Thursday, June 5, 2014


Guest Author Richard Veit

Synopsis of “Home Sweet Home Front”

Home Sweet Home Front is a nostalgic return to the vanished America of World War II, a coming-of-age story that follows teenager Wesley Brower on the fast track to manhood amidst the tragedies of global conflict. With most of the male workers away in uniform, Wesley lands the job of his dreams at a local radio station. But his infatuation with sweet young things of the opposite sex proves to be a virtual minefield of rejection and bittersweet loss. Wesley’s widowed mother somehow manages to hold the family together. Her older son joins the Navy to fight aboard a combat vessel, while her daughter faces terrors of her own within a few miles of home. A spunky boarding student adds spice to the drama, as does a country girl who is not as shy as she first appears. Rich in period detail, Home Sweet Home Front is a kaleidoscope of rationing, wartime telegrams, and goodbye kisses… of the USO, boy meets girl, and blue stars in the windows… of Lux Radio Theatre, overcrowded Pullmans, and the St. Louis Browns. Despite a vast assemblage of personae, the main “character” of Home Sweet Home Front is the pervasive shadow of war itself.

Home Sweet Home Front by Richard Veit is available (in paperback, hardcover, and ebook/Kindle) from Amazon.com.  Link: http://www.amazon.com/Home-Sweet-Front-Richard-Veit/dp/1595945016/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1401718484&sr=1-1


Author Information

Richard Veit was born and reared in California. He graduated from Temple City High School and attended the University of Southern California. But he has lived in Texas since 1969, earning his undergraduate degree (BA, Radio-TV) and graduate degree (MA, History) from Baylor University. Following service in the United States Army during the Vietnam War, he worked for many years as a broadcaster—both radio and television—for stations in Waco, Dallas, Houston, and Austin. He has been married to his wife, Patti, since 1977, and the couple have two grown children, Amy and Cody. Apart from his family and the craft of writing, his main interests include classical music, old-time radio, British cinema and television, and baseball history. He manages websites devoted to the British television series “A Family at War” and the Australian folk-music group The Seekers. He has two novels to his credit: Home Sweet Home Front and Parallelograph.

 
Questions and Answers

What writers do you especially admire? Why?

Margaret Mitchell for her character development, wry humor, historical accuracy, and grasp of a large-scale canvas

Jack Finney for his descriptive word painting, eye for period detail, imaginative storytelling, and action sequences

Larry McMurtry for his sense of place and time, probing character studies, historical research, and effective use of sarcasm and irony

Horton Foote (playwright) for his brilliantly convincing dialogue and ability to capture universal themes in the most unassuming of small-town contexts

John Finch (screenwriter) for his consistency of personality traits, allowing characters to drive the story in a natural, non-manipulative flow that seems utterly true to life

What caused you to want to write Home Sweet Home Front?

I have always been struck by the surprising scarcity of high-quality fiction about the American home front in World War II. This was such a vibrant historical setting, powerful in its intensity and scope, that I felt sure there must be a compelling story of the human spirit waiting to be told. And so, I set out to write a home-front tale that I myself might enjoy reading, a broadly conceived vision that would present most every aspect of wartime in the heartland of America. The result was my novel called Home Sweet Home Front.

How were you able to obtain such a wealth of information about the people of Waco, Texas, their ways of thinking, their attitudes, and their conduct during World War II?

While it is true that my book is set mainly in Waco, Texas, several of the disparate story lines could have occurred most anywhere in the United States between 1942 and 1946. I try, above all, to capture the universality of human nature, allowing my fiction to be character driven, rather than forcing the action into artificially imposed outlines that come across as manipulative. Though a Californian by birth, I have resided in the Lone Star State for the better part of four and a half decades. Over the course of those years, I suppose that I subconsciously observed how central Texans typically think and act, to such an extent that it now comes as second nature to apply this understanding to the dramatic circumstances of World War II.

Who is your favorite character? Why?

