In 2005 I had decided it was time to test the dream of writing. God seemed to have given me the green light by introducing me to Colleen Coble. One of the first rules of writing is to write what you know, so I’d come up with the idea of a woman who is a television reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska. She likes Runzas, Nebraska football, and other things just like me. This was the story I took to my first ACFW conference — Even when I arrived I was still trying to decide whether to pitch it to editors and agents. After advice from a couple authors I respected, I decided to wait until I was a little further down the road. But this was what I was going to write. Romantic suspense with strong female leads.
Then I met Jim Peterson as I was waiting to host a workshop he and his wife Tracie Peterson were going to teach. In addition to being a best-selling author, Tracie was the managing editor at Heartsong Presents, where Jim was the acquisitions editor. I really didn’t think this was a line I would write for, but as we waited for Tracie, Jim and I started talking. I found out he was from Kansas and majored in history. Then I found out that his favorite time period was WWII. That got me thinking. I’m from Nebraska, minored in history, and adore WWII history. What if I wrote a story centered on my hometown and its activities during WWII?
My family moved to North Platte when I was 14, but I didn’t really learn about the Canteen until much later. From the first time I heard some of the stories I was captivated by the sacrifice so many people made during the war for others. During a time of intense rationing, individuals, families, and entire communities, put the needs of soldiers who would just pass through once ahead of their own needs. Especially in post 9/11 days, I’ve often wondered how we would respond if a similar crisis asserted itself. As I noodled with the idea of having the Canteen as a setting, the idea dropped into my mind to base the romance on my grandparents. My grandfather was drafted four times and sent home each time because he was essential on the homefront as the only son of a father. My grandmother taught school, but in a one-room schoolhouse. They met at a dance, but because my grandfather was several years older, he had to wait for my grandmother to get a bit older before he could propose.
The last night of that ACFW conference in 2005, I asked Jim if he might be interested in a story like that? He said yes, and sent me to Tracie. She was also interested, and mentioned they would need a total of three stories set in Nebraska. I went home and over the next three or four weeks broke the cardinal rule of publishing. I sat at my computer night after night and wrote the first three chapters and chapter-by-chaper synopsis detailing what would happen in the rest of the book. But I didn’t write the full manuscript. I sent the proposal off and waited to see if they were interested. Then when Jim contacted me in December asking if the book was finished, I panicked. It wasn’t, but I promised I could have it done quickly. I wrote the rest of the book in less than three weeks, and then waited. In February they asked if I’d be willing to make a few tweaks. I did. Then I waited. And my heart sank when I learned that Tracie was stepping back from the editor position at Heartsong. I was convinced Canteen Dreams would get lost in the transition.
Imagine my surprise and delight when the first night of the 2006 ACFW conference, JoAnne Simmons called me to the front at the opening session to give me my first contract for Canteen Dreams. The prior year I had watched Mary Connealy receive her contract and thought, “it is possible. That could happen to me.” I had no idea it would happen so quickly, or that it would be such a magical moment. A year later that book released in October 2007, and in September 2008 Canteen Dreams tied for first place in the ACFW Book of the Year Short Historical category with Mary Connealy’s book.
If after reading Canteen Dreams , you’d like to learn more about the Canteen, I can recommend several resources.
First, find Bob Greene’s book Once Upon a Town. He does a great job capturing the stories and feel of North Platte and the Canteen. Then Nebraska Public Television and PBS have a wonderful documentary on the subject called The Canteen Spirit. Finally, this website is a wonderful resource. It has wonderful postcards, photos, and stories about the Canteen. There’s also this website.