Are you ready for more Q&A with Elias & Sharon?
T: How often did you guys take left turns and surprise each other with where you took the story?
S: When Elias and I started this book, we knew it was going to be something special. Neither of us had any idea that as amazing as we thought it was going to be, it turned out to be even more so. The deeper we delved into the story, learning the history of the war, the fashions, music, all the different phrases and looking at so many pictures of the time, changed how we felt about our characters and this story. The more we learned, the more we wanted to know. Elias has learned so much about the war, he could practically be a college history professor. We’ve laughed and cried a lot and if it’s affected us on such a profound level, I’m sure it will do the same for a lot of our readers as well.
E: All the time. We call it giving the other lots to work with 🙂
T: Who came up with the time period?
S: I loved the idea of two lovers separated by circumstances beyond their control. We both did because our dads served during the same time, from 1951- 1953. My dad, a military guard. There isn’t a whole lot known about that time in history, even though the TV show, Mash was centered around it. Many of the love stories told during war time, typically center around, WWII, the first world war, Vietnam or the Civil war. I thought ours was a very unique idea.
E: I’m pretty sure we both decided on the time period. World War II has been overdone and there have been a ton of movies about that war and I think the last movie from Eastwood had the Japanese Soldiers, sending letters home. Korea, is called the forgotten war. Sadly, it was even more dangerous I think, then WWII in a lot of areas and my father having served during that time only added to the urgency. The other thing we loved, was the 1950’s and how different the values and morals and for that matter the world were from then to now.
T: Talking about the different values and morals during the time how hard has it been to make sure you write within those limits?
S: It has been a balancing act for both of us. Belle and Jacob were 2 eighteen-year-old virgins living in a time of total innocence. There were no cell phones, computers, internet, Google, texts or social media. Elias and I knew we couldn’t write about throwing Belle against the wall, bending her over the furniture, having shower sex or anything like that. So, what we had to do was show love and great passion through their words. Simple things like holding hands, hugs and kisses were all we had to work with. Of course, there was one mention about Jacob getting to second base when he put his hand on her boob on top of her sweater. Lol
E: Sharon has been a champ at keeping me on course and so has my editor Maria.
T: How difficult has it been to get the speech down for your characters?
S: They both live in Ohio so for me, it wasn’t much of an issue.
E: Speak for yourself Sharon! Lol! I have had a lot of fun with Jacob and I think you have had your hands full with Belle as well. The dialogue and how both characters speak, the choice of words that they would have used for that time period, has been most challenging. I know that I’ve been very challenged with my limited choice of explicative that I can use…
T: Haha, we do have some crazy sayings in Ohio. What made you guys pick Ohio? Can you tell us which city?
S: Actually, Elias picked it and the town of Akron, I’m still not quite why.
E: I’ve had some history with Ohio and been out there for a family event a few years back. In a lot of ways, large parts of the state still look like they are from that era. I know that Ohio, after the war, was booming and it seemed natural since the fathers worked in Steel and Tires industry, to have it situated there. Also, it seemed the perfect location to have the family in or around Akron in the suburbs.
T: How long does it take you to write each letter?
S: It depends, sometimes real life gets in the way, or we need to make sure we feel comfortable with what we’re about to send each other. I’d say the average is about 4 days.
E: Sharon is much faster than I am. Four days is average, but I’ve run longer, depending on real life and also, I sometimes have to get in close to Sharon’s letter to really get the feeling, of what I want to say to her character Belle. So I have gone longer, while I’ve sometimes done more research.
T: What do you do in those four days while the other is writing a letter?
S: I have a weekly letter I write called, “Matt’s Letters Mondays. Matt, is what some might call, a book boyfriend. He writes a newsletter every week, telling the reader his point of view, for his and Sarah’s love story from “The Chat Room” I’m also a poet, so, I’m always writing poetry or prose, as well as two other books, I’m currently working on. And along with my amazing PA and friend, Julie, we host “The Coffee House Poets, Monthly Live Writes, we also host “A Night With The Authors” and I do other author events, as well. Needless to say, I manage to stay pretty busy. And lately, I’ve been averaging about 2-2 ½ days, per letter, before I email it.
E: Try to catch up on my backlog of other projects. For instance, doing an INTERVIEW, for a certain Author who has a first initial of T. Lol
T: What process do you go through before you write your letter back?