Home Sweet Home Front is inhabited by more than a dozen major characters, so I hesitate to identify a single one who stands apart from the others, much less to apply the term “favorite.” Some of the principal players are Wesley Brower, whom we see coming of age during the war years; Sandra Whittsel, a cute Army brat from the deep South who complicates Wesley’s love life; Hannah Lane, a spunky college student who manages to turn the Brower household upside-down; Wesley’s older brother, sailor Stephen Brower, who serves as something of a father figure to the boy; Wesley’s sister, Elizabeth Brower, who grows up before our eyes; mother Nora Brower, who somehow keeps the family together; Danny Rignold, a well-meaning but slightly naïve Army mechanic who believes that chivalry is not dead; Giulia Coletti, a strikingly lovely teenager who has been infatuated with Stephen Brower since chemistry class in high school; Pippa Glynn, a country girl who brings a breath of fresh air to the big city; Hugh Kenton, a radio director who takes the inexperienced Wesley under his wing; and Hermann and Gertrude Moek, a German-born couple who attempt, against all odds, to become genuinely patriotic Americans. As author, it was fun to watch these and other characters develop, and I hope my readers will feel the same way.

How long did it take you to write your novel? Readers who are not authors may not understand why. Please explain.

Home Sweet Home Front is a lengthy novel that required almost fifteen years to complete. The reason why is simple: I began writing this story strictly for my own amusement, only working on it during portions of lunch hours and occasional spans of leisure time on weekends. Pleased with its slow but steady progress, I then decided to pursue the project more seriously and ready it for publication. I revised Home Sweet Home Front seven or eight times in its entirety before finally releasing it to the public.

 
Excerpts

Whenever the weather permitted, Wesley would ride his bicycle to KWXN on weekends. The Browers’ family automobile—a dark green 1938 Chevrolet sedan—had a common “A” window sticker, which meant that governmental rationing allotted only three gallons of gasoline for its fuel tank every week. At seven miles per gallon, this did not permit any frivolous driving. Too, the automobile’s tires were becoming dangerously shy of tread. Purchased as original equipment from a Chevy showroom in October of 1937, the tires were long overdue for replacement—at the very time when war conditions had created a global rubber shortage.

Truth to tell, Wesley’s bicycle tires were also rather bald, and, now that he was delivering the News-Tribune six mornings a week, their mileage was accumulating quickly. New twenty-four-inch tires were unavailable, except on the black market, and such coveted items almost never appeared in the used classified ads. Someday, he thought, if he could just secure more work hours at the radio station, he would quit his newspaper job for good. In the meantime, it was a matter of restricted usage and the occasional patching of flats.

One Sunday afternoon in late April, as Wesley pedaled up Sanger Avenue toward the radio station, he heard an automobile horn impatiently honking behind him. He waved for the vehicle to pass, but it stayed right where it was—about ten feet away, directly behind his bicycle. It was still shadowing him when he turned onto Colcord, so he jumped the curb and turned around quickly to spot who was driving. The automobile pulled to a stop alongside him, obliging Wesley to lean downward in order to see the driver’s face.

It was a girl, about his own age, but no one he recognized from school. She was smiling and motioning for him to come over to the window. Almost as a reflex, Wesley smiled back and laid his bicycle on the sidewalk. He heard her say, “Hello again!” as he approached the car, and the cheerful familiarity in her voice was confusing. He hesitated a moment before speaking.

“I don’t … Am I supposed to know you from somewhere?” he asked.

She turned off the engine. “Don’t you remember me? I’m Sandy … from church. Sandra Whittsel.”

“No. I’m sorry. I …” His mind raced, but he could not place this girl at all. “Are you sure it was Columbus Avenue Baptist?”

“That’s right,” she said. “I saw you in the hallway this morning. You’re the radio announcer!”

Dazed and flattered, Wesley tried not to seem overly boastful. “Well, yes,” he said with a grin, “I guess I am.” The automobile’s passenger window was down, so he rested his forearms on its waist-high lower frame and studied the girl’s face. This he did in profile, for she reacted to his probing look by quickly averting her eyes toward the dashboard—a quality of shyness that he found intriguing. It did cross his mind, however, to wonder why a girl who was capable of tailing a strange bicyclist for several blocks suddenly would feel compelled to withdraw from a direct encounter.

