WRITING WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW by Jackie Minniti
Writing a fictionalized account of a true story presents some unique challenges. I realized this after I decided to write a historical novel based on an experience my father had while stationed in Rennes, France with the 127th General Hospital in 1944. He met a little French girl named Jacqueline who took a liking to him. She began following him to and from the military hospital where he worked, and a lovely friendship blossomed. My dad knew very little French, and Jacqueline knew even less English, but they managed to communicate using the few words and phrases they were able to teach other peppered with lots of exaggerated gestures.
When the 127th was transferred to Nancy, Jacqueline appeared at the hospital. Sleet was falling, and she was shivering with cold. She carried a loaf of bread and a small book about St. Bernadette of Lourdes; farewell gifts for my dad. Knowing how little she had, my father was profoundly touched by her kindness. Wrapping her in his woolen overcoat, he made her a promise: if he ever had a daughter, he would name her Jacqueline.
This was the only war story my dad ever shared with us. He never tired of telling the tale of how I got my name, and as the years passed, it became part of our family lore. He loved showing us the faded pictures in his photo album that showed a smiling little girl with dark curls; the time-worn book about St. Bernadette, written in French, with the neatly-written inscription to mon cher ami Bernardo; the medal he was later awarded by the French government to thank him for his service.
When I set out to write Jacqueline’s story, I knew it so well that it nearly wrote itself. Jacqueline had lived in my imagination for so long, she felt like an old friend. But it was the rest of the story that presented the biggest challenges – and opened my eyes in ways I’d never expected. Even though I’m a Baby Boomer and only one generation removed from the horrors of WWII, I never realized how little I really knew about this seminal event in our national story.
Never having written a historical fiction before, I was intimidated at first by the exhaustive amount of research it required. But the more I read, the more fascinated I became. I learned about the enormous hardships that Nazi occupation imposed on the French; how they learned to endure through food shortages, rationing, air raids, curfews, and grinding oppression. I marveled at their resilience and strength and how they managed to survive with so little and keep despair at bay.
Since I wanted to include the Holocaust in the story, I learned about the treatment of the large population of French Jews. I read accounts of the “transit camp” in Drancy that was nothing more than a way station between Paris and the death camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. I was awed by the bravery of the clergy and other compassionate French citizens who risked their lives to hide Jewish friends and neighbors from the Nazis. I truly began to appreciate how important it was that this never be allowed to happen again.
When I finally typed “The End,” my entire perspective had changed. When I started writing Jacqueline, my purpose was to share a beloved story as a tribute to my father. By the time I’d finished, I’d set a new goal. As a former teacher, I’m painfully aware of the lack of historical knowledge that characterizes most of today’s students. My hope is that Jacqueline will, in some small way, help to fill that gap. I also hope young readers will come away from the book with an appreciation for the valor and selflessness of the Greatest Generation and a true understanding of how blessed they are to live in a land where they enjoy the gift of freedom – a gift their great-grandparents won for them at tremendous cost. I learned this by writing what I didn’t know, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.
Jackie Minniti brief bio and links:
Jackie is currently a columnist for The Island Reporter in St. Petersburg. She is a member of the Florida Writers Association, the Bay Area Professional Writers Guild, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Several of her stories have been included in Chicken Soup for the Soul collections. She lives on Treasure Island with her husband, John, and two noisy macaws and enjoys reading, walking on the beach, boating, and visiting her three children and six grandchildren in New Jersey. Jackie has been a featured speaker at schools, book clubs, women’s clubs, and libraries and writes a blog featuring Florida writers (www.fabulousfloridawriters.blogspot.com/. She can be reached through her website: www.jackieminniti.com
Blog URL: www.fabulousfloridawriters.blogspot.com
Jackie Minniti bio:
Jackie is currently a columnist for The Island Reporter in St. Petersburg. She is a member of the Florida Writers Association, the Bay Area Professional Writers Guild, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Several of her stories have been included in Chicken Soup for the Soul collections.
She lives on Treasure Island with her husband, John, and two noisy macaws and enjoys reading, walking on the beach, boating, and visiting her three children and six grandchildren in New Jersey. Jackie has been a featured speaker at schools, book clubs, women’s clubs, and libraries and writes a blog featuring Florida writers (www.fabulousfloridawriters.blogspot.com.She can be reached through her website: www.jackieminniti.com.
Website URL: www.jackieminniti.com
Blog URL: www.fabulousfloridawriters.blogspot.com