T: Do you think Korea is considered the “forgotten war” because it was supposed to be a “police action” and not a war?
S: I think there are a lot of reasons. The Korean war started only 5 years after WWII ended, on June 25th 1951. It’s a war many never considered to be a real war and yet over 33,000 US soldiers were killed in action and some are still missing to this very day. Soon after the US ended up fighting in Vietnam war. I think it was overshadowed by two very well-known wars. The more Elias and I learn, the more we want to share it with others. Our fathers fought in the Korean war, so this has become very personal to us both.
E: The Korean War never officially ended. A State of war still exists today and the DMZ between both countries is still a hot spot. The actual fighting ended under a Cease fire agreement, but there was never a peace treaty in place which is why North and South Korea still continue to have border skirmishes. So this War still exists under a cease fire, but there is no peace treaty, so it is a ‘Forgotten War”.
T: Are there times when you want to ask your fathers questions about the war?
S: I wish I could, but unfortunately, my dad passed away on January 19th 2013. But, I do have some of the letters he wrote to my grandparents, when he was in Japan, serving as a military guard. It’s so weird to think of him, as a young 22-year-old; talking about the new car he wanted to buy, when he left the army and was home. Thrilled he was getting a $300 bonus, that would help pay for the car. And congratulating my aunt, on the first child she was having. That baby, is now 65 years old. Lol It’s written on the old Army stationary in the original envelopes with stamps. I consider those letters, a family heirloom and I’m so thankful, they weren’t thrown away.
E: My father sadly passed away many years ago. I was lucky that he told me a lot about his experiences in the U.S Army.
T: How much research went into Letters? What all did you research?
S: Since we started this project, Elias has studied enough about the Korean war, to practically be a history teacher. He’s studied timelines, film footage, newspaper articles, looked at all sorts of pictures and Googled anything you can imagine, for our book. Every time he finds something new, he shares it with me and I feel like a kid in school, learning all sorts of cool stuff.
E: Like Sharon said, it’s been quite a journey. I’ve learned a lot and continue to learn more as I research. Because we know that family members of veterans and possibly veterans as well, might be reading the book. So, we’ve done our best to make the journey, as correct as we humanly can. It’s been an amazing story to create.
T: What is some of the coolest stuff you guys have learned while writing Letters?
S: I didn’t realize, it was only three years from start to finish. It’s a war not many talk about, or even give much thought too, but that doesn’t make it any less important. With each letter we write, we become a little more emotionally invested in the story. What started out, as a project that would be a beautiful love story, has become so much more. We’re basing our story, on real life events in history, so we have to get each detail right. Even the smallest things matter. Where in today’s stories, there’s lots of sexual heat and passion and things that are openly discussed and written about, we don’t have the luxury to do that. We have to show restrained passion, but the reader also needs to feel the authenticity of their epic love for each other. True love is lasting, through all of life’s twists, turns and lots of detours in between. At first, we see Jacob and Belle, as two high school sweethearts, with an idealistic view of love. But, through the letters we watch, as their love blossoms and grows, in a very short span of time. First there was aching separation and then, the realism that at any moment, Jacob could be killed in Korea.
E: For me, it’s been the history surrounding the war. If anything, that time period was an amazing time in world history. Not only for all of the inventions like Color Television or famous fights and movies, but also, the scarier parts around the McCarthy era or how close they came to another nuclear war. Its been very emotional, not only in the research and understanding. Also, the retelling of that piece of history back to the people reading the book, with our own unique spin on it, where it makes it more real to everyone.
T: Will you guys talk about the McCarthy era and how close we came to another nuclear war?
S: At some point, I’m sure we will, however, it didn’t come up in this book.
E: In some of the letters I have touched on the McCarthy era and the trial of the Rosenburgs as well as how close we came to another nuclear conflict.
T: How much M*A*S*H have you gone back to watch? 😉 I’m guessing Letters is the reason you created the M*A*S*H meme Elias?
E: LOL! Actually I cannot take credit for the M*A*S*H* memes. I found those online. I spent many years watching reruns of the show, I think like many Americans, learning about what war was like through the eyes of Hawkeye and Radar and Major Frank Burns and Hot Lips, to name just a few of the wonderful actors that were in that series. The writing was absolutely brilliant and some of the episodes are still indelibly etched into my psyche to this day. I haven’t actually gone back to watch any of the episodes for research for this book though. Most of the historical research for Letters Away, takes place before Jacob, the main character, leaves for Korea.
T: How often do you guys discuss the project in a week?
S: Just about every day. Sometimes, the conversations last for a while and others, only a few minutes, depending on which part we’re talking about at the time. We’ve had to strategize about all of our letters several times throughout the process. We want to get every aspect of this book just right, so every detail matters, even the smallest ones.
