I'd like to introduce M. H. Sargent, author of the historical novel, Toward Night's End, set in the US during the upheavals of World War II. M. H., thanks for dropping in to answer some questions. By the way, I have to mention how much I like the cover of your novel. It's beautifully done.
First, when did you start writing? What was it you first wrote?
I actually started writing short stories in high school. Just for fun. In college, I worked for the UCLA newspaper and some local weekly newspapers too. As for novels, this book, Toward Night's End was my first novel.
What period do you write about and why?
My story takes place in America during WWII and deals with the Japanese-Americans being sent to internment camps.The story came from a real life experience during the war. My grandfather had a dairy farm in Norwalk, California. He was also an attorney and he had Japanese tenant farmers handle the farm for him, day to day. Like many others in the area, when the war came along and the Japanese-Americans were forced into camps, families had to do a lot of extra work at their farms. One neighbor had a teenage son to help him and the boy went to the barn for some hay and discovered something hidden under the haystack -- it was an anti-aircraft gun. The boy's father called the Army and they carted it away. But that story has always stayed with me. We've been taught that all the Japanese-Americans were good citizens and putting them in the camps was a terrible wrong. However, if that is the case, why would some tenant farmers have an anti-aircraft gun, of all things? How did they get it? Anyway, that one episode got my imagination going and eventually lead to this novel.
What is your theory or belief on how historically accurate you need to be? How does that affect your story? For alternative history writers: how did you decide to change history? How do you reconcile it with “real” history?
Personally, I want to keep my story as historically accurate as possible. I really researched the Japanese internment camps, to give a valid description of what life was like in those camps. Obviously, all my characters are fictitious, but I tried to show what life was like then, how events did unfold.
Tell me about your main character, real or fictional and why?
My main character is a 21 year old Japanese-American man named Matthew Kobata. He is completely fictitious. He lives with his family on Bainbridge Island, Washington. The book starts on the day all the Japanese-Americans on that island had to leave. His mother refuses to leave their home, since he never came home the night before. She wants to wait for him, since he is "a good boy" and knows they have to leave on the ferry. The Army forces the family to leave and the hunt is on for Matthew. Complicating matters, the bodies of two Caucasian men are then found on the island and suspicions turn to Matthew.
What is the most surprising thing in the period you write about? Do you run into common misperceptions? How do you deal with them in your fiction?
As I say, the most common misconception is that all Japanese-Americans leaving on the West coast of the U.S. were loyal to America and it was wrong to put them in camps. But then again, I come back to that neighbor of my grandfather -- his son finding an anti-aircraft gun hidden on the property. Bottom line, I think things are not always as simple as they seem.
Who would you most like to meet from one of your novels? Tell us about them.
I'd probably like to meet my main character, Matthew. A very honorable young man that tried to stop a horrible wrong and got caught up in a web of deceit against this country.
What is your next project?
My other books deal an elite 4-member CIA team, all set in present day. So, I'm currently working on another book with them.
Toward Night's End is a fascinating and unusual look at the US during World War II. You'll find it here on Amazon for only $3.99.