Thursday, January 10, 2013

Talking With Candace George Thompson


I'm happy to have Candace George Thompson here today to talk about her new biography, Still Having Fun, A Portrait of the Military Marriage of Rex and Bettie George, 1941 - 2007.

About the book:

This biography of a military marriage which lasted from 1941 until 2007 includes everything from letters written in war zones to photographs that chronicle the lives and romance of Rex and Bettie George. Written after their deaths, Still Having Fun is a moving testament to the character and resilience of American military families, with 55 photos and illustrations.

Welcome, Candace. Tell me how long you've been writing, and how did you start?

I’ve written articles for employee newsletters – or “house organs,” as they were called. (That term always amuses me.) I wrote an e-zine for my clients when I had an executive coaching practice.

Until after my parents died and I was re-reading my mother’s letters from Okinawa, I had never even considered writing a book.

How did you come up with the title of your book?

When Alzheimer’s disease began to steal my mother’s independence, my father became her sole caretaker. He shopped, cooked, cleaned, and did the laundry. He dressed her, fixed her hair, and applied her make-up. He wore himself out. Whenever we expressed concern about how he was holding up, he always replied, “We’re still having fun.” I considered lots of other possible titles, but “Still Having Fun” seemed to be the best description of how my parents chose to live their lives.

That is so beautiful. I know firsthand that being the caretaker of someone with dementia can be brutal. I love the pictures on your cover. Tell me how you came up with the cover art.
On my Facebook author page, I had used a 1950 photo of my parents, taken at the original Knotts Berry Farm in southern California - when it really was a farm, not an amusement park. They are posing behind cardboard old-fashioned wedding clothes. To me, the shot shows that Rex and Bettie had always liked to have fun.

When my publisher asked me what I wanted on the cover, I told her I liked that snapshot, but was concerned because it was black and white. “I’ve got some ideas,” she said, “let me play with it.” She came back with the title in gold script, which fit with the old-fashioned tone of the photo, and she photo-shopped a picture of me into the cameo frame in the background. Very clever, I think. Then she put color photos on the back cover.

I worked with Mary Catharine Nelson at Published by Westview. She was terrific. When I first looked at their website I noted that they had an artist available, with one caveat: She wouldn’t do cows! What a hoot! I was tempted to test that, but never did. No cows in my book. That did help me make my decision about Westview, though. A little sense of humor can go a long way in making a person comfortable.

Are you like your mother and father at all?

I sure am. I inherited my mother’s love of rhyming and singing, and, like her, I pop out of bed in the morning, eagerly anticipating the new day. She taught me to treat all people with respect and kindness, and I hope I’m living up to her standards.

My father ingrained in me the value of self-sufficiency. I can’t say that I even come close to having all the life-skills that he developed, but I can thank him for insisting I learn to type, drive, and cook. Despite his military background and sometimes gruff demeanor, he enjoyed being silly and loved a good joke. When he was deployed to Okinawa right before Mother was due to deliver my sister Jennifer, he sent Mother a photo of himself doing a headstand. He was the first to put on a pig nose for a family portrait. “Silly” is one of my core values.

What song would you pick to go with your book?

Oh, this is a hard one. Songs and song-cues were part of my family’s fiber. I guess I would pick “Far Away Places.” The lyrics personify my parents’ adventuresome spirit and their desire to get to know people from different backgrounds. “I’m going to China or maybe Siam. I wanna see for myself, those far away places with the strange sounding names, calling, calling me.”

Lucky for you, Amy, that this interview isn’t being recorded, because I’m now singing that song. (Written in 1948 by Joan Whiting and Alex Kramer and covered by just about every singer of the period.)

Who are your favorite authors?

Having been a Spanish Lit major in college and lived in Venezuela and Mexico, I try to read everything put out by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julia Alvarez, and Isabel Allende. I used to be able to read them in Spanish, but I’m a bit rusty at this point. Luis Urrea, author of The Hummingbird’s Daughter is also on my read pile.

What are your favorite books or favorite authors?
I still have one of my very early books, Geraldine Belinda, by Marguerite Henry.  Published in 1942, it was given to me for Christmas in 1947 by my Aunt Annetta when we were stationed in occupied Okinawa Japan.
Geraldine Belinda Marybel Scott saved her pennies and now has 25. “And what a lot of things twenty-five pennies could buy!” She makes a list and goes shopping at Mr. Tweedle’s notion shop. Feeling quite the grown-up with her purchases wrapped in a brown paper horn, she ignores her friends as she walks home “with her nose in the air.” Her toys fall out of the package as she hurries past them, but her friends find her purchases and return them to her.

