stories. As StuBoy explains to Sylvie in the novel, these men get a choice: Take a swig of Lethe Lightning and forget all the horrors and highlights of life and war, or attempt a final mission to set right whatever life-bound wrongs may haunt them. Bish chose a final mission, and his mission makes the book.

We all have our missions in life. We may not know them, but they are there, waiting for us to step foot on the waiting path. If someone had told me when I was in my 20s that I’d one day write a novel about World War II, I would have told them there was no way. But for the last seven years that has been my path. So to all veterans living and passed, I say “Thanks” for your courage, your dedication, and for your stories, both silent and loud. How we stand up for what we believe in makes us who we are.

Portraits, Pics, and Places I Love

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While I’m no famous photographer, I love the challenge of photographing amazing places and people. Here are a few examples.

Faces lurk around every corner in Italy. Even the stone work demands attention.

Faces lurk around every corner in Italy. Even the stone work demands attention.

Gossips. By the fountain in Florence.

Gossips. By the fountain in Florence.

Seahorses grace the gondolas in Venice.

Seahorses grace the gondolas in Venice.

There are ghosts at the Marina Piccolo…we visited this beach because my dad had been there in WWII. It is vibrant as ever.

There are ghosts at the Marina Piccolo…we visited this beach because my dad had been there in WWII. It is vibrant as ever.

Doing laundry on Burano. Nobody here is afraid of color.

Doing laundry on Burano. Nobody here is afraid of color.

Little J.

Little J.

Andrei on Father's Day.

Andrei on Father’s Day.

B-25 tail guns.

The tail guns. Nothing much besides a skin of metal, some canvas, and a pair of guns between you and an enemy attack. Stephanie Lile photo.

Lavender ice.

Lavender ice.

The Trashman of Wauna. Beach trash art.

The Trashman of Wauna.

Stephie in Roma. The Coliseum.

Stephie in Roma. The Colosseum.

Ernest Oglby Punkweiler and the Fabulous~Miraculous Time Intrusionator

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Thanks to the wonderful art of Mike Cressy and the graphic wizard of Gwen Whiting we're gonna have a show! Photo by Gwen Whiting of the exhibit banner at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma.

Thanks to the wonderful art of Mike Cressy and the graphic wizardry of Gwen Whiting we’re gonna have a show! Photo by Gwen Whiting of the exhibit banner at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma.

A number of people have asked me just what this “Time Intrusionator” exhibit is all about. Even more so since the giant banner went up on the Washington State History Museum building. So I’ve decided to post a few “insider” scoops here on my blog to keep folks in the know.

I’m not sure where the story came from, perhaps it was somewhere in the deep recesses of my imagination, in a place where “intrusioning” is a real thing. One spark was probably a favorite book I had as a kid called The Boy Who Could Enter Paintings. Another was the realization that Ernest Oglby Punkweiler is essentially my alter ego. He had actually been invented years before as a guest “objectologist” for our WSHS publication COLUMBIAKids. I wondered what he would have been like as a kid. The story is the result of that contemplation.

About the time I was dreaming up Ernest, a request for more kid-centered exhibits was made by the museum where I work as the Head of Education. I proposed the exhibit and submitted the story to Soundings Literary Review. Both were accepted. The story, in its original form, was published in the magazine’s 2012 Fall/Winter issue. Now, two years later, here comes the exhibit!

As many publishing folks know, sometimes the most difficult aspect of publishing is finding the right images to go with a story. I lucked out. In times of economic “flushity” the museum would normally hire an illustrator to create illustrations as an expensive work for hire. I didn’t have that luxury (our budget was slashed 40% in the couple years prior and still hasn’t recovered). So I turned to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Western Washington chapter and reviewed artists’ websites for possibilities since it is much less expensive licensing existing work than commissioning brand new art. Plus, you know what you’re getting.

In scanning the various artists’ portfolios, I found about 15 images that correlated to objects in the WSHS collections as well as moments in Northwest history. Additionally, I was lucky enough to find my vision of The Keeper in the fabulous work of Mike Cressy. I contacted him and asked him if we could use his work, tweak it all over the place, and if he could draw “that one guy” as a kid. Mike did, and little Ernest was born.

Couple that with the final cut (15 down to 8) of wonderful artwork from Jo Gershman, Craig Orback, Julie Paschkis, Richard Jesse Watson, Karen Lee Schmidt, Tucker Sharon, Paul Owen Lewis and the graphic wizardry of Gwen Whiting and we have a fantastic journey through time. Reproduced as large-as-life “sets,” each artwork allows the visitor to become part of the moment—to in fact, “intrude” and consequently “intrusionate” in time.

What, you ask, is “intrusionating”? For a deeper description, you’ll have to wait till the next blog post. In the meantime, do use your imagination.

Mission 31: Target in Sight

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Newspaper clipping

A newspaper clipping from the KBL Family Collection, special for this last day of our mission.

March 31, 2014 — We’ll end Mission 31 with one last blast from the past, a newspaper clipping the tail gunner saved from this day 69 years ago, Easter Sunday 1945.

The war ended a month a half later for the 12th Army Air Force, leaving the tail gunner just one mission short of a full tour. This campaign is essentially the tail gunner’s last mission, the effort to make his and his buddy’s efforts known and remembered. That’s why this blog and fund-raising campaign go way beyond me, a daughter and writer, to all of you and the rest of the world. Each person who has joined the crew to make a contribution to the effort, has helped preserve an important and little-known effort in history.