From what he could see of them, her eyes were dark brown with long lashes, and they complemented well her pretty, turned-up nose. Her hair was dark brown, really closer to black, and trimmed short in the stylish fashion of a pageboy. He could not assess her mouth very distinctly because of the way she was sitting—with her right elbow resting upon her leg and her right hand partially obstructing his view—but her complexion was creamy and without any discernible blemish. She was slender and quite petite, in fact barely able to see over the top of the steering wheel.

“Where do you go to school?” Wesley asked. “I haven’t seen you around.”

Sandy turned partially toward him but still did not make eye contact. “I start sometime next week,” she said. “We just moved here from Georgia.”

“At Waco High? Gee, that’s swell. Maybe you’ll be in some of my classes.”

“I hope so.” She looked directly at him for an instant and smiled.

Wesley’s heart was beating faster, and a euphoric feeling swept through him. Yet he surprised himself with how confident he remained, in the presence of such a lovely young girl. It was really quite easy, he discovered, when the object of his attention was so shy and so obviously impressed with his standing as a Radio Announcer.

“My daddy’s in the Army,” Sandy said after an awkward moment of silence. “At Blackland Air Field. He’s a flight instructor.”

“That’s what I’d like to do someday,” Wesley heard himself say. “Fly a fighter plane. You know, my brother’s going to join the Navy in a couple of months, after school’s out. But me … I’ve always preferred the Army.” An automobile raced by, and Wesley waved at his school chum, Ron Casper. Ron didn’t have his driver’s license yet, but that didn’t keep him from running short errands for his mother.

“Well, I’d better let you go,” Sandy said. “It was nice seeing you again.”

“Same here.”

“Are you going to be at church tonight?”

“Can’t. I’ve got two newscasts to do.”

“What station are you on?”

KWXN—1170 kilocycles. I just do Saturday and Sunday nights right now … because of school, you know.”

“I’d like to hear you sometime. Maybe next Saturday.”

Wesley fought back a smile. “Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you around. I think you’ll really like it at Waco High. Just hope you don’t get Mrs. Symes for English!”

“Okay. Thanks for the warning! ’Bye.”

“’Bye,” he said. She started the automobile—a 1937 Pontiac Silver Streak—and Wesley stepped back as she placed it in gear and slowly drove off. He noticed that there was a military sticker on the rear bumper.

Wesley’s bicycle lay on the sidewalk, but now he wished he had walked to work today. He wanted time to think.

 

=  =  =

 

One of the people Steve most wanted to see during his brief stay in Waco was his good friend, Teddy Gaunce. A talented blocker and receiver on the Waco High football team, Teddy had tried to enlist the day after graduation, but his troublesome right knee caused him to be rejected before he was five minutes into the preliminary medical examination. “You’re 4-F, son,” the dispassionate Army physician told him, and he dismissed the applicant with a few sheets of paperwork for processing. A later attempt to pass the physical also failed, despite the fact that he submitted a signed affidavit from his own family doctor. No one could say he did not try.

Steve wrote to Teddy once from San Diego but never received a reply. That did not surprise him, as his pal was not the kind to hold a pen with any regularity. Though possessing above-average intelligence, during his high school days he was consigned to remedial English and mathematics, popularly designated as the “dumbbell” classes. He simply did not expend enough effort to reach his academic potential, and his grades suffered accordingly. His father, streetcar conductor Nolan Gaunce, was much the same in that respect, causing Renata Gaunce to harangue her stoic husband with the accusatory disclaimer, “Well, that apple did not fall far from the tree.”

Teddy was right where Mrs. Gaunce told Steve he might be—drinking coffee at the soda fountain of the Williams “Old Corner” Drug Store, adjacent to the Amicable skyscraper. Steve wanted to sneak up behind him, but Teddy saw him through the window and was already standing when the sailor entered. “Admiral!” he shouted and held out his hand.