The moral of the story – which I remember to this day – is, “Don’t put on airs when you have pennies to spend – for you never can tell how the story will end.”

What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?

Much of my reading of late has been works of fellow members of writers groups I belong to. Some are in e-book form, others are paperback. I’m about halfway through the e-book edition of a beautiful story by a fellow Military Writers Society of America member, Bonnie Latino, called Your Gift to Me. And I just finished a delightful paperback mystery you might be familiar with: Murder and Mayhem in Goose Pimple Junction.

I have heard of that one! I hear the author is brilliant. How do you handle criticism of your work?

I use it. A couple of my early readers, a history prof and an editor I’ve never met, gave me invaluable feedback that definitely improved and enriched Still Having Fun.

Where’s home for you?

I live in a high-rise in Chicago. I love city living.

I was just in Chicago last summer. It's a fun town. Want to see my vacation pictures? Just kidding. I'll only bore you with one. Tell us one weird thing, one nice thing, and one fact about where you live.

Hmmm. Well, it’s pretty weird to have beavers in the landlocked, man-made pond near us, but somehow they find the place! Usually they are quickly removed before they take down too many trees, but a couple times they’ve stayed, built lodges and had young.

The really nice thing is that we can walk to shops, restaurants and theatres. And, Lincoln Park, which goes along the shoreline of Lake Michigan for several miles north of the city center, is across the street, so I can enjoy birds and squirrels on my morning walks.

Chicago is the best live theatre city in the country.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I’m planning on staying right here in Chicago. It’s an excellent place to age – good public transportation, hospitals, and you can get anything delivered to your door. A few weeks in Mexico during February makes the winter more bearable.

I'm a fan of quotes. What’s one of your favorites?

“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity,” by Horace Mann, first president of my alma mater, Antioch College, in his commencement address to the 1859 graduating class. This is now the college motto and has been repeated to every graduating class since.

What three books have you read recently and would recommend?
You mean besides Murder and Mayhem in Goose Pimple Junction?

Oh yes, besides GPJ. Which, by the way is still just ninety-nine cents for Kindle. (She says with a cheesy grin.)

Gated Grief - The Daughter of a GI Concentration Camp Liberator Discovers a Legacy of Trauma, by Leila Levinson.

How Can You Mend This Purple Heart, by T.L. Gould, a moving story of severely wounded Vietnam Vets.

Lead Us Not into Temptation, Volume I of The Lord’s Prayer mystery series, by Richard Davidson. I find it amazing how much history one can learn from a good mystery writer. I’ve just purchased the next 3 volumes in the series.

Last question. What are you working on now?

I’m mostly in the marketing mode right now, but I’ve been writing articles and essays hoping to be able to place them in newspapers and magazines. An essay about my father, “Devotion,” is in the recently published Military Writers Society of America’s themed anthology titled, Silent Battlefields, and a piece about the gracious and generous Mexican people, based on my 45+ years of visiting their fair country, was accepted for inclusion in Coast Lines 2, a judged anthology produced by the Puerto Vallarta Writers Group.

Congratulations! And thanks for being here, Candace.

About the author:

I'm the daughter of a 30-year career Air Force officer whose first mission as a B-24 navigator was on D-Day. I was born in Kentucky, as were both my parents and like most service families, ours moved frequently. (My guess is that I “lived” in Kentucky only a week or two.) By the time I started 10th grade, I had changed schools 13 times.
After college graduation with a B.A. in Spanish Lit from Antioch College, I served in Venezuela as a Peace Corps volunteer. My rootless way of life continued upon my return - Vermont, San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, and New Jersey.

My husband and I have now lived in Chicago for over 30 years - eight times longer than any other place. I'm happy to have finally found a home. I love Chicago!
My interests include reading, writing, sharing a good meal with friends, laughing, early morning walks, rock and roll, squirrels and penguins, Mexico, weird tidbits of information, and last but not least, my wonderful, supportive husband.

Connect with Candace:

Website (under construction)

Facebook page

Amazon Paperback and Kindle versions, both with 55 photos and illustrations.