Thursday, August 21, 2008
Ever since my editor knew that my dad was a Navy Chief, she wanted me to explore writing about my military childhood. I avoided it because I was afraid any story I wrote with that background would teeter too close to the autobiographical edge. The closest I came to revealing that lifestyle was in my young adult novel, Keeper of the Night, that takes place on Guam. But even then, I chose the Chamorro girl as the main character. Still, my editor had planted a seed and occasional I head the sounds of sprouting in the back of my head. Whispers. Navy Brat, Navy Brat.
Then one day, the voice became louder. "I've lived everywhere," it said. As a child, I had lived everywhere, but the voice did not belong to me. It sounded light and fun and carefree. I am the oldest daughter of three girls. I was the serious one. This voice sounded as if it belonged to my sister, the middle child. While I dreaded our moves from base to base, my sister embraced the life. She never met a stranger. Each destination was an adventure. I decided that would be a more interesting point of view for a young reader. That's how Piper Reed Navy Brat was born.
Piper Reed is the middle child of three girls. Her dad is a Navy Chief. And since I was born on NAS Pensacola, I decided to make that the setting. It had been years since I'd lived there so that meant returning to the area to research. I visited a nearby elementary school and met with groups of military children who told me what it was like to have a parent serving in the Navy today. One huge difference from my experience was that some of them had mothers away on ship duty.
Pensacola is the home of the Blue Angels, and I wanted them to be a part of the story. While there, I watched a Blue Angel practice and met them. This was a rock star moment for me. It seemed like anywhere we lived, the Blue Angels would be on tour and we'd go to their flight shows. They were a major part of my childhood. I suspect they were a major part of most military kids' childhoods. While kids who stay in one place might have long-term connections to classmates they see, year after year, for us it's the Blue Angels or the same ship we see docked in several ports. You can only imagine what a thrill it was for me to see the Blue Angels up close and finally meet them.
When I was growing up, I didn't appreciate the life my military childhood offered me. I had to become an adult to realize that I indeed had a rich childhood filled with wonderful experiences. In that way, I'm a little envious of Piper. Everyday she realizes how lucky she truly is to be Piper Reed, Navy Brat.
Kimberly Willis Holt writes from her home in the Texas Panhandle. Her second book in the Piper series, Piper Reed The Great Gypsy debuts this week.