Steve rushed forward to shake it. “Tee Gee,” he said, “how’s the world treating you?” He was surprised to find that Teddy was not alone in the booth.

“Oh, can’t complain,” Teddy said. “I guess you know I was rejected for service.”

Steve became serious. “Yeah, my mother told me the final verdict in one of her letters. That’s a rough break.”

“I’m getting used to it by now. I thought for sure I’d be accepted that second time. I don’t think my knee’s as bad as they say, and neither does Doctor Kruysen.”

Steve looked at the girl who was sitting across the table from Teddy’s coffee cup. Teddy glanced at her too and apologized. “Oh, sorry. Steve, I’d like for you to meet Agnes Matteson.” She smiled. “Aggie, this is a football buddy of mine, Steve Brower.”

Agnes had long brown hair—just this side of blonde—but instead of arranging it straight down her back, she curled it around the neck, allowing it to drape forward over the left shoulder. It was just eccentric enough to be intriguing. “So you’re wearing another uniform these days,” she said.

Steve nodded his head. “Uncle Sam’s.”

“That sure beats Uncle Harry’s, doesn’t it?” Teddy said, and the two men laughed.

Agnes was confused, and she was not one to miss out on a joke. “I don’t get it,” she said to Teddy.

“Harry Stiteler,” he told her, but the blank stare remained. “Coach Stiteler,” he added, shaking his head in frustration. “Jeez, it’s never gonna seem funny if I have to paint you a picture.”

Humiliated in front of a good-looking stranger, Agnes reached for her coffee cup and blew the steam away. “You’re right about that,” she said. “It sure wasn’t very funny.” Steve gave a shallow chuckle, unsure whether she was kidding.

Teddy turned to his pal. “You’ll have to excuse her. She’s from Oglesby.”

The girl’s face flashed red, and Agnes pointed a finger at Teddy. “Thaddeus Gaunce,” she said, “I am getting sick and tired of that particular snotty comment of yours. If I ever hear you say it again, so help me, we’re through.”

Teddy raised his hands in pseudo defense. “Well, my God,” he said, “Pardon me for breathing Your Majesty’s air.”

Agnes balled up her cloth napkin and angrily threw it at Teddy. It glanced off his forehead and landed on the floor behind him.

Steve took a step back, thoroughly embarrassed. “Maybe I’d better let you two talk this out,” he said. By the time he finished his sentence, Agnes had slid across the seat and was storming toward the exit. She turned long enough to toss a dime onto the floor.

“Here, big spender,” she shouted. “I wouldn’t want you to waste your daddy’s allowance on me.” The coin rolled to a stop near Teddy’s feet, and he kicked it violently amidst the tables and chairs. Two startled couples sitting near the door tried to remain casual, but their conversation came to an abrupt halt. “Excuse us,” Agnes told them. Then she slammed the door as she left.

After motioning for Steve to sit across from him, Teddy seated himself heavily in the booth, descending as if all the strength had left his legs. He gazed at the tabletop with a faraway look in his eyes. “That girl’s gonna drive me crazy.” Steve thought better of saying anything, choosing instead to wipe up a bit of coffee that had spilled when Agnes bolted from her seat.

Though Teddy’s face betrayed no emotion, his hands were shaking slightly as he turned his attention back to the coffee cup in front of him. “You want something to eat or some java?” he asked. “My treat.”

“No, but thanks anyway,” Steve said. He stared at his friend, who yawned and began idly folding his napkin into geometric patterns. “Say, Tee Gee, I hope I wasn’t the cause of that little squabble of yours.”

For the first time, Teddy’s eyes acknowledged that there was someone else seated in the booth. He looked directly at the sailor. “Naw, she’s always like that. She’ll get over it. We have a date for Friday, and I’ll bet you a steak she’ll be there.”

“How long have you known each other?”

“Aggie? Six weeks, I guess. We’ve never gotten along—right from the very start.”

