Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Teri M. Brown, author of An Enemy Like Me.
FQ: Thank you for the opportunity to discuss An Enemy Like Me with you. Your prolific command of the English language and your adept ability with your word placement are enviable! You transcend epic periods of time in history dating back to the ’30s and in the next chapter, we are in 2016 with the character William (Jacob and Bonnie’s son); only to take a step back to wartime ’40s. How did you keep track of the back and forth among all your characters?
BROWN: There are two main timelines in An Enemy Like Me. We have William as a grown man looking back on his life and providing his memories and insights. Then we have Jacob and Bonnie with their young son William beginning before the war and moving through it. For me, the back and forth flowed easily because I often used William’s memory to jump the readers back in time. When I’m writing, I tend to jot down notes on a pad to remind me where the action stopped. I also have to sneak back and do a bit of rereading to be sure what I want to write next makes sense!
FQ: On Page 122, there is an incredibly profound passage portrayed through character Bonnie’s musing: "...War. It was such an ugly word. Small but powerful. These three letters pitted nation against nation, men against men. But from her vantage point, war did something far worse. It trapped men between the love of their country and the love of their family, their wives, and their children. How was a good man, a man with strong values, supposed to choose between the freedom of his country and the love of his family, in particular, when it appeared one couldn’t exist without the other..." This was incredibly powerful, and I re-read this particular passage a few times because it was so strong and insightful. Were you channeling your character when you wrote this?
BROWN: I am of the belief that war is created by governments who want power, land, money, and resources. These governments then create enemies by focusing on the differences between people. They convince ordinary citizens that fighting is the only way to keep living the life they are living. But these citizens then have to choose to fight in a war that could do just that – completely change their life and the lives of those they love.
However, this is a complex topic. What if someone attacks your nation? Or tries to take away your freedoms? I firmly believe in having a strong military – my grandfather, father, and husband are all veterans, and I applaud their service to our nation.
So, that passage, for me, explains the angst I feel about war.
FQ: To expand on my previous question, how do current-day events influence your writing, and do you temper the similarities between the fiction you write and the reality of what plays out in real life?
BROWN: I have trouble believing all authors aren’t influenced, at least to some degree, by what is happening in real life. Although German Americans no longer feel the brunt of hatred because of their nationality, there are many marginalized groups that do. We have a world of “isms” and “phobics” that create an us vs them mentality. Although An Enemy Like Me portrays this as a by-product of Hitler, I hope that people will look inside themselves to see who they fear – and why.
FQ: If you had the power to change the course of time to circumvent imminent war, how would you do this?
BROWN: I don’t know how to circumvent imminent war. I wish I did. I do believe, however, that each of us has the power to eliminate fear and hatred toward others.
My husband and I rode across the United States on a tandem bicycle (3102 miles from the coast of Oregon to Washington, DC). While out on the road, we met hundreds of people from all walks of life – different colors, religions, nationalities, political affiliations, sexual orientations, socio-economic situations, and more. The amazing thing we learned was that we had something in common with every person we met. They rode bicycles or had children or vacationed at the beach or had been in the military or donated to Toys for Tots – and on and on. We would spend time standing in a gas station parking lot or along the side of the road chatting with people about our similarities. And guess what? Because we focused on our commonalities, the differences didn’t matter.
FQ: On the very next page (123), you reference Jeannette Rankin. The nuance between her and Bonnie’s character was spot on. "...Bonnie didn’t pay much attention to politics, but she had always admired Jeannette..." It’s interesting how you painted Bonnie as a woman of substance well ahead of the time she was living in. Is there a little of Bonnie that runs through your veins? Please elaborate.
BROWN: I hope so! Bonnie is patterned after my grandmother, a woman who was intelligent, funny, gutsy, and completely a lady. If I can manage to be half the lady my grandmother was, then I will be one lucky woman.
FQ: War truly is an ‘ugly word’ and as idealistic as this may sound, why can’t we all just get along? If someone asked you to write a one-liner impact statement that would solidify peace versus war, what would you write?
BROWN: I agree, so let’s all just get along! As for the one-liner, how about:
Look in the mirror – there you will find the enemy of your enemy.
FQ: I loved the relationship between the characters Jacob and Axel. Axel was such a foundational influence in Jacob’s life. Was his character fashioned after someone in your life? If so, how did he or she shape (or contribute) to your life?
BROWN: I have had several such people in my life at different points in time. When I was a child, my grandmother was a strong influence. She helped me see beauty in myself and others and gave me courage to be myself. In high school, I had a coach who helped me through the gangly years. He was able to point out my strengths when I was too busy finding my weaknesses. As an adult, I had an older friend who gave me the strength I needed in a bad season of my life. Today, that person is my husband. He is currently fighting a war against an aggressive form of brain cancer with grace, compassion, faith, and amazing strength. Axel is a combination of these four – and more.
FQ: Again, without too much of a spoiler, there is a nuance of bittersweet regret that plays out in William’s character toward the end of the book. The scenes you wrote about William’s reflections toward the relationship (or lack of) he had with his father were very much-so akin to a notion of: "...If I had it to do over, I would do it this way..." These moments struck a chord with me and if you had to share a moment in your life where you would do something differently, what would that be and why would you do it over?
BROWN: My second marriage was not a good one. My husband was emotionally abusive, but I stuck with it for 14 years because I didn’t want to a divorced-twice failure. Although I learned a lot during that experience, I regret what my children had to go through and I regret letting him take away my relationships with extended family – parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. For several years, I had almost no contact with those I loved. Even if I couldn’t change marrying this man, I would not let him take away my family like he did because you can never recapture lost time.
FQ: Thank you again for your time and the pleasure of chatting with you about your fantastic book. I can’t imagine this is it for you. If you’re working on your next book, are you able to share a sneak peek?
BROWN: I’m currently working on a book about Maggie, a 19th-century healer woman living in the mountains of North Carolina. It is another multi-generational, historical fiction novel that looks at what happens when traditions come up against modern ways, and whether it is necessary to throw the baby out with the bath water. My hope is that this novel – currently untitled – will come out in early 2024.