Welcome to the Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves Blog Tour!
To celebrate the release of Louisa June and the Nazis on the Waves by L.M. Elliott on March 22nd, 5 sites will be featuring exclusive guest posts from L.M. Elliott plus 5 chances to win a signed copy of Louisa June!
by L.M. Elliott
Okay, here’s a confession. I LOVE to research. Putting my butt in a chair and my fingers to the keyboard to actually write? Not so much.
Research is the treasure hunt! Where I find the gems. Where I get to play detective. It’s the FUN part.
Witness this sleuthing for Hamilton and Peggy!: The eureka moment that I realized that a footnote, an essay on Mount Vernon’s website, a paragraph in a rather dry historical society newsletter, and the kindness of a historian with access to pension applications by American Revolutionary veterans must all be referencing one verifiable man—a barely literate spy for General Schuyler, who may have saved our entire Continental Army by uncovering a cunning, secret three-pronged attack by the Redcoats, coming south from Canada. How? Because—according to a late 19th-century article in which his grandchildren recounted his experiences—this man (Moses Harris) had a spot-on sixth sense about people, the gift of gab, and some peach brandy in his back pocket that he could share with strangers who didn’t seem quite right to him. Those men in fact turned out to be incognito British couriers, terrified to be in enemy territory and more than willing to hand over their official letters to someone they thought was a sympathetic Loyalist.
I can’t tell you what a delight it was writing that real-life character.
Oh, and Peggy’s love interest I discovered by pulling up short on this line in one of Alexander Hamilton’s letters to Eliza, (where he’s using Peggy to chide Eliza for not writing him more often and more ardently): “When your sister returns home, I shall try to get her in my interest and make her tell me of all your flirtations. Have you heard anything more of what I hinted to you about Fleury? When she returns, give my love to her and tell her, I expected, she would have outstripped you in the Hymenal line.”
Wait…what? I thought. Who the heck is Fleury? And is “Hymenal line” what I think it is—an overly fancy way of saying…mmm, marriage? Anyone who thinks reading primary documents is boring should just dip into some of Hamilton’s letters.
Click here for more about the daring 31-year-old French soldier and nobleman, the Marquis Francoise-Louis Teissedre de Fleury.
The research that designed Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves is far more sobering than these examples, of course. And I found much of it years ago while researching Across a War-Tossed Sea. That novel is a companion to my best-known work, Under a War-Torn Sky, about a young B-24 bomber pilot who survives bailing out of his burning plane because of the French civilians who help him. Across focuses on his hometown girlfriend and two British boys who’d escaped Hitler’s brutal bombing blitz of London to stay with Patsy’s family. (I’d noticed a report about a group of refugees looking for homes “for the duration” in an obscure collection of Richmond WWII newspaper stories and added that detail—in a two-paragraph exchange of dialogue—to the final chapter of Under a War-Torn Sky. See that? A tidbit of research planted in one book can later bloom into an entire novel of its own!)
In Across, my focus is more on the impact of the presence of German POWs on those traumatized British evacuees. That was a surprising fact—German POWs working Virginia farms to stand in for our men sent overseas to fight Hitler. That and the presence of a decoy airfield, complete with cardboard fake planes, just outside Richmond, meant to lure away Luftwaffe bombers if they came to attack the East Coast!
I also read about the shocking U-boat attacks on our cargo ships and tankers in the first six months of the war, spring of 1942, my heart in my throat at the tragic details. The timing of those terrible sinkings didn’t fit into Across’ timeline. So, I couldn’t use them.
Until Louisa June.
Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves is about that little-known aspect of WWII: A few days after Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hitler unleashed a “wolfpack” of U-boat submarines to our East Coast. Their mission was to torpedo as many U.S. cargo ships carrying fuel, supplies, and food as possible. They typically struck in the dark of night, without warning.
America was totally unprepared.
The first two sinkings occurred in January 1942, just off Cape Cod and then Long Island. A week later a U-boat took down an oil tanker near Norfolk, Virginia, where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic. The waters around Tidewater Virginia—Louisa June’s world—became a favorite hunting ground for the Nazi’s subs. When the war brings her sudden tragedy, Louisa June must embark on a perilous sail of her own, looking to help her grieving parents and determined to somehow combat Nazis herself.
As is always the case when I research WWII, I marveled at the extraordinary acts of courage and kindness by ordinary people in the face of terrible dangers. At how they pull down deep inside themselves to find steely, teeth-gritted stubborn resolve. At the deeply inspiring juxtaposition of pity and compassion answering cruelty and malice. I hope you will read Louisa June to experience what I did as I researched. But let me share a few of the more breath-taking revelations here:
In Chapter Eight, Louisa June tells her mama about the U.S.S. Roper “lifeboat baby.” After a U-boat had torpedoed their cargo-passenger liner, a young mother, eight months pregnant and struggling to carry her toddler, had fallen on deck and badly bruised herself. A young sailor gave her his life jacket and helped her onto a lifeboat. The ship doctor followed. He clambered down a rope, but lost his grip and fell hard, breaking two of his ribs against the rail, as the lifeboat dropped into a deep swell between waves. In considerable pain himself, he tended to the mother as she struggled to give birth, in a storm and 20-foot seas, for thirteen long hours. Twenty other passengers crowded the boat, comforting her two-year-old, covering the mother with a sail to shield her against the pelting rain. A day and a half later they were found and rescued.
