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
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.
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.
Labels: balance, Black Wings, career, Kathleen Toomey Jabs, military, mystery, novel, US Naval Academy, women authors