Guest Post – Band of Sisters: Coming Home by Annette Lyon

Welcome to Author Annette Lyon

Annette Lyon is a Whitney Award winner, the recipient of Utah’s Best in State medal for fiction and the author of ten novels, a cookbook, and a grammar guide as well as over a hundred magazine articles. She’s a senior editor at Precision Editing Group and a cum laude graduate from BYU with a degree in English. When she’s not writing, editing, knitting, or eating chocolate, she can be found mothering and avoiding the spots on the kitchen floor.

Guest Post

One Writer, One Idea, Three Books

by Annette Lyon

??????????? Readers often ask writers how they get their ideas. The answers to that question are surely as varied as the writers themselves. In my case, I’ve found story and character ideas from places as diverse as a non-fiction book about mother-daughter relationships, an advice column in the newspaper, a Country song, a television news report, a history book, and many other places. But if someone had told me six years ago that a friend I’d known pretty much my entire life would inspire two novels, I probably wouldn’t have believed it.

??????????? Chris and I lived in the same neighborhood as children, only three blocks apart. My family moved there when I was four and a half. Her first memory of me is at her fifth birthday party about five months later—her mom insisted that Chris invite the new girl. We went to summer camps together. We went through junior high and high school together. It’s safe to say we have plenty of material to blackmail each other with. (Good thing we’re friends.)

??????????? We grew up, went to college, married, and moved away. Then, a couple of years after I moved to our current neighborhood with my husband and kids, Chris emailed, saying that they had put an offer on a house, and she thought that maybe it was near mine. One look at the address, and I laughed. Chris was moving just around the corner. As toddlers, our daughters became buddies, like history repeating itself in the second generation.

??????????? Then Chris’s husband was deployed to Afghanistan, and her life turned upside down. I became her stand-by babysitter. She often dropped her little ones off to play while she ran errands or went to appointments or simply had a little much-needed alone time. When she returned, we talked on my porch. Our conversations opened my eyes as she shared the trials of deployment, and how, even as a National Guard wife, what she’d expected the deployment to be like (“Basically being a single mom”) was not the case—at all.

??????????? About halfway through, Chris and her group of Guard wives were on my mind. I’d learned so much about what deployment was like watching Chris. Somehow I felt that we all needed to know about the reality of military families and what they deal with. I asked her if I could send her and her group interview questions via email. From there, I’d write an article for an online magazine I often published in.

??????????? I sent off the questions. What came back was a flood of heart-wrenching personal stories. When I printed out the interviews, I had somewhere around thirty single-spaced pages. Some of these women’s answers made me laugh. Other parts made me cry. All of it opened my eyes and changed me.

??????????? Writing the article was hard; I had about 800 words—three measly double-spaced pages—in which to cram as much information about five women’s lives as I possibly could. I finally begged the editor for more space, and she managed to give me another 400 words, but even that seemed barely enough to scratch the surface. I condensed and tweaked and struggled to do these women justice.

I turned in the article, but the topic wouldn’t leave my mind. For weeks, day and night, I thought about the military families waiting at home without their soldiers. Finally I cried uncle. My mind would give me no peace until I wrote enough to truly honoring these brave families.

The result was Band of Sisters. After years of publishing romance and historical fiction, I’d jumped headlong into women’s fiction, which was exhilarating and terrifying all at once. Band of Sisters is about five women—not the ones I interviewed; entirely fictional ones—in different stages of life, dealing with different problems, while their husbands are at war. The novel went on to receive the 2010 Whitney Award for its category, a highlight of my career.

But the subject still rattled around in the back of my head. Part of the reason was that I couldn’t tell the full story in one book. Jessie’s story in particular demanded that her husband be around to complete her arc. So I wrote a sequel about re-entry, which, I learned from a new group of military wives I interviewed, has its own brand of challenges. Chris said that re-entry is so hard and varied that I could write a trilogy about it—and she was only half kidding.

The sequel, Band of Sisters: Coming Home is now on shelves, and I’m thrilled with how it turned out. I love getting emails from military wives who read one or both books and think I must be a military wife too, too because there’s “no way” I could possibly know this stuff. Other reader emails thank me for opening their eyes to the sacrifices our military families make. Or, on a more universal level, for helping them remember that everyone has different problems, just like the characters in the books, and that we can’t know what burdens another person may be facing.

I admit I also get a kick out hearing that I made readers cry, laugh, or stay up late to finish the story. Writers are sadists that way.

Writing Band of Sisters took my career path and turned it another direction. I did another women’s fiction title after that, Paige, part of the Newport Ladies Bookclub series. And then, of course, Coming Home. While I still write romance, currently with novellas in the Timeless Romance Anthology collections, my novel-length work is now focused on women’s fiction. Delving into women’s issues, digging around, and exploring those challenges is where my heart has found a home.

The conversation Chris and I had on my porch were a long time ago—before I had teenagers, and when I had every intention of continuing with my historical and romance novels. I had no clue that because Chris shared her life with me, my entire career would shift.

I’m proud of Band of Sisters and Coming Home. I love seeing the pink and blue covers side by side on the shelf. I smile each time I look up from my writing desk as see my Whitney Award. More than that, I’m grateful for the experience that focused my work on women’s lives and issues, and that helped me become a more compassionate woman myself.

Band of Sisters

When the war on terror calls their husbands to duty, five LDS women are left behind to fight battles of their own: Kim, newlywed and pregnant, frightened of what the future might bring. Brenda, struggling to manage three unruly boys and a crippling bout of depression. Jessie, secretly grappling with mixed feelings about her emotionally abusive husband. Marianne, wrestling with a rebellious teenage daughter. And Nora, the seasoned Army wife with perfect hair, an immaculate home — and an ill-tempered mother dying of cancer.

Knowing the separation of deployment is extremely difficult, Nora gathers the wives every week to share lunches and burdens. In good company, they worry over safety in the field and stability at home and offer one another counsel and comfort. But as their personal crises build, each woman faces the risks of forming deep bonds of trust. And when tragedy strikes, they must confront the painful realities of war that pull families apart and bring friends together as sisters.

Band of Sisters: Coming Home

Five women became fast friends when their husbands were deployed to Afghanistan. But as they welcome the soldiers home, what should be a joyful time soon becomes painful. Kim, who had a baby while her husband was away, knows how to be a mother but has forgotten how to be a wife. Nora, accustomed to taking care of herself during the long years of her husband’s absence, resents having to forfeit her independence. Jess’s already troubled marriage turns dangerous, while Brenda struggles to manage her husband’s psychological trauma. And Marianne faces her crushing loss, compounded with worry over wayward children. Each woman must draw upon her bond of friendship and faith to find the strength, courage, and insight needed to move forward, proving that even the hardest of trials cannot break this loyal band of sisters.