02/09/14 — Wayne Reads: 'Shooting the Moon' author at library

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Wayne Reads: 'Shooting the Moon' author at library

By Josh Ellerbrock
Published in News on February 9, 2014 1:50 AM

Author Frances O'Roark Dowell visited the Wayne County Library on Saturday morning to talk about her experiences as an "army brat" that were partially translated into her 2008 children's novel, "Shooting the Moon."

The talk was sponsored by Wayne County Reads, a countywide reading initiative that has chosen "The Things They Carried," a novel about the Vietnam War, as this year's selection.

"Shooting the Moon", which was selected as the youth-oriented companion book, tells the story of a 12-year-old girl, Jamie Dexter, whose brother heads off to Vietnam with the support of her military family. Jamie's pro-war mentality, however, changes as her brother captures the essence of the war through the photos he sends home.

Mrs. Dowell took a number of experiences and settings of the novel from her own life growing up in Germany on an army base.

"This is without a doubt, my most autobiographical novel," she said.

Mrs. Dowell recalled a childhood among young soldiers spent reading comic books to pass the time and touring castles to the point where they lost their historic luster. Some of those experiences were recreated for her novel.

When coming up with the ideas for "Shooting the Moon", however, Mrs. Dowell wasn't sure her own experiences were the most interesting to draw from. In fact, the first few thousand words weren't about her life at all.

She said the novel evolved from watching a 12-year-old girl boss around a few younger children as she "taught" them. She decided to write that character into the book. That first manuscript, however, didn't work as well as she would have liked.

A suggestion from her husband put her own experiences into the book. That 12-year-old girl eventually turned into Jamie, and Mrs. Dowell's experiences from a military family became the backdrop. Her own brother and father, including his military mantra, "You go where you they want you to go and do what they want you to do," became characters in the book -- in altered forms. And the conflict of the main character grew out of the situation that the young girl was put into.

"Your story to you is just your story, but it's worth sharing," Mrs. Dowell said.

To get ready to write the book in the historical setting of Vietnam, she started to research. Part of that research was reading "The Things They Carried," which was written by Tim O'Brien.

"Especially with historical fiction, you had to get your facts straight," she said.

She even used her own father as a resource, bringing out his own historical knowledge as an officer in the U.S. Navy's Judge Advocate General's Corps. during Vietnam, to fill any gaps in knowledge that she may have had. She even tried to incorporate some of the dark humor that came from Vietnam soldiers.

"A lot of it was 'We're here, It's a bad situation. We're going to make jokes about it," she said. "I just got into that slang. If you're facing that everyday, you have to have some walls up or you'll go crazy."

After some talks with her editor and multiple revisions, the novel earned Mrs. Dowell multiple list placements and awards, including a Christopher Award.

Mrs. Dowell is currently working on a novel set in 1950s Kentucky about a white child and a black child that are forced to confront their racial identities.

Mrs. Dowell's first novel, "Dovey Coe," won the Edgar Award. She's also well-known as the author of "The Secret Language of Girls." She lives in Durham with her husband and two sons.