Some German U-boat captains would throw water or provisions to survivors before submerging and disappearing into the dark waters to continue their hunt. One tossed down biscuits that kept American sailors alive as they floated in their lifeboats for ten days before being found. That captain asked, “Hey, how are the Dodgers doing?” He’d spent his childhood in Brooklyn before returning as an adult to Germany. With a “Give my best to President Roosevelt! I met him in New York when I was a boy!” the Nazi officer closed the hatch and submerged.
Other U-boat captains were ruthless. My novel’s pivotal events were inspired by a particularly brutal attack by U-754 on a 140-foot tugboat, the Menominee, on March 31, 1942. After blasting the tugboat’s cabin and destroying its radio so the crew could not report the U-boat’s presence and after sinking the three barges of coal and lumber the tug was towing—thereby achieving his mission to eliminate fuel and supplies—Captain Johannes Oestermann ordered his crew to finish off the Menominee.
U-754 chased down and shelled the tugboat, setting it ablaze. The Menominee exploded seconds later as its crewmembers abandoned the ship. Only a handful reached a life raft and lattice float. And only three of them survived the night until they were spotted the next morning by a tanker on its way to New York.
The crew of the tanker, The Northern Sun, knew they risked also being attacked by the U-boat, which could be lingering nearby, submerged and invisible, watching for a new target. A favorite tactic—using the wreckage they’d created as bait for other ships manned by compassionate sailors. But the Northern Sun stopped anyway.
A lifeboat was lowered. When its engine gave out, the young sailors manning it knew every passing moment was critical to the Menominee survivors in the frigid March water. They rowed so hard they snapped an oar. They found a seventeen-year-old boy clinging to the floatation’s wooden latticework so desperately, his rescuers had to pry his fingers loose. Heartbreakingly, after the crew battled “to get the water out of him,” the teenager died in the tanker’s sick bay from a broken neck and severed spinal cord. It had been the teenager’s very first voyage.
There were two sets of fathers and sons on the Menominee. The captain and his son, an able seaman; and the cook and his, a Messman. Both sons were 22 years old. Neither survived. One of the fathers did.
When I read the details contained in those last two paragraphs, I had to put my head down and cry for a few moments. And as I did, the tragic twists of Louisa June’s story wrote themselves. Her daddy is not the captain of the Menominee. But what happens to him and her brother—and the terrible repercussions and journey for redemption within her family that follow—were certainly inspired by it.
For more about Louisa June, please visit my webpage.
“Evocatively threaded with the scents and sounds of Tidewater Virginia coastal communities, this story presents a fascinating, lesser-known aspect of the war told from a young girl’s perspective. Successfully tackling the devastation of depression on family relationships, the bitter cost of war, and the uplifting strength of no-nonsense friendship, this story has impressive depth. Superb.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Middle-grade lovers of World War II historical fiction will find this title engrossing. Elliot’s story delivers facts and a thoughtful approach to characters experiencing grief and depression while adding some maritime adventure. VERDICT A must-have for all middle-grade historical fiction collections. Recommend to those who enjoyed Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s The War That Saved My Life and Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch’s Making Bombs for Hitler.”
—School Library Journal (starred review)
“Elliott weaves a deeply moving historical tale, including small but significant details that flesh out the situations and characters, even the secondary ones. The extensive and fact-filled backstory in the author’s note gives readers even more context. An excellent middle-grade read that balances adventure, emotions, and family.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“An infrequently explored aspect of WWII history—German submarines torpedoing U.S. cargo ships along America’s East Coast—underpins Elliott’s (Walls) well-crafted novel. Evocative descriptions of the region’s natural life ground this realistic depiction of one family’s efforts to withstand depression and personal tragedy during wartime.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In this moving and timeless story, award-winning author L. M. Elliott captures life on the U.S. homefront during World War II, weaving a rich portrait of a family reeling from loss and the chilling yet hopeful voyage of fighting for what matters, perfect for fans of The War That Saved My Life.
Days after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Hitler declared war on the U.S., unleashing U-boat submarines to attack American ships. Suddenly, the waves outside Louisa June’s farm aren’t for eel-fishing or marveling at wild swans, or learning to skull her family’s boat—they’re dangerous, swarming with hidden enemies.
Her oldest brothers’ ships risk coming face-to-face with U-boats. Her sister leaves home to weld Liberty Boat hulls. And then her daddy, a tugboat captain, and her dearest brother, Butler, are caught in the crossfire.
Her mama has always swum in a sea of melancholy, but now she really needs Louisa June to find moments of beauty or inspiration to buoy her. Like sunshine-yellow daffodils, good books, or news accounts of daring rescues of torpedoed passengers.
Determined to help her Mama and aching to combat Nazis herself, Louisa June turns to her quirky friend Emmett and the indomitable Cousin Belle, who has her own war stories—and a herd of cats—to share. In the end, after a perilous sail, Louisa June learns the greatest lifeline is love.
L. M. Elliott was a magazine journalist covering women’s issues, mental health, and the performing arts for twenty years before becoming a New York Times best-selling author of historical and biographical fiction. Her twelfth and latest, Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves, is set in Tidewater Virginia during the deadly U-boat attacks on our coast in 1942. Her novels explore a variety of eras (the Italian Renaissance, the American Revolutionary War, WWII, and the Cold War), and are written for a variety of ages. Her works have been named NCSS/CBC Notables, Bank Street College Best Books, Jefferson Cup Honor Books, Kirkus Bests, and Grateful American Book Prize winners. Learn more at www.lmelliott.com and on Twitter or Instagram @L_M_Elliott.
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