Over the weekend I went to my friend Mindy Halleck’s book signing. Mindy wrote the absolutely phenomenal book “Return to Sender” (which debuted on my birthday which makes me feel irrationally pleased). This book is amazing! It is a thriller/mystery/literary novel that takes place in the fifties. What I like best about it is that it’s so unique and authentic. Sometimes authors go to such great lengths to avoid stereotypical characters that the reader is unable to suspend disbelief. Mindy is not afraid to portray a character in a way we are used to thinking of them, if that’s how she feels her character would have really acted, and then she does us the gift of going below the surface with them, showing us something new. In the process I think we learn a little about ourselves as well as about the characters. The plot moves at a great speed, while still taking time to paint the most beautiful word pictures.
Mindy’s an awesome person, too. I’ve never been to a book signing where I knew the author and it was lovely to see the little reading area filled almost to capacity, despite the driving Seattle rain that we all know and, if not love, at least expect in mid-January. I was very interested to hear the backstory of Return to Sender, which involved Mindy’s discovery of decades-old letters from her father-in-law, a Korean War Veteran, to his first wife.
I’ve noticed in my life that when I pay attention, there are usually multiple purposes and layers behind everything. When Mindy was speaking, I couldn’t stop thinking about my own father-in-law. Sal Maldonado was a true war hero. He was on board the doomed ship Indianapolis when it was torpedoed by the Japanese in WWII and sunk (it was on its return trip from delivering ‘Little Boy’, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima). Sal survived five days in shark infested waters and then enlisted in the army to fight in Korea. He and his wife Connie raised 8 children. (note: 8? Holy mackerel…most days I don’t feel I will survive 3!! Connie is also a hero, in my opinion).
All that to say, I’d never really considered writing Sal’s story. Before he passed away, Tony and I discussed interviewing him so that we could record the facts of his amazing life. Then, Sara Vladic, a writer at Films by Serendipity reached out to Sal because her company will be producing a movie about the Indianapolis. I never felt drawn to writing non-fiction and I didn’t feel I could do justice to the survivors by telling their story. However, I had never considered telling his story through fiction. At this stage in my writing and personal journey, I am most interested in stories that reveal God’s greatness, his grace and how we humans respond to that, both positively and negatively. Listening to Mindy got my mind churning. How would it feel to be spared from so many disasters? Would it turn one closer to God, or further away? Would one feel a burden to ‘achieve’ based on survival, or resentment at the loss of so many others? How might this impact the rest of one’s life? The possibilities are endless.