Thank you for joining Riptide on our 4th Anniversary blog tour! We are excited to bring you new guest posts from our authors and a behind the scenes insights from Riptide. The full tour schedule can be found at Riptide’s 4th Anniversary Celebration. Don’t miss the limited time discounts and Free Books for a Year giveaway at the end of this post!
Please welcome Amy Lane to the tour.
Amy Lane’s Guest Post: The Bells of Times Square—History That Wasn’t
So, people asked me how much research I did for The Bells of Times Square—and when the book came out, I blogged extensively about it. Everything from air times across Europe to plywood, KY, cameras, film, and toilet paper all sat in my browser for consultation at one time or another—but in the end, it was the stuff that hit me after the book was written that knocked me on my ass.
Okay—first off: The bells themselves.
I originally found the article about the bells that rang in Times Square on New Years Eve during World War II at about three o’clock in the morning when I should have been in bed. The article fascinated me, and I read it, and kept in my browser, and then closed it and figured I’d find it again when I needed it.
Oh famous last words—there was not enough Google-fu in the world to find that damned article.
Or so I thought.
In the course of the editing process one of my editors got curious. I’d put the story of the lost article in my afterward and I’d said that the idea that the article was mysterious and couldn’t be found was actually sort of cool. It made the whole book seem to spring from legend, which I am very okay with. I love the relationship of story and reality, and the blurred lines between them—it’s one of my favorite things. One of my editors (initials NK—it’s all I know!) wrote a note in the margin of the manuscript. She told me that the bells were played from a truck—one of the ones with the megaphones on the top, I assume but do not know for sure—on New Years Eve, in place of dropping the ball at Times Square. The ball wasn’t dropped because of the “dimouts” of the war, particularly during celebrations, for safety’s sake.
So boom! Mystery solved! I had a reason Nate would have heard about bells played at Times Square—there was a real thing and it wasn’t a hallucination—huzzah! I didn’t include it in the afterward though. Did I mention? I like the murky relationship between fact and legend?
Oh, what a fortuitous coincidence. When I started writing Bells I had my grandparents’ stories of WWII to go on, so you’d think I had some facts, right? But that right there is what tested my faith in the uncertain boundary between legend and truth.
For starters, until about six months before my grandmother died, all of my grandparents’ OSS stuff was classified.
Which meant that when it became declassified, there was nobody who could really walk us through it. Grandpa had died two years earlier, and Grandma wasn’t really with us in those last months—the last thing we were worried about was seventy-year old documents from the OSS.
So when I set about to research an aerial photographer in WWII, I made a conscious effort not to research my grandfather. Even then, I had too many conflicting facts about what he’d been doing during the war. We knew he’d taken pictures, but we had a story from one of his CO’s (told to my uncle when he was a kid) about how Grandpa’d volunteered to take pictures during basic training, and that had landed him in the OSS. But we also had the story about his plane getting shot down over Greece, and most of his pictures going down with the plane. He joined the Greek resistance then—supposedly—but when I looked up the OSS involvement in the Greek resistance, only officers were supposedly fighting in the movement.
Grandpa’s name was not on the list—but a possible pseudonym was.
And he’d published stories—two of them—about some of the things that had happened in Greece, and given that his reputation was golden and he got recruited by the OSS for Korea, I’m thinking he wasn’t publishing out and out falsehoods—but something bigger was going on than he was ever allowed to tell us.
Yeah. No. I couldn’t go there. I was on a deadline, with kids—I had to keep it simple and as factual as I could.
I researched how the photographs were taken. I researched where the planes took off from, and which models were used. I researched how the cockpit was set up and under which circumstances an actual photographer would be needed as opposed to automated cameras, which, yes, they had back then, and which unit the OSS would work under.
Hector and Joey sprang from the research, and so did Nate’s father’s profession. So did the fact that Nate’s CO in the plane would be British, and the fact that the plane was made of wood. Hell, I even researched air times, so I knew if the dogfight could happen in the span of a night.
So the research was worth it—and that’s where the character of Nate came from. My browser window and my amazon.com account were both taxed to the extreme—but, with all of that, I still didn’t know what my Grandfather had done.
And then, about two months before the book itself came out, a book arrived from Amazon that I’d forgotten about ordering. It was a book of interviews from WWII photographers, and it had and interview from my Grandfather.
I read his section eagerly—
And that, right then, was when I resigned myself totally and completely to legends instead of fact.
Because the interview was given in the seventies—long before the information was even close to being declassified—and quite frankly, everything Grandpa said in the interview either A. Contradicted what he’d told us, B. Contradicted what Grandma told us, C. Contradicted what little we knew had actually gone on record, or D. Sounded like it came out of a Dashiell Hammett novel.
It was time to call bullshit.
It was time to acknowledge that thing I’ve believed about documenting facts versus acknowledging the truth of the stories was true.
I would wager actual money that if I looked up the records of my Grandfather, Kenneth G. Chaney, I would find that even the U.S. Military didn’t know the entire truth—and that even if they did, it would not have been the truth as my Grandpa remembered it, but that wasn’t because Grandpa was remembering it wrong.
It was because the difference between going out and living through a story and recording the facts for posterity are two very different things.
The stories Grandpa told us didn’t involve any of the really awful things that he’d had to photograph during the war. They certainly didn’t mention that he came back broken and sad and cynical after Korea. Hell, the stories he told the reporter in the interview were full of swagger and cockiness and a sort of cavalier disregard for death and life that did not jibe with the man who called my mother’s name when he was sick, because of all his children, she was the one he worried about most.
So, yes—I’m sure in a military file folder there is an account of names and dates that would very possibly correspond with what Grandpa told us, and in the middle of those two things we’d find the whole story.
But a part of me is willing to let that story lie.
It’s not the story my Grandfather wanted to tell. And while it may inspire me to have another go at WWII pilots and photographers (and this time with a slightly cockier hero, and a happier ending!) it’s not necessary that I have all of the declassified facts in their impersonal and flawed glory.
Those facts were not the stories that made my Grandfather who he was.
So, if nothing else, this little foray into the land between fact and fiction has made me realize how very ephemeral land is. Forget urban fantasy or fairy tales—nothing is as far from the history books as trying to write an historical novel.
But that’s not going to stop me from trying again.
The Bells of Times Square made history by being one of three gay romance novels nominated for a RITA award, the Romance Writers of America’s highest achievement. Didn’t win—but that’s not the point.
The point is, it made history. It broke a barrier. It helped to redefine a genre.
Not because the story in the book was historically accurate but because it was one we needed to hear.
That’s why Grandpa told his stories. He wasn’t allowed to make them historically accurate, but they were the stories his children, his friends, his wife, needed to hear.
So maybe that road between history and fact and fiction is murky and ephemeral—but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t travel it. I guess it just means we shouldn’t be surprised when the landmarks change.
- Book Title: The Bells of Times Square
- Author: Amy Lane
- Publisher: Riptide Publishing (December 15, 2014)
- Book Length: 206 pages
- Genre: Contemporary, Drama, Historical, WWII, Romance