Spotlight, Review, Author Interview & Giveaway: Keeping the Lights On for Ike by Rebecca Daniels

Book Blurb & Info

Daily Life of a Utilities Engineer at AFHQ in Europe During WWII; or, What to Say in Letters Home When You’re Not Allowed to Write about the War

Most people don’t realize that during the war in Europe in the 1940s, it took an average of six support soldiers to make the work of four combat soldiers possible. Most of what’s available in the literature tends toward combat narratives, and yet the support soldiers had complex and unique experiences as well. This book is based on personal correspondence, and it is primarily a memoir that creates a picture of the day-to-day realities of an individual soldier told in his own words [as much as he could tell under the wartime rules of censorship, that is] as well as giving insight into what it was actually like to be an American soldier during WWII.

It explores the experiences of a non-combat Army utilities engineer working in a combat zone during the war in Europe and takes the protagonist from basic training through various overseas assignments—in this case to England, North Africa, and Italy as a support soldier under Eisenhower and his successors at Allied Force Headquarters. It also includes some reflections about his life after returning to Oregon when the war was over.

The soldier involved is Captain Harold Alec Daniels [OSU, Class of 1939, ROTC] and most of the letters were written to his wife, Mary Daniels [attended U of O in the late 1930s]. They are the author’s parents, and she inherited the letter collection, photos, and all other primary source materials after her mother’s death in 2006.

Buy Links
Amazon / Barnes&Noble / Powell’s / Indiebound / Sunbury

Toot's Review by Betty Bee

Who doesn't love to hear a good parent’s first meeting story? I think many of us secretly think that our parents had the most romantic first meeting, but Rebecca Daniels may have us all beat. 'Keeping the Lights on For Ike,' opens with the story of how Daniels' parents attended the same high school, but never actually met until a mutual friend set them up on a date in college. Sparks flew, and the two were married only a short while later. But, as romantic a story as that is, this is not just a book about people meeting and falling in love. Daniels' parents married in 1941, which, of course, means that very shortly after they married, her father, Alec was drafted into World War II. In all of human history, there may never have been a war as fascinating and strange as the Second World War. I, personally, never get tired of reading stories set in and around World War II for this reason. There are just so many stories that came out of it!

'Keeping the Lights on for Ike' is an in-depth look at the life of a soldier working as a utilities engineer during World War II, told through the eyes of his daughter. Daniels' not only relays her father's story through her own words, but through the use of the prolific correspondence between her parents during the time that he was away. The use of these letters gives the book a wonderfully personal and appealing touch, almost as if you are peering over the couples' shoulders as they read. I can't imagine a more fitting legacy to leave on this planet then to have your daughter write such a moving and beautiful book about your life. Between the correspondence and the black and white pictures included in the book, I really got the feeling that I knew Rebecca’s parents myself. A thrilling read and one that I highly recommend! I give it 5 stars.
Author Interview by Betty Bee

BB: Please tell us something about the book that is not in the summary.  (About the book, “character” you particularly enjoyed writing etc.)

RD: I’ve often been asked what surprised me the most about the letters that made up the heart of this book, and my answer is always that the surprise (and pleasure) was just how romantic and sexual my parents’ relationship was, especially in the early days of their marriage. My folks were both very private, and their children never saw much in the way of public displays of affection between them. No child really wants to know the details of his/her parents’ sex life, and when that child is adopted, as I was, it’s fairly easy to believe that there was no real romance between them. I never doubted their love and commitment to each other and to our family while I was growing up, but I just never equated it with sex and physical intimacy until I started reading those letters.

BB: How long did it take you to complete ‘Keeping the Lights on For Ike from start to fruition?

RD: It was a long journey with several major delays along the way. The letters and other memorabilia came into my possession in early 2005 when it became clear that my mother, then in her late 80s, would have to be moved out of the house she’d lived in for over fifty years and into assisted living. I was in the process of getting married and moving into a new house that same summer and early fall, so I didn’t begin the work of ordering and transcribing the letters and examining the other memorabilia until the early winter of 2005. My mother died in the autumn of 2006, so the project stalled for a while as I grieved, but then I took it up again in the summer of 2007. Inventorying all the papers and other memorabilia, creating the letter transcripts and connecting them to a chronology of the war in Europe (to make sense of many of the necessarily oblique references in the letters due to censorship), and digitizing all the visual images took several years because I was only able to work on the book in my free time while I was teaching full time. Then my husband died suddenly in the autumn of 2010, which stalled the project yet again. I also became an associate dean at my university in the summer of 2011, so even when I was ready to start work on the project again, I didn’t have much free time, and as an academic administrator I no longer had summers off from teaching, which really slowed my progress. After my retirement in the summer of 2015, things took off because I finally had all the research and materials gathering/ordering completed (after ten years!) and a book structure in mind, so all I had to do was, finally, to write. The manuscript took about two years to complete, with each chapter being vetted once and sometimes twice by my writing group, and I started shopping it around to various small publishers in the early fall of 2017. I finally found a publisher willing to give me a book contract in the spring of 2018, and the rest of that year was spent in final revisions and edits to the manuscript, first on my own and then with the editorial staff at my publisher, Sunbury Press. The book came out in early 2019. So, 14 years in all, though not all of that time was spent in working on the book itself because of the various distractions along the way.

BB: Where did you get the inspiration for your cover?

