Today we welcome Emily Gray Tedrowe to the blog to celebrate today’s release of her second novel, Blue Stars. Following in the footsteps of Tedrowe’s successful debut, Commuters, Blue Stars has received a great amount of pre-publication buzz. In fact, with its current events subject matter, many expect Blue Stars to be Tedrowe’s breakout novel. We are so excited to have Ms. Tedrowe join us today. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the conversation!
Blue Stars examines the lives of two very different women who share one thing in common: a loved one actively serving in the military. They meet at the Walter Reed Army Hospital and form a bond as their soldiers recover from injuries sustained while fighting abroad. Can you introduce us to these two women and tell us more about their experiences?
Happy to! Ellen Silverman is a bookish Midwestern widow and a professor of English. She and her two grown children have become close to a young man named Michael, and when he is threatened by abuse, Ellen volunteers to become his legal ward. Her life is turned upside down when Michael enlists as a Marine–an experience she had never expected for one of her loved ones. Lacey Reed Diaz is a 40ish Army wife and personal trainer from the Bronx. She’s loud, funny, loyal–and devastated by loneliness when her husband is deployed. Her struggle while he is gone is about living paycheck to paycheck… as well as her sudden attraction to another man.
Blue Stars is a fictional account of contemporary military life and takes place at the famous (now closed) Walter Reed Army Hospital. Can you share with us a little bit about your research process? What was the most surprising thing you learned?
Yes, although the novel is fictional, it is set at the real–though now closed–Walter Reed Army Hospital. It was a challenge doing on-the-ground research because the base is now permanently closed, although I did find it helpful to go to the site in DC and walk the mile or so around the cordoned-off grounds. I was able to see the buildings and imagine my characters living at this place for the turbulent time while their soldiers are recovering. I also read a lot about Walter Reed. One fascinating thing I learned is that while the hospital is named after the turn-of-the-century Army physician who discovered that yellow fever is spread by mosquitoes (and thus preventing a major cause of death for US soldiers abroad), one incredible heroic person on his team was a female US nurse named Clara Maass, who was one of the brave volunteers who voluntarily allowed themselves to be stung by infected mosquitoes in order to help prove the hypothesis. She died from that infection.
Although both of your books are different, they share a common theme about ordinary people undergoing great change. What is it about this theme that appeals to you as a writer?
I like the way you’ve characterized that. I think that yes, the experience of ordinary people undergoing great change is a very interesting situation to consider when telling a novel’s story. One reason is because it calls for extra helpings of whatever qualities are in the characters already, and some which they might not have known about until things get real, so to speak. When Lacey and Ellen’s loved one goes off to war, for example, it takes everything they have in terms of strength, humor, and faith to get through it. But they are also able to find new capabilities–for friendship, for understanding–when facing all that change.
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that titles either come to you quickly or take some time to find. How did you decide on Blue Stars? Is there a story behind how you came up with this title?
It’s true that novel titles can be tricky for me. In this case, I had written a whole draft of the book, and revised it, without knowing its title. When it came time to send it to readers, I knew I needed a title other than “Current Project” which is what my computer file was called! I tried out dozens mentally, and on my husband. None seemed right. Then one day I was sitting at my desk and caught sight of the service banner my father had given me when my brother was in Iraq. I had pinned it to my bulletin board for inspiration while writing. I looked directly at that blue star in the middle, thought about all the thousands and thousands of these flags hanging on front windows in neighborhoods across the country, and knew exactly what my title was.
Between your website, Tumblr blog, and Twitter, you have quite an online presence. What is your favorite social media outlet for reaching readers? What advice do you have for writers who want to build an online author platform?
Thanks! It’s funny because I always feel like I can or should be doing more on social media. Or at least that’s the nagging feeling I have! I don’t have a specific strategy but I do use different platforms for different activities. My Facebook page tends to be mostly friends and family. Twitter has been a great resource for connecting with the wider world–I use it to stay up to date with the publishing industry, writer friends, and people whose ideas I care about. But perhaps my new favorite is Tumblr, which has an amazing community for readers, writers, and book-lovers. I’ve really enjoyed creating a Tumblr site that showcases my love of reading (in fact, I often post dorky pictures of whatever book is in my lap at the moment), and it’s been inspirational to see all the other book lovers out there. My advice would be to find what form of social media seems fun and authentic to you. That’s what will be your strongest tool.
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