This was a Guestpost for Historical Fiction Connection during The War Nurse book tour:
Why I Chose a War Setting for a Female Character
World War II is a gold mine for great stories because it caused the greatest global upheaval of humans in current history. First, the combat stories haven’t all been tapped. Second, the stories of internment haven’t all been heard. Third, the stories of women survivors in the combat zones have yet to be discovered in full.
War brings out the best and worst in people. The greatest leaps in health care, surgical techniques, and new medicines have followed wars. Sadly, we still don’t have the cure for soldier’s heart now called PTSD. I can’t help wondering why.
Why set a woman’s story in a soul-sucking war zone?
Because war stuns people of conscience and they can’t be neutral. The devastation and loss of life moves many to alleviate suffering any way they can. Their humanity shines. The borderline humans let go of all restraints and unleash their obsessions. The latter is where the war horror stories come from. People without a conscience are drawn to the ones that shine.
The War Nurse is a woman’s journey into the ‘heart of darkness.’ Katarina Stahl is an American Red Cross nurse in Manila, a lush, tropical paradise when the war explodes. With bombs falling, she makes a bad decision. She doesn’t realize her decision will slam her New York family into their own dark voyage. She didn’t know the German doctor she saved had made previous inquiries about her family from the German Consulate in Manila. She doesn’t know the FBI dragnet has already scooped them up and detained them behind barbed wire.
In the war zone, the doctor pretends he’s at the camp to return her survival favor. He begs her to save herself and her unborn child by nursing his wife in their home. This is when Katarina makes a life-altering pact with a he-devil. Read the excerpt:
“You were a war nurse on Bataan, and for you, there is only imprisonment. Nursing is an honorable job. After Minka’s delivery, I’ll turn you over if you wish to starve and sing patriotic songs behind bars.”
Katarina licked her lips. “I’m sorry. People will—no, it’s impossible.”
“Did you swear an oath to your husband or to the military?”
Jack told her to live at all costs.
A Japanese soldier came to the door and beckoned von Wettin.
He helped her stand. “Choose to go with me or stay behind as the only female.”
His words chilled. She wouldn’t survive one night alone. “I have to get my things.”
Panicking, she dashed to the hut for wet laundry, and then back to the sleep room. Wet clothes went first into a hemp bag, followed by dry. Last, she removed Jack’s picture from under the pillow and stared at it. Jack would tell her to do whatever it took to survive the war, short of murder. She tucked him into her pocket and put on the anting-anting necklace. She stared at the austere sleep space. What had Hub said? Luck favors risk takers.
Going to von Wettin’s home could mean the difference between survival or losing Jack’s baby. But she knew he’d extract a heavy price for accepting his offer. Even so, it was time to put the needs of her baby first. How many times had she cried herself to sleep worrying? In nightmares, she’d eaten her baby.
“I’ll be Minka’s nurse,” she said, joining von Wettin. Her morning mush threatened to come back up, and her skin turned frosty. He’d cornered her, preyed on her fears, and pretended she had choices. He lied as easily as breathing, but so could she.