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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Virtual Book Tour with Kathleen Toomey Jabs

Today we are pleased to welcome Kathleen Toomey Jabs to our blog for a discussion about her new book, Black Wings. Kathleen is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and also has an MFA in creative writing.  She has written an engrossing mystery set in the world of secret societies, military tradition, and deception. In her novel, Lieutenant Bridget Donovan unofficially investigates the crash of Audrey Richards, one of the Navy's first female fighter pilots, who had been her former roommate when both attended the Academy. What she discovers forces Bridget to examine the concepts of honor, justice and the role of loyalty in pursuit of those ideals.  

NR:  Welcome to our blog today, Kathleen. Our readers are wondering how you came up with the story for Black Wings?

Kathleen:  Actually, it came to me: I had a vision of a female pilot crashing into the sea. I hate flying, but I’ve always been fascinated by aviators.  I worked on this novel for almost ten years, with some breaks.  Over time Audrey evolved as the mysterious central character, her astonishing career witnessed by her roommate, Bridget, who must investigate her death.  

NR:  Can you say a little about the title and what it refers to?

Kathleen:  The title is both a reference to a physical object and also a metaphor. In the Navy, people who are warfare qualified, such as aviators, wear a device on the pockets of their uniforms. In shorthand, the aviator device is referred to as “wings.” As Audrey pursues her dream of flying jets, sets of ominously black wings keep popping up in her path.

NR:  How did your experience at the Naval Academy add to the story?  Did you draw from real life experiences?

Kathleen:  I drew some of Bridget’s early adventures or mishaps from my own experiences. For example, she is originally from Boston and is not a particularly squared-away plebe when she arrives at the Academy. I’m also from Boston and I certainly had my share of culture shocks, especially during the first summer. Some found their way into the story, but I had to change them to fit with Bridget’s character, which is different from mine. As an officer, Bridget is part of the public affairs community. I’m also a public affairs officer or PAO.  I know that world so I had lots of real-life material to draw on, but I wasn't constrained by it.  I used the Naval Academy grounds and the Pentagon, but I also took a lot of liberties. This is fiction!

NR:  What was the most difficult part of writing Black Wings?

Kathleen:  It was hard for me to untangle the story.  I wrote and rewrote the novel at least four times to get the sequencing and chronology right and to make sure the plot was coherent.  I had so many things happening, and I wanted Audrey’s voice to be a part of it.  I had to find a way to get her point of view across.

 NR: Can you say something about the role of women in the military – the difficulties, the triumphs – to which your book speaks?

Kathleen:  The changes for women in the military have been pretty far-reaching since I first affiliated with the military. One of the reasons why I set the book in the early 1990’s was to capture the time of change, churn, and firsts. When I joined the Navy in 1984, many issues were still being worked out, many career fields were off limits, and there was a fair amount of resentment towards women. Today women are much more integrated and have more opportunities. Not everything is resolved now – there will always be some tension, but that’s not necessarily a negative thing. Right now, military women are deployed around the world, showing their competence and professionalism in incredibly difficult situations. It’s very inspiring.

NR:  How would you rate your experience as one of the first women midshipmen at Annapolis?  Did it prepare you for life, how did it influence you?

Kathleen:  I had a first-rate education at the Naval Academy. It wasn’t a fun place to be by any means, but I had some pretty amazing opportunities, such as a chance to study in Ireland, to become fluent in Russian, and to be in really small classrooms with amazing professors, particularly in the English department. I don’t know if I would’ve taken a creative writing class if I'd gone to a civilian college. Molly Tinsley (co-founder of FUZE, my publisher) was my professor and advisor. She nurtured my writing then and is still doing it now – 25 years later!  Another way the Academy influenced me was that I learned to be resilient, disciplined, and tenacious.  That certainly helped me stay with the novel for so long! 

NR: Thank you for joining us today, Kathleen, and telling us about Black Wings. Now, readers, feel free to join in the conversation and ask Kathleen any questions you may have about the story, her experiences balancing her military career and civilian life, the writing process - anything that may be on your mind. Here's your chance to get your questions answered by our author. Simply click on the "comments" link below - we look forward to hearing from you. 

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting read!

What has been the most significant change for you, as a woman, since you first entered the military?

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How did you stay motivated to continue during the ten years you were writing your novel? I've been trying to write a book for awhile but I get off track and don't seem to get back to working on it.

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a woman at the Academy and now in the service can you give me any suggestions about how to stay feminine while still being professional? I work with mostly men at my job and don't want to be accused of being a flirt but I do want to be true to myself.

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you planning to write any more books?

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Likes to Read said...

This comment came in yesterday from Likes to Read

Hi Kathleen,

I'm always curious about women who choose to go into the military. I almost joined the air force out of high school, but thought the rules would be too strict for my temperament and instead went a completely different path. What was the hardest thing about being a woman at the Naval Academy for you? And how do you think you have grown from your experiences?

Likes to Read

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Kathleen Jabs said...

Kathleen Jabs answered Likes to Read:

Hi, thanks so much for writing! The hardest thing about being a woman was the scarcity of women! The class of 1988 started with about 110 women out of 1200 plebes and we finished with about 80. I only had five other plebe females in my first year company and we were all very scattered and busy. I made some great friends but it was a very complicated environment.

As far as growing, I learned and tried so many new things. From rapelling over walls to speaking Russian, to drafting navigation charts and even wearing a uniform 7 days a week. Everything was new! I grew to expect and even welcome change. Even now I notice I tend to like a lot of things going on. I also find I want to give back and help mentor other people, male and female to help them reach their potential.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Kathleen Jabs said...

Thank you for writing! The most significant change for me has been the opening up of so many opportunities for women. Women now serve on all classes of ships, including submarines, fly combat aircraft and regularly deploy in joint task forces. There have been so many firsts; it's a challenge to keep up with the opportunities. When I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1988, options were a lot more restricted.

6:45 PM  
Blogger Kathleen Jabs said...

For the first few years writing Black Wings, I was incredibly motivated. I enrolled in an MFA program so I had deadlines and a regular audience and I was stuck to a word count per day regimen. It became a lot harder to sustain my motivation after a flood of rejections. After revising it and resending it out, I eventually put the novel in a drawer for almost two years. I was always aware it was there, an unfulfilled dream, and it nagged at me. I was lucky enough to reconnect with my former USNA professor who offered to read it then suggested edits. Knowing I could get Black Wings published renewed my motivation.

6:49 PM  
Blogger Kathleen Jabs said...

I still work with mostly men; they are my seniors, peers and juniors. I would consider that I've stayed feminine, at least by my definition, and I don't flirt. Defining femininity is something you have to come to terms with on your own. For me, I like to dress nice. In my uniform, I'll add a bracelet if it's the right environment and pay attention to my grooming and hair. I wear light, moderate, conservative make-up and keep on hand something to read that reminds me of my female nature. I also go to yoga and make a point to do things with my girlfriends at least once during the week, I don't try to imitate the guys or even fit in with them. At this point, after so many years, I don't even really notice gender. I see talent and skill.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Kathleen Jabs said...

I am planning to write another book! I've been taking notes for another novel, featuring Bridget. Black Wings left a few issues hanging that Bridget needs to resolve but I see new challenges ahead for her.

7:00 PM  

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