Monday, March 12, 2012

Author Spotlight, Dave Fiedler

By: Sarah Mason, Sales Intern

David Fiedler, a former captain in the U. S. Army Reserve, is now an independent writer living in St. Louis, Missouri. He is currently working on his newest historical fiction and counter part novel My Enemy, My Love, is the author of The Enemy Among Us, and is our latest author spotlight!

Why was MO chosen as a place to host POWs?

Missouri was chosen as a place to host POWs since its relatively sparse population and distance from the coasts made government planners think that there would be less chance for successful escape and/or sabotage attempts.  Plus a heavy agricultural economy meant that their was a great need for POW labor.  Eventually German and Italian prisoners were housed in virtually every state in the continental US. 

What is (was?) your specialty or role in the U.S. Army Reserve?

In the U.S. Army Reserve, I served as an officer in a field hospital.  I was responsible for the non-medical side of hospital operations, i.e., hospital defense, vehicles, supply, food service, etc.  We joked that our job was to draw fire away from the doctors and nurses.

It was in training for this position that I first encountered physical traces of the POWs here in the U.S.  when I saw etched into the concrete of a well cover on a Texas army post the words, “Built by the German soldiers, 1945”  And at annual training (the two-week summer camp  duty that reservists perform) at Fort Leonard Wood, I saw a handful of black and white photos of German POWs working outside the post in towns nearby like St. James and Waynesville that drove my interest in this story here.

What is your favorite place you have travelled to?

Related to my interest in this story, I have had the good fortune to spend some time in Germany.  A summer language program in Goettingen in 1991 gave me useful skills in this research, and a two-week summer exchange with a German army medical unit in 1997 helped both develop valuable contacts and gave me real-life context for use in the fictional counterpart, a novel that is paired with The Enemy Among Us that came out this past fall.

What was your favorite book in college?

Anything that didn’t have heavy mathematics.

What other historical events fascinate you/spark your interest?

I am interested in relatively recent Missouri history (i.e., 20th century) and how these events still influence us today.  For instance, the story of Harry Truman and his rise from relative obscurity into prominence and power in part thanks to the backing of the Pendergast political machine is very fascinating to me.  I have been reading about Charles Lindbergh a lot lately too with his ties to Missouri.  His flight across the Atlantic propelled him to a fame that he didn’t seem to enjoy and his fate as a private individual (who sometime expressed unpopular opinions) who was thrust very much into the spotlight is interesting to me as well.

How was it finding and interviewing people who experienced/knew about the POW situation for both of your books?

A very nice aspect about this story for me was in talking to people who were excited and usually glad to talk about their role in the POW history.  It didn’t hold the same difficult and tragic memories of wartime experiences that others faced who spent longer time in battle.  For many people, they saw it as a very positive dimension of the war, both surprising and touching that people could make these heartfelt connections and very pleasant memories when it was in fact the war that brought them together, initially as enemies, and if nothing else, as people inclined to be suspicious/distrustful/hateful toward the other.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat . . . and Host to 10,000 Writers

The Associated Writers  & Writing Programs (AWP) Annual Conference for 2012 was the biggest ever, so big it felt as if I were experiencing only the tiniest sliver of the event, even though I tried to schedule the four days carefully, plotting out all my panels, readings, parties, and receptions, and meetings over coffee, drinks, lunch, and dinner in advance.

I had a great time at the conference in Chicago last week, but am glad it was Spring Break at Florida State, where I teach, when I returned home this week, as I needed the time to recover.

For me, last week’s convention included the annual Pinch/Normal School party, meetings with editors, several great panels and readings, and dinners with old friends from FSU, Purdue and Iowa, and a book signing for my new book, Essayists on the Essay:Montaigne to Our Time (U of Iowa P), but the highlights were the two panels I was on.

Friday at noon, I participated in Why We Need a WPA for the 21st Century along with Miles Harvey, Kimberly Dixon and our capable convener and moderator Sandi Wisenberg. We talked about the history of the Works Progress (later Project) Administration, related New Deal programs such as the Federal Writers Project and Civilian Conservation Corps, Richard Wright, current challenges for arts administrators, and the many strikes, demonstrations, and marches to which Roosevelt and his Brain Trust were responding—working-class activity involving tens of thousands of workers and the rightwing backlash that cost dozens of them their lives. The Q & A was lively and productive, and Sandi has set up a blog where people can continue the conversation.

My research for the panel revealed to me that the WPA and New Deal have been constant, important, even essential parts of my own life. My high school was a New Deal project, so is my daughter’s. My hometown post office featured WPA murals, and the cover art for my book, The American Essay in the American Century (U of Missouri Press, 2011), is a painting titled “Subway 1934” by WPA artist Lily Furedi.

My second panel, The Lyric Essay: A Collapse of Forms or a Form of Collapse?, was scheduled for the final time slot, 4:30 on Saturday, and my fellow panelists and I had worried that we wouldn’t have much of an audience. We needn’t have. The Continental A ballroom of the Hilton was packed to overflowing, thanks in large part by the current kerfuffle about truth in creative non-fiction sparked by the release of Lifespan of a Fact, the new book by John D’Agata and John Fingal, which had been featured the previous weekend in both the New YorkTimes Book Review and Magazine.

I thought my fellow panelists – Jocelyn Bartkevicius, Steven Church, Colin Rafferty – and I were taking a measured and humorous, if finally critical, stand on D’Agata’s willingness to fudge the facts in the name of Art, but some in the audience thought otherwise. The Q & A was the most contentious I’ve ever seen at a conference. But, our estimable convener Wendy Rawlings did a tremendous job of moderating the discussion, which in the end forced us all to think more deeply about the issues of accuracy, truth, subjectivity, and the relationship between memory and imagination that have troubled essayists since Montaigne.

Audience members were tweeting from the ballroom during the tension-filled Q & A. In the last few days, many of them have posted about the panel on their blogs, including at the Brevity Blog, where Dinty Moore kindly posted my presentation in its entirety – a “Dear John” letter to John D’Agata.

This debate won’t be going away soon; in fact, I suspect there will be plenty of panels on the essay at next year’s AWP conference in Boston.