S: I re-read Elias’ letters several times, even after he’s read it to me. There are things that’ll come up when I’m writing, such as; what exactly was happening at that time, or should we do a certain thing this way or that. The other day, I researched whether or not Belle and her family, would still be listening to news of the war on a radio or would they own a TV or not. Every detail, no matter how small, mattered.
E: Exactly what Sharon said. I’ll read the letter out loud or if I get stuck on a certain passage and I’ll call her to discuss the letter and see if I am missing something or did I get the response back and is it true to my character.
T: And what did you decide on, would her family have a TV or just the radio?
S: Even though TVs were out as early as 1947, most families didn’t have them yet. There was only a limited amount of television stations, and unless you were in a bigger city, close to one of the stations, the coverage for the reception, wasn’t strong enough yet. In 1954, that’s when things changed and many more people watched TVs, as opposed to listening to radios.
E: Well, TV was very new back in the time period that we are writing about. The first color TV’s didn’t come out until near the end of 1951 and the programming was limited as well. ‘I Love Lucy’ came out in 1951, so the broadcasters were trying to come up with compelling programming to help with TV sales as well. I know many families made do with the radio for all their news, weather, etc.
T: As Jacob and Belle, write their letters, do we also get to see what else is going on around them? The scenery etc.?
S: Yes, Belle is in college and she tells Jacob all about that and their families and everyday life, since they lived next door to each other. I loved creating a history and cute stories for the characters. In order for Belle and Jacob to seem real, their history together growing up had to feel very authentic to the reader. And being sarcastic in real life, I was able to bring a certain realism to Belle’s feistiness. Especially when she first met Jacob. Let’s just say, she wasn’t feeling all warm and fuzzy towards him, when they first met. Lol (Such a trouble maker)
E: We both paid a lot of attention to detail in the letters. From the hamburger stands to the hotels to places to see and visit, even the bookstores. We wanted our readers to experience that time period in as vivid a detail as we could portray.
T: Do you think Jacob started to get PTSD during his time in Korea or did Belle help him fight it back?
S: We haven’t discussed that issue yet. But at some point, I’m sure it’ll come up.
E: Actually you will have to see on this particular answer. Remember the time period covers before Jacob actually ships to Korea. Regarding the subject of PTSD, it is broached though in one of the earlier letters. I don’t want to give away how, but I found people with veterans in their lives could relate with the description and how I described it and how it affected the soldier.
T: How did you come up with who would write the first letter?
S: Actually there wasn’t a letter at first. I wrote down the beginning of the story of how they met as kids and I thought the letters would come later. As it turned out, we decided their history would be told just from their letters instead. Elias was still writing “Cain 2 The Rage of Angels”. So, since I had more time on my hands, I wrote the first one.
E: I think the ideas we have poured into this book, have been a wonderful confluence of creativity. Since we are both telling the story, there has been a lot of give and take as we bounce ideas off of each other.
Sharon, did write the first letter, but I put a spin on it she wasn’t expecting later in the book.
T: Do you think writing Letters gives you a better understanding of your fathers?
S: Me personally, I really do. As the book has gone along and we see Jacob and Belle, go from two kids who’ve never been apart, worrying mainly about everyday things and missing each other. However, as we get more into the story and his time gets closer to when he’s actually close to going over to fight the enemy, the seriousness of their situation begins to really hit home. Suddenly, their not two kids in love, their two young adults who may never see each other again. And for me, I was able to bring that into each letter as I went along.
E: I do believe I understand my father a lot more than I did when I was a young man. Having gone into the service (US ARMY) at the ripe age of 17 just like he did, a lot of what I have shared, has been a confluence of my own personal experiences, mixed with his memories and my research as well.
About the Authors:
From the time Sharon Johnson learned to write, she had one dream, to become a writer and author. Writing has always been the one constant through every moment, both good and bad, in her life. She started with basic Haiku and rhyming poems; then later, she started writing simple one to two page stories. She’s always kept journals documenting her life and those of her children. Through every poem, story and journaled event, she never stopped looking for what she calls her ‘Charmed’ book. Year after year the book never came, until the summer of 2013, when a two to three page idea max, turned into ten then twenty pages and kept growing from there. It became clear within a very short time, her characters had much more to say and their story was far from over. And that’s how ‘The Chat Room’ was born. Eighteen months and a lifetime later, her dream finally became a reality in August 2015. There’s a saying she’s created as a part of her daily mantra; “Never stop looking for your happy ending, because your story isn’t finished yet…
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!