It is with the utmost respect and gratitude that I honor all those who were brave enough to step on board and trust our team to see the project through. If there were two things I inherited from my 59-mission surviving Dad it was tenacity and determination. Like Dad’s diary entries, his praise was often sparse, but one morning after I’d been up typing most of the night on one of my first magazine articles, he walked through his den, stopped and said, “Steph, I’m proud of you. You took an idea and made it happen.” Those words have stayed with me throughout my life, and every day I try to live up to them.

Now I’m aiming to hit our target by 100%, just like Dad’s crew did on their last mission in March, 1945.

“Flew 38th Mission. Started to (close to Ala) – got on I.P. and broke off. Went to Chiari RR Bridge. Took two runs on target. Jackson Lend Bombardier. Hit pretty good. North approach 3:45 hrs. HIT TARGET 100%.”

We’re on course to complete the real tail gunner’s 60th mission. Thanks to the many folks who have shown their support for the project, the book will be out this summer 2014.

 

 

 

Mission 31: Gear up!

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Just 4 days left to join The Tail Gunner crew! Order your copy today.

Just 4 days left to join The Tail Gunner crew! Gear up and jump on board.

March 29, 2014 — With just four days left in the Tail Gunner campaign, we’re 76% of the way to our goal—that means we have just over $800 to raise before April 1st. As a fixed funding campaign, it’s an all-or-nothing deal, just as the men of the 445th squadron faced every time they were sent on a mission.

There were times, however, that the men had to stand down due to weather, illness, or other circumstances beyond their control. On this day in 1945, Dad wrote,

March 29: Standown today again. I went down to the 310th I saw Marcus, Joe Pizarro, and his Engineer – All the Boys are doing alright. Saw Rankin, (from cadets) he’s doing O.K. Says Armorers are making Tech Sgt down there. Went to a show tonight – Bring on the Girls. Patton is soon going into Russia, and how. No mail. 

From those days on stand down came the great days when targets were hit at 100%. We’re aiming for that, and with your help, we can make it. So if you haven’t yet joined the crew and made a contribution to the production of the book and the preservation of the Tail Gunner collection, there is still time to gear up and get on board.

—Stephanie Lile

Join THE TAIL GUNNER crew! There’s a few days left to help fund production of the novel and save the WWII collection that inspired it.

 

 

Mission 31: Clean Your Guns!

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Keith Lile with B-25 tail guns

Despite the wisecracks about what “cleaning your guns” might mean, this tiny contact print revealed a great shot of Keith Lile cleaning the plexi-glas blister and the tail guns of a B-25 Mitchell bomber, just as he’d noted in his diary. Probably Corsica, 1944-45.                         KBL Family Collection

March 28, 2014 — On this day 69 years ago, from base camp at Solenzara, Dad wrote:

“Standown again – still too muddy to fly. Went out and cleaned my guns – were they ever rusty. Some Joe didn’t clean the barrels or cover the guns. Boy am I ever mad.”

This little reference to cleaning the guns and discharging any left over ammo coupled with a report of an armorer who had been fatally injured because of such an event, became a key plot point for THE TAIL GUNNER story. There was the reason I needed for why Bish was a ghost angry at the loss of his life and dreams. In the story, he’d been killed at the end of the war because of an avoidable accident—someone not clearing the guns.

With only a thin metal shell and a piece of canvas between you and your attackers, I can understand how important gun maintenance was for a guy dependent on those two little sticks to stay alive.

—Stephanie Lile

Join THE TAIL GUNNER crew! Only five days left, we’re at 72% of our fund-raising goal. Help us reach our target by ordering your copy of the book today.  

Mission 31: News From Home

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Just 6 days left to join The Tail Gunner crew! Order your copy today.

Just 6 days left to join The Tail Gunner crew! Order your copy today.

March 27, 2014 — In digging through Dad’s stash of WWII images and ephemera, I came across this little newspaper clipping, no doubt sent to him in one of his letters from home. While there is no date on the clipping, based on the info it reports, it has to date to around March 1945. The clipping states that Dad (Keith) was on Corsica, and by April, Dad and his squadron had pulled up stakes and moved from Corsica to the base at Ancona, Italy.

1945 News clipping

A news clipping from home gives a sense of all the ways men served the war effort, both on the front and at home.                        c. March 1945.          KBL Family Collection

On this day in 1945, Dad writes in his diary:

March 27: Standown on mission again today. Lowry & I are flying with Doe. Missions were Plan A and Plan B – we were on both of them.

I got sick tonight – plenty sick – brother – and how. I think I will lay off taking these adaprin tablets. I heard from Mrs. Houbler – Betty – Morgan and the little book from the church. Too sick to answer anything.

Air Corps Camp, Solenzara

This image is believed to be the 445th Squadron camp at Solenzara, Corsica, where the real tail gunner lived for many months. c. March 1945. The actual print is about a third the size of this image. KBL Family Collection

Although I’ve never found any of the letters Dad wrote to others during the war, I did realize why his diary entries were so sparse; he wrote all of his big news in his letters home. In THE TAIL GUNNER novel, I was able to use some of the letters he received in part, but the letters from him to others had to be pieced together from the clues he left behind. What has appeared in this blog series is but a smattering of the complete collection.

—Stephanie Lile

Join THE TAIL GUNNER crew! Just 5 days left to help fund production of the novel and save the WWII collection that inspired it.