E: What she said! We usually talk daily, especially when we are editing or going over details we might have missed.
T: What did you guys strategize over? Parts? Where to put letters? What should be in the letters?
S: Elias and I, strategized about everything. Names, the state they’re from, the clothes they wore, movies, music, trends, Slang back then, what kind of beer they drank, the jobs each dad had. Anything to do with people and events in the 1940s and 50s, was discussed. What things I didn’t think about, Elias did and vice versa.
E: The timeline was critical. Certain events that are key to the storyline. What characters to introduce or locations where Jacob trained or what Belle would’ve studied at school. All the little nuances for the time period and how a young woman and man would conduct themselves back then. The letters themselves, have taken on a life all their own. The content is a reflection of America, during that time period and world events. All of Jacob and Belle’s hopes and fears, uncertainties and frank discussions about anything and everything are in the letters.
T: How different was writing Letters compared to doing your monthly Live Write?
S: We had time to discuss details before hand, whereas during the ‘Live Writes’ they’re based on a picture we never see, until the same time as the audience does and it’s all entirely make believe. The Korean war was real and based on live events. So, even though there’s an amazing love story, it also follows an exact timeline of the war too.
E: If I might add, the Live Writes, are a lot like a Tango. Once one of us sets the lead on the screen, the other partner joins in and we dance together creating the story. One of the things I’ve noticed, is the amount of time it takes us for each letter. Especially for me, because of the research and attention to detail and Sharon, bless her heart, has to be patient while I am weaving my side of the story. Then, I have to wait, while she goes to work, bringing her unique perspective to the combined story. In some ways, I love the heat of battle, when we are writing back and forth furiously, during a live write and other times, I prefer having time to plot out each step of the journey of our characters.
T: Do you think you’d do this again?
S: In a heartbeat! Elias and I know each other very well and our writing styles mesh almost seamlessly. He’s the yin to my yang, writing partner. He’s like an excited kid at Christmas when he’s working on a new project. It’s positively infectious and I’d hate to miss out on that. Plus, he’s been someone who inspires me. This is my first collaboration on a book and the experience has been one of the best of my life. And it doesn’t hurt that’s he’s funny as hell.
E: Of course, I think this book is the beginning of a wonderful collaboration and Sharon has been a fantastic writing partner with a wicked sense of humor. In a lot of ways, our friendship has gotten closer, as we’ve worked through all of the emotional aspects of this story. It’s been very personal and very intense and if a story has that kind of depth and weight on us. I think having someone to share it with, is all the more special.
T: What did each of you do to make this so fun?
S: I can honestly say, it was fun from the very first brain storming session. We were like 2 little kids with some really great ideas. There were silly songs, expressions back then, we thought were funny. Looking at some of the pictures. Except for some of the details of the timeline for the war, the entire time we worked together on the book, it was a blast.
E: I think a certain amount of playfulness and silliness always helps and I have my moments when I can’t keep a straight face to save my life. Sometimes when we are in a heavy passage and I setup a scene with Sharon’s character Belle and do something out of left field that Sharon was not expecting, it and of course, payback is always fun. Sharon gives as good as she gets.
About the Authors:
Elias Raven was born and raised in Los Angeles. He’s an avid reader with a lifelong passion for writing. He’s a storyteller, a poet and a talented musician with an amazing voice. Oh, and let’s not forget an amazing cook!
As a young boy he spent many summers reading classics such as “The Adventures of Sherlock Homes” and “The White Company” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. His creativity was constantly being pushed as he learned more and more about the world around him. His taste in literature spanned from classics to science fiction/fantasy. He expanded his taste devouring everything from William Blake to Milton, Dante, Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, T.S. Elliot, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Khalil Gibran, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Paul Verlaine, Walt Whitman, Alan Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Carl Sandburg, Dylan Thomas, and Jim Morrison. These inspirations and his sheer love for reading had him take pen to paper around the age of 20.
Did I mention he’s a Musician? …You can often find him playing his guitars (both electric and acoustic) and keyboards and singing (4 octave ranges) in his home studio. He’s a classically trained music aficionado -trained early on by Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Hayden, Liszt, as well as Big Band, Jazz and Rag Time. Spending time with his father at the Los Angeles Philharmonic; experiencing his first orchestra concert at the age of 9.
Elias the Gourmet Cook…Oh My!…His Japanese mother and grandmother trained him very well in fine culinary skills both in cooking and food appreciation from all over the world such as Italian, Indian, Moroccan, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Hawaiian, Pilipino, Greek, and Polish.
When Elias is not reading, writing, composing music or cooking…he can be found listening to music, playing games, hanging out with his kids. He enjoys going to concerts, going on culinary adventures, sightseeing, spending the day at the beach or in the mountains…just doing something adventurous!