Welcome to Sally’s Soliloquies!
How the heck did I get here? I blame my husband Joe; it’s totally his fault. Let’s go back a few years—not many—only six.
February 2015 . . . It was a Saturday morning, and we were in the kitchen discussing the World War II documentary we’d watched the night before. (Or maybe it was a movie. Some details are sketchy.) Out of the blue, I asked, “So, where’d they put all those German POWs during the war?”
Joe knew—of course, he did. “Well, there were POW camps in Iowa,” he said, “in fact, there was one in Algona.”
Boom! That did it. “Sally, you should write a book about that,” I thought to myself. (I really did!) It would be months before I shared that thought with Joe, though.
Better give you a little background. Joe and I both grew up in Iowa. He’s from Fort Dodge which is about forty miles south of Algona where My Mother’s Friend takes place. He knew about the prisoner of war camp there because his dad told him about it when he was a kid. He didn’t learn about it in school and neither did I (although I hated history back then and might have slept through that lecture). I truly was stunned that I didn’t know about POW camps in Iowa or any other state because I’ve been a consumer of WWII history for quite a long time. We’ve visited several of the sites in Europe over the past thirty-five years, we’ve read a lot, and we’ve watched all the major WWII movies and television series, many more than once. I thought I knew it all (or almost). Turns out I didn’t.
I kept my idea to myself for a while because I wasn’t one hundred percent sure I’d follow through. I told Joe eventually, but only that I intended to write a book when I retired at the end of 2017. At first, I didn’t tell him what it was about because I knew he’d want to write it for me, or at least he’d want to help (and I was right, to some degree.) Of course, I did finally tell him about the story I had in mind. He thought it was a great idea.
As soon as the idea popped into my head that Saturday morning, I knew three things: 1. The story would take place in Algona, Iowa during WWII; 2. It would be a different kind of love story; and 3. The protagonist would be Phee, a high school senior. Why Phee? Well, because it was my mom’s nickname and it’s unique. Unique is good.
Before I began writing My Mother’s Friend, I was obsessed with finding out as much as I could about Camp Algona and other POW camps in America. I also needed to learn about life on the home front, particularly in Iowa, in 1944 and 1945. I worked in a library; that was helpful. I was pleasantly surprised to find so many resources, more than I expected, and I’ll be sharing some of what I learned with you over the next weeks and months.
Research is fun when you’re passionate about your subject. Not only did I find an abundance of information online, I also spent hours at the National Archives and Records Service in College Park, Maryland; the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History; and the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center outside Washington, DC. On my research road trip to Iowa in 2018, I visited the Augustana College Archives in Rock Island, Illinois; the Iowa Historical Society’s Research Centers in Iowa City and Des Moines; and the Archives of First Lutheran Church in Ottumwa (where I was baptized, confirmed, and married).
Writing about 1940s Algona, Iowa required more than one in-person visit. Early in my research, I discovered the marvelous Camp Algona POW Museum (www.pwcampalgona.org) and met Jerry Yocum, the museum’s President and Historian, who was responsible (at least in part) for its existence. Jerry has been incredibly supportive almost from the beginning of my journey. I could not have written My Mother’s Friend without his help. He gave me a private tour of the museum, access to the museum’s camp records, and arranged for me to see the inspirational nativity scene (which I include in my book) that was built by several of Camp Algona’s POWs in 1945.
And thanks to Susan Legore, the gracious and knowledgeable historian of First Lutheran Church in Algona, I also spent a good part of one day in their Archives. Phee’s dad, Frank Swensson, is pastor of the fictitious St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Algona, and I modeled St. Pete’s somewhat after First Lutheran. During one of my visits, Susan organized a Q & A session with several people who were teenagers in and near Algona during WWII. That was fun (and most informative).
If you’d like to learn about Camp Algona specifically and POW camps in America in general, I recommend the following books:
The Golden Rule Challenge: Command of World War II German POW Camps in the Upper Mid-West by George H. Lobdell. Mr. Lobdell is the nephew of Lt. Col. Arthur T. Lobdell who was commander of Camp Algona from June 1944 to February 1946 when the camp closed.
Camp Papers – Lagerzeitungen – The German POW Newspapers at Camp Algona, Iowa 1944-46 edited by Michael Luick-Thrams.
Signs of Life – Lebenszeichen – The Correspondence of German POWs at Camp Algona, Iowa 1944-46 edited by Michael Luick-Thrams.
Nazi Prisoners of War in America by Arnold Krammer.
Check these out if you’d like to read about the home front during World War II:
To Hasten the Homecoming: How Americans Fought World War II Through the Media by Jordan Braverman.
The Home Fronts of Iowa, 1939-1945 by Lisa L. Ossian.
🙢 🙢 🙢
I began writing My Mother’s Friend on my birthday, December 29, 2017. We were spending several days in our favorite cabin (#12) at Claytor Lake State Park and I wrote the last Algona chapter that afternoon. (It takes place on December 29, 1945. I was inspired.)
It took me about twenty months to finish the first draft. Guess what? It was too long—way too long—200,000 words too long. (I’m not kidding!)
Revise. Cut. Revise. Cut some more. Revise. Keep cutting. Revise.
Let Joe read Drafts 3 and 4.
Revise. Cut. Decide on the title. Find beta readers to read Draft 5.
Revise. Cut. Pass it on to my editor, Jan Taylor.
Revise. Cut. Put it to bed.
No, not quite yet.
Revise. Cut. Let two more volunteers read it. Waiting for their comments.
And now I have a website.
Thank you for joining my journey.
Blessings to all.
Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in Southwest Virginia with her husband and two dogs. My Mother’s Friend is her first novel. You can find her web site here: www.sallyjamesonbond.com.