Monday, October 31, 2022

Q&A with Alix Rickloff




Alix Rickloff is the author of the new historical novel The Girls in Navy Blue. Her other books include The Way to London. She lives in Maryland.  


Q: What inspired you to write The Girls in Navy Blue?


A: I was poking around on the internet and came across an article about Joy Bright Hancock who joined the WAVES in 1942 and rose through the ranks until, as Captain Hancock, she took over command of the organization and helped navigate the transition of women into the regular Navy. But the author of the article mentioned—almost in passing—that Hancock got her start way back in 1917 as a yeomanette during WWI.


I had never heard of these women so, of course, I dove headfirst down the rabbit hole to find out more and discovered that the yeomanettes were the very first females to serve in the US military in a non-nursing role.


Secretary of the Navy Daniels, realizing his forces were severely undermanned, took advantage of a loophole in the law to allow for women’s enlistment. Over 10,000 of them served in bases all over the country and overseas as clerks, mechanics, drivers, switchboard operators, supply officers, munition workers, and even in military intelligence, yet a century on, their contributions have been all but forgotten.


Q: The novel is set during World War I and also 50 years later, in 1968. Did you write the novel in the order in which it appears, or did you focus more on one timeline before turning to the other?


A: I’ve always been a very linear writer so I do tend to write in the order you see it in the finished book, but there were definitely instances when my muse made it very clear that we were going to focus on one timeline and leave the other to rest for a bit.


What was the most fun was being able to play in two different eras but within the same setting of Ocean View and the little cottage on the beach.  


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


A: I started out with a quick Google search to find any easily available articles or books on the subject. From there the breadcrumb trail that are bibliographies became my best friend as I tracked down older resource material along with memoirs, maps, photographs, and background information of both my setting and my characters.


There were so many wonderful personal stories and memories captured by historians Ebbert, Hall, and Akers; some of which I tried to recreate in the book, but what was most surprising was discovering the extent of the yeomanettes’ equal treatment despite the time in which they served.


Navy Secretary Daniels, his own wife an enthusiastic suffragette, not only allowed the enlistment of women, but did so at the same pay rate and with the same benefits as their male counterparts, a rarity at the time. He was also quoted as saying that he didn’t like the demeaning “-ette” suffix that attached itself to the new female personnel. “If a woman does a job, she ought to have the name of the job.”


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: This book was written as a salute to a remarkable group of women whose wartime service helped pave the way for equal voting rights. But at its heart, it’s a story of friendship and sisterhood that I hope appeals to readers beyond those interested in WWI history. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My next release is The Last Light Over Oslo, which was inspired by the real-life story of suffragette and social reformer Daisy Harriman, who became FDR’s ambassador to Norway and was swept up in WWII when Germany invaded the country in 1940. I just came back from a research trip to Scandinavia and am now madly writing in hopes of turning the book in early next year.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: In the fall of 2020, I was going through my late father’s things when I came across my grandfather’s WWI identification tag in an old box at the back of a dresser. He was 22 when he joined the Navy in 1917, serving on the hospital ship USS Comfort. What made the discovery even more meaningful was that I was working on the proposal for The Girls In Navy Blue at the time so it felt a little bit like a hand-on-the-shoulder inspiration from above.


When the book sold, I paid tribute to my grandfather by giving him a cameo in the story, and I continue to wear his ID tag because, despite never meeting the man, I feel we have a special connection through this book and the part, I believe, he played in its success. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Alix Rickloff.

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