Saturday, April 23, 2022

Q&A with Elise Hooper




Elise Hooper is the author of the new historical novel Angels of the Pacific. Her other novels include Fast Girls. She lives in Seattle.


Q: Why did you choose the Philippines in World War II as the setting for your new novel, and how did you create your characters Tess and Flor?


A: The original idea for Angels of the Pacific was sparked by my interest in my grandfather’s WWII naval service in the Pacific.


He was aboard the USS Missouri when General MacArthur signed the peace treaty with the Japanese to end the war. Afterward he traveled into Tokyo as part of the first American delegation to visit the surrendered city, and it was there that he bought a silk handsewn child’s kimono.


For years I’ve looked at this family heirloom and wanted to learn more about the war in the Pacific. Because I’m interested in women who have been overlooked by history, I started digging around, and as soon as I read about the Angels of Bataan, I knew this was the starting point for my story.


Along with a great deal of reading about the Angels of Bataan, I was able to interview a war veteran who became crucial to my creation of the character named Tess.


The last of the Angels of Bataan passed away in 2103, but one afternoon I spotted a friend’s FB post about her “Grandma Tess.” Lieutenant Commander Teresa “Tess” Walsh Schmierer served as a navy nurse in WWII on hospital ships moored in Shanghai and then Okinawa.


The real Tess never visited the Philippines, but she fit the profile of the Angels perfectly: she had grown up in a large farming family in Iowa and worked in the fields during the hard times of the 1930s, and then, eager to get off the farm but unable to afford college, she enrolled in nursing school, and then later, the navy.


Meeting the real Tess really helped to crystalize my American nursing characters in my mind.


I also didn’t feel right writing a story about Americans in the Philippines without learning more about the local people and culture, so as part of my research for this novel, I traveled to the Philippines in February of 2020.


There, I met a Filipino historian who helped me develop Flor’s story, and guided me to sources that I needed to better understand more about how a young woman would have navigated occupied Manila of the early 1940s.


Q: How did you research the novel, and what did you learn that surprised you?


A: Because I knew so little about the Philippines prior to writing this novel, the surprises were endless! I know a lot more about the war in Europe, so once I started reading about the Pacific in the 1930s and ‘40s, it shocked me to realize how little I knew about this part of the world during the war.


I was also impressed by how resistant the Filipinos were to occupation by the Japanese Imperial Army. Many Allied civilians and POWs survived the war years thanks to the aid and resistance mounted by Filipinos.


Q: Why did you decide to write Tess's sections in first person and Flor's in third person?


A: In my mind, this story started as Tess’s because I started my research with the Angels of Bataan. Tess was telling the reader about her war years, but over time, as Flor began to take shape in my imagination, I wanted her story included too.


Out of respect for Filipino culture and acknowledgement of a long history of colonization of that country, I chose to use a close third-person for her narration, rather than adopting a first-person point of view and claim Flor’s experience fully as my own.


Q: The author Lynda Cohen Loigman writes of the novel, “In Angels of the Pacific, Hooper pushes past the boundaries of the traditional war novel to reveal little-known details of the challenges endured by an extraordinarily brave and resilient group of women.” What do you think of that description, and how do you see the book fitting into the war novel genre?


A: Lynda’s endorsement is wonderful and I’m honored that she describes Angels as pushing past the boundaries of the “traditional war novel.”


I think when most of us imagine a war novel, it typically revolves around men on the front lines, so I appreciate that Lynda sees my book as helping to broaden the war experience beyond male soldiers.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on a new novel that’s got a historical element in it, but also a modern story set in San Francisco. I’m having a lot of fun imagining this new one and can’t wait to share it with you!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I can be found in all the usual places online. If a book club wants a Zoom visit from me, they can contact me through my website.


Instagram: @elisehooper

Twitter: @elisehooper




--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Elise Hooper.

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