How My Novel “Called to Arms Again” Came to Be
By J. L. Salter
Details have become somewhat hazy over the past ten years, but I’m pretty sure the seeds of my third novel — third completed and the third to be published — came during a slow drive up the hill and along the curves of the retirement community where my father-in-law and mother-in-law were then living.
I spotted something I had never seen before… or simply had never noticed — most of the condo owners had their garage doors raised about one foot. I asked my F-I-L why and he explained it was alleged to release some of the heat buildup during summer months. I’m not much of a scientist so that made as much sense to me as any other reason.
“But what if somebody wanted to break into all these condos?” I asked rhetorically. “All they’d have to do is get a skinny kid to shimmy under the garage door and then he could get inside and let the robbers walk through the front door.”
And there was my basic story: a community of retired condo owners are invaded by a gang of robbers who slip into each house by way of the raised garage doors.
Of course, it took months to write. And after my F-I-L died, it took me some 14 months to return to this novel at all. It eventually reached about 165,000 words, from which I had to hack away some 55,000 words just to get it into a size that my publisher could consider.
It’s a heartfelt tribute to the Greatest Generation… and (of all my novels) probably the closest to my own heart. Anyone who knew my F-I-L and M-I-L will recognize them in this novel. Both have since passed away — Dad in 2008 and Mom in 2010.
Below are some paragraphs from the novel’s Afterword:
Inspired by the strength and sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, this novel weaves together themes of patriotism, pioneer spirit, self-reliance, and the willingness to fight for your own present as well as the future of generations to follow.
A portion of this fictional plot pits an assembly of aging World War II veterans – and friends and neighbors of both genders – against a gang of opportunistic criminals in their twenties.
Called to Arms Again features fictional members of the real-life Honor Guard of American Legion Post 38, which (over the eighteen year period, 1989-2007) had provided military burial honors to nearly 2000 veterans buried within Pulaski County. [In the five years since that tally, they’ve provided over 530 additional military burial honors.]
Though about 980 WW II vets die each day, their lives and stories won’t necessarily be forgotten if we continue to honor them in fiction and non-fiction.
Featured prominently in this novel – as in two other as-yet-unpublished manuscripts – is a fictional figure inspired by certain characteristics of my late father-in-law (a long-time member of the Post 38 firing squad).
I had just resumed serious work on this novel when my father-in-law was hospitalized in early February, 2008. From February 2 through April 1, I worked on this manuscript for sixty consecutive days (often until midnight), trying to finish it … in hopes that Dad would remain alive and alert long enough to read it. I had given him updates on my progress during both of his stays in the hospital – thirteen days and seventeen days – as well as the approximately four weeks in between when he was at home but still very ill.
He had read my other two novels (which featured “his” character) and seemed eager to read Called to Arms Again. But he never had the chance: I couldn’t produce it quickly enough, though I wore myself out trying. In the few moments I had to say my final words to him on April 1, I also told Dad I had finally completed my first draft — still quite rough, but readable. He and I both knew he would never get to read it. I reminded my dying father-in-law that my novel was inspired by him and members of his honor guard. I’ve already forgotten the specific words in his reply, but he grinned and said, in essence, “I’ll bet it’s a corker.”
I think it is a corker and I believe Dad would have loved it.
P.S. Twenty members of the Post 38 Honor Guard were in uniform at the funeral service of Charles A. Williams.
[JLS # 359]