BackStory: Five Questions with C. G. Thompson
Author of Sixteen Time Zones from Home
What inspired you to write ‘Sixteen Time Zones from Home’?
Several of my relatives served in World War II, though in some cases I didn’t know about their service until they passed away. Lucky was a real person, though I’ll leave it at that, as I think he would want the story to feel more universal and not specific to him. Like so many of his generation, he was modest.
In the United States, we lose approximately 348 World War II veterans each day (The National World War II Museum, citing United States Department of Veterans Affairs’ statistics.) A future without them is something that’s painful to imagine. This story is a humble and belated attempt at a thank-you.
Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?
Originally there was a detail about Lucky playing high-school football with a broken thumb, but I decided to open the story on board ship, to make it feel more immediate. In a later version, he wrote his parents about the constellations having a different appearance in the Southern Hemisphere, but I took that out, unsure whether or not it would have passed the censors, since it suggested a location (even if a vast one).
I should note that the story began as a succession of poems. Somewhere along the line I realized its true shape was as a story.
How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?
I did quite a bit of research, since I started out knowing very little, only that Lucky helped build airstrips on Bougainville and was seriously injured there. But exactly where Bougainville is, what type of terrain it has, how airstrips were actually built and under what conditions were all questions I had to research. Nor did I have any idea what a Shellback ceremony was like (much different today). Were there Corsairs on the island? What would the temperatures have been? Where would the Allies have landed? What was a fleet hospital?
My biggest surprise was discovering a statement from a Marine who’d fought on Guam and Iwo Jima: “Of all the 28 months I spent overseas, nothing compared to Bougainville for miserable living conditions … Bougainville had to be the closest thing to a living hell that I ever saw in my life” (Warfare History Network website). That quote helps explain the silences, the stories I never heard.
What do you think is the most rewarding and the most challenging aspect of writing historical flash?
I’m fairly new to writing historical flash, but I find it rewarding because I can immerse myself in another era and follow this question and that until I feel I’ve become lost in another time (time travel without a machine!).
The most challenging aspect is preventing a story from becoming a list of facts. In the “real life” aspect of this story, for example, there was no cabbie who’d mastered card tricks, and no one who made jokes about the smoking volcano (not that I know of). Did Lucky shovel snow back home? Did he recall the Shellback ceremony to give himself strength? I have no idea, but I hope the possibilities give life to the story.
C.G. Thompson writes both fiction and poetry. Her stories recently have appeared in 50-Word Stories, Fictive Dream, Yalobusha Review, and TL:DR Press’s Women’s Anthology: Carrying Fire, among others. Her poems have appeared in North Carolina Literary Review, Jersey Devil Press, and Redheaded Stepchild.
Photograph of Seabees laying down Marston matting courtesy of the US Navy Seabee Museum blog, via the post “Bougainville Diary: The Naval Construction Battalion First Marine Amphibious Corps (53rd Seabees) on Bougainville” by Julius Lacano.