In Lance Ringel’s novel Flower of Iowa, naïve young Doughboy Tommy Flowers finds himself falling in love with his best buddy, English private David Pearson, even as they must face together the horrors of World War I in 1918 France. Today, Lance looks back on the serendipity that can occur while writing a Great War novel.
Over and over again as I researched and wrote Flower of Iowa, there were moments of serendipity – sometimes related to the kindness of strangers (apologies to Tennessee Williams!) – that propelled the project forward. At the very beginning of the process, I had decided that I wanted my Doughboy protagonist, Tommy Flowers, to fight alongside the British, making the central romance of the book possible, and then move to the French and American sectors further east so that he could fight in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. As it turned out, the only U.S. division that did so was the 33rd, which started life as the National Guard division from Illinois … my home state.
Returning from my first research trip to France, I was seated on a plane next to a nice woman who asked me if I was a student on break. After saying, “Bless you, I’m 40!” I told her about the project and she replied, “You know, my aunt was one of the few American women who went to France as a nurse during World War I. I have copies of her letters. Would you like them?” I already had been considering the inclusion of an important character who is a nurse, and even though Sister Jean Anderson turned out to be Canadian, those letters were very helpful in giving me context for her.
I was amazed, too, at the helpfulness of people working at WWI-related sites, none more so than the Imperial War Museum in London. I can recall timidly requesting any trench maps they might have from the area of Picardy where the primary action of my novel was taking place. The librarian looked at me – a total stranger without credentials who had walked in off the street – and said apologetically, “Oh, I’m afraid our trench maps aren’t very good. But I’ll see what I can do.” Five minutes later, I was holding an original 1918 trench map of the area in my hands.
The current edition of Kirkus Reviews magazine calls Flower of Iowa “accomplished, touching historical fiction” that “packs a remarkable amount of flavor and detail” and provides “a compelling love story.” You can read the full review online.