Puzzled, Steve rubbed his chin. “Then why do you keep on dating?”

Teddy laughed. “Why do you think?”

Steve nodded his head but said nothing.

“Hey,” Teddy told him, “maybe I can fix you up with her cousin. She’s a doll.”

Steve was amused. “Is she anything like Agnes?”

“Shorter temper.”

“No, thanks, pal.”

 

=  =  =

 

Against her better judgment—and despite the fact that she was profoundly ill-suited for the assignment—Elizabeth Brower agreed to become a matchmaker. Madeleine Givens approached her with the disclosure that one of the USO’s occasional visitors, Private Daniel Rignold, was having difficulty mixing with the female staff. “Look at him over there,” Madeleine said. Danny was sitting by himself at a table, swaying with the phonograph music but otherwise not participating in the benign revelry that took place on a typical weekend at Seventh and Washington. A deck of playing cards and a couple of magazines lay in front of him.

 Elizabeth had a bemused look on her face. “Well, what do you want me to do about it? You know, Mother said she doesn’t want me to become too chummy with any one soldier.”

Madeleine giggled. “No, nothing like that, Lizzie. In fact, your mother is the one who brought this to my attention. I gather that Private Rignold is one of her favorites, and she just wants to make sure he has a good time. Find someone he might like, and pair him up with her—someone who’ll give him a few laughs and maybe a dance or two.”

They glanced at their unsuspecting prey once more but then quickly turned away when his eyes wandered in their direction. Madeleine lit a cigarette. “Do you know this fellow, Rignold?” she asked, blowing smoke out of the corner of her mouth, straight up into the air.

“I’ve met him, yes.”

“Well, he’s your new project. I’ve got Marcus Hanner and Craig Umbedacht and one or two others. My big success is Andy Chapman. I’ll have him engaged before this war is over.”

Danny had begun dealing the cards to himself.

“Oh, Lord—solitaire,” Madeleine whispered. “You’ve got your work cut out for you.”

“It seems like he’s friendly enough. Maybe he’s just bashful around girls.”

“Could be.” Madeleine gave him the once-over. “I don’t see anything else wrong with him. He’s rather nice looking.”

Elizabeth nodded her head in agreement. From this distance, he resembled a younger William Holden, around the time of Golden Boy. “You know,” she said, “it might be kind of fun at that.”

Madeleine stole another peek. “Have anyone in mind? He doesn’t seem to be particularly taken with any of the usuals.”

Elizabeth thought for a moment. “Maybe he has a girl back home.”

“Where’s he from?”

Alabama or Mississippi, I think.”

Madeleine took another drag on her cigarette, and she exhaled smoke when she said, “Too bad I’m such an old married woman.”

Just then, a couple of naval reservists from Baylor passed by on their way to the refreshments. “Help yourselves, men,” Madeleine told them. When she turned back to Elizabeth, a scheming look was in her eyes. “You never answered my question, Lizzie. Do you have anyone in mind for Private Rignold?”

“Not really. Most of the people I know are just my age.”

“That pretty redhead is out of his league, don’t you think?”

“Definitely not his type,” Elizabeth said.

“What about Nancy Flynn? She’s got a nice figure.”

“Nancy Flynn?” Elizabeth spoke the name so loudly that several soldiers looked her way. She lowered her voice and added, “I don’t think she’s right for Danny at all. From what little I’ve seen of him, he’s a respectable boy.”

“And Nancy’s not respectable?”

“Hardly. Did you see the dress she was wearing on Sunday night?”

“No.”

“Cut down to here. The GIs were swarming around her like bees.”

For the rest of the evening, Elizabeth ruminated over how to force Danny Rignold to have a good time in the service of his country. Her plan was to introduce him to an attractive someone at Saturday night’s BAAF/WAAF dance. Getting him there would be no problem. She could simply ask Wesley to ask Sandra Whittsel to ask her father to order Danny to attend.

The key, she knew, would be to find a suitable girl—and she had just three days in which to do it.