RD: Because with the letters I had also inherited many photographic images taken during the war years by my parents, I knew I wanted a photo cover of some kind. Sunbury had a book cover designer for me to work with, and I sent him about a dozen of my favorite images, mostly photos but including a couple of letter scans, and I asked him to play around with them to see what he might come up with. The image he created was a combination of a photo of my parents when my dad was in basic training and an image of the last letter my mother had written to him overseas during the war. The letter had been returned to her because he was already on his way home after three years away, and she put the envelope into her scrapbook. Because the book is as much about their relationship sustained through the letters as about the war itself, I loved the designer’s idea of combining the photo from basic training with that last returned envelope image.

BB: What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?

RD: There is no single scene that I can point to as a favorite, but one of my favorite things about the letters, overall, is discovering through a number of occasional references in the letters that my dad was more or less a feminist in his belief that women could do anything men could do and should not be in any way subservient to men. He let her test his camera equipment before she sent it to him in North Africa, and he took a lot of flak from his Army buddies about that. But he trusted her judgement and her photography skills completely. In fact, he actually welcomed the possibility that my mom might have become the primary breadwinner in the family if her professional writing ambitions had come to fruition, though their post-war circumstances, especially the arrival of children, didn’t bring that dream to reality.
BB: Did you tell your family and friends that you were writing your memoir/family biography or did you tell them after you started the publication process?  What did they think?  Were they supportive or was there a lot of resistance?
RD: My brother knew as soon as I decided to take the letters and images home with me after Mom moved into assisted living that I was going to do something with them in the future, and he had no problem with that idea, though at the time we both thought it might have become a theatre piece, since that was my primary professional field. After Mom died and it became clear that I would be working on a book and not a performance, he and his family were extremely supportive and encouraging about the whole project and very proud of the book once it finally came out. One of my nephews who is particularly interested in history even read some early draft chapters to get a better idea of the grandfather he never knew, and my brother happily made his own contribution to the final chapter.

BB: What kind of research did you do for the book, if any?

RD: Though I’m not a historian by training, I knew I needed to put the letters and other memorabilia in historical context for the reader, so for research purposes I read a lot about WWII, especially two of Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy books about the war in North Africa and Italy. I also did some reading about what was happening on the home front during the war, since I wanted to figure out what life might have been like for Mom while Dad was overseas. I also did a fair bit of Google research whenever I found a term or reference to a situation in the letters I didn’t understand, so I did a lot of reading on history and military internet sites as well. I spent a couple of days in military archives in College Park, MD, to try to reconstruct a few details about my dad’s service record from secondary files because I had no access to the originals. Unfortunately, his original service records, and those of hundreds of others who served in the military had been lost in a major fire in 1973 at the National Personnel Records Center. The fire burned for 22 hours and destroyed millions of OMPF (Official Military Personnel Files). The Army estimated that they lost 80% of the service records from 1912 to 1960 in that fire.

BB: Many memoirs have been made into movies.  Which actor/actress would you like to see playing Ike and your family?

RD: If a movie were made of this book, Ike would actually be just a minor player, mostly in the background, if he appeared at all. Though my dad idolized Ike, and my mom coined the phrase “keeping the lights on for Ike” to tell people what Dad was doing during the war, he rarely came in direct contact with Eisenhower, though he was part of the extensive headquarters staff and they were both at AFHQ in the early months of the European Campaign. I have a photograph of my dad before the war where he looks a lot like a young Tom Hanks, but Hanks is now too old to play a 20-something soldier. I think using young unknowns might actually be the best choice, since this is really a story about a support soldier, one who considered himself a pretty average guy, and his wife back home, not a heroic combat turn for a major pair of stars.

BB: Do you have plans to write a sequel or other book?

RD: There’s no sequel to this book. However, I’m continuing to write other things, mostly in the genre of creative non-fiction. My latest book, called Finding Sisters, is about how I, who had been adopted at birth, was able to use DNA testing, combined with traditional genealogical research, to find both of my genetic parents and to meet my birth mother (who was still living in 2015), and several other relatives including two half-sisters, one maternal and one paternal. The manuscript has recently been accepted for publication by Sunbury Press (my publisher for Keeping the Lights on for Ike), and I expect it will come out in early 2021.

BB: Are there any questions you would have liked me to ask but didn’t?  Please provide the questions and answers.

Q: What did you discover about Army service during WWII that you didn’t know anything about before starting work on the book?

RD: I think most people, when they imagine military life during combat situations, think mostly about the fighting soldiers that we are used to seeing in movies and televisions shows. When starting the research for this book, I had absolutely no idea that it took six support soldiers to make the work of four combat soldiers possible during the WWII in Europe. The Army calls this relationship “the tooth and the tail” of the military force. I was fascinated to learn more about what those behind-the-scenes soldiers, my dad among them, were doing on a daily basis while the war was raging nearby.

Author Info

Rebecca Daniels has been a university professor for many years who has also simultaneously had a vital creative career in the theatre. Throughout her career, her work has always been a mix of performance, teaching, and her own writing.

Her groundbreaking book on women directors and the effects of gender on their work is currently still in print [Women Stage Directors Speak: Exploring the Effects of Gender on Their Work, McFarland, 1996], and she has been published in several theatre-related professional journals over the years as well. After her retirement in the summer of 2015, she was finally able to focus all her energies on this book.

Author Links
Website: https://rebecca-daniels.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rebecca.daniels.9


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