Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Yes, women did work on the atom bomb, and Janet Beard's novel ATOMIC CITY GIRLS is a stunning exploration of what that was like.








 



Janet Beard is also the author of BENEATH THE PINES, as well as her latest, THE ATOMIC CITY GIRLS, which is a stunning novel about the women who worked on the bomb. And she's racking up the raves. Take a look:

"Beard has taken a project of momentous impact and injected a human element into it... This is approachable, intelligent, and highly satisfying historical fiction."-  Booklist *starred review

Thank you so much for being here, Janet!

What was haunting you when you wrote this book?

I’ve been haunted by the idea of the atomic bomb since I first learned about it as a child at the science museum in Oak Ridge near where I grew up. The challenge in writing the book was trying to imagine how the knowledge that they were helping to create these terrifying weapons would affect my characters, without imposing on them my twenty-first century knowledge and anxieties. They have their own knowledge and anxieties within the context of World War II.

Unfortunately, the threat of nuclear weapons has only grown more intense since I began the book, and I’m more haunted than ever in our current political moment.


What surprised you the most about your research?

One surprising takeaway from reading the many interviews and oral histories of young people who came to work in Oak Ridge, was how fondly they remembered their time there. Despite the anxiety of wartime and hardship of living in a military reservation, they had a lot of fun. For many, it was the first time they had left home, and they were living with hundreds of other young people, working hard but also playing hard in their free time at dances, roller rinks, and bowling alleys.


What kind of writer are you? Do you have rituals, do you outline, or do you simply let the story tell itself (ha ha ha.)

I am a big planner and compulsive list maker in all aspects of my life, especially writing. I love research, even when I’m not writing historical fiction, which obviously requires it. And outlining is essential for me. I don’t really have any rituals, but I do try to force myself to write first thing every day that I can—before all the other items on my to do list take over my brain.


It’s fascinating that women were involved in making a bomb—we always tend to think of women as more reasonable when it comes to war. Can you talk about this please?

World War II affected all Americans, and people had a deep sense of patriotic and moral duty that can be hard to understand from a cynical twenty-first perspective. Most Americans were willing to do what the government asked of them, whether it was enlisting in the Army, collecting cooking oil, or working in wartime factories. The general sense was that the United States hadn’t asked to be part of the war, but when forced to become involved, America would do everything possible to defeat its enemies. That attitude extended to both genders, and the overwhelming reaction of women looking back on their work on the Manhattan Project was pride that they had helped end the war. Again, it can be hard for us to understand now, but the horror of unleashing atomic weapons on the world was not foremost on their minds at the time. Rather, they felt joy and relief that their brothers and husbands would be coming home.



What’s obsessing you now and why?

Murder ballads. I’m working on a new novel about six generations of women in Appalachia, inspired by the old ballads that typically tell the story of a man murdering a young woman. I’m obsessed with why we are all so obsessed with telling stories about violence against women.


What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

This is the hardest question of all! Probably the most important element of the novel for me is the characters. As important as getting the history right was to me, it’s meaningless without strong characters to craft a story around. Once they came alive in my mind, it was simply a matter of getting their stories on the page.

2 comments:

Judy Krueger said...

Last year I read the biography of Robert Oppenheimer by Martin Sherwin and Bird Kai: American Prometheus. My review: http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2017/04/american-prometheus-triumph-and-tragedy.html
This looks like an excellent companion to that book.

ajay teja said...

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