If you didn’t see my first blog post, let me introduce myself.
I’m Sarah Byrn Rickman, a veteran journalist turned author. I worked for The Detroit News before I had kids and then as the editor of two community papers after both boys were in school: The Anthony Wayne Standard (a small paper in suburban Toledo, OH) and, after my husband was transferred to Dayton, The Centerville-Bellbrook Times, a suburban twice weekly.
In 1989, I “retired” to write books. But, I was asked to edit Centerville, Ohio’s bi-monthly newsletter, The Town Crier, and I said yes. I also wrote and edited publications for the Kettering Foundation. I really liked both jobs. I put my ultimate goal — Writing the “Great American Novel” —on hold.
In 1996, I added a Masters in Creative Writing from Antioch University McGregor, to my credentials. My adviser and staunch mentor Dr. Lillie Howard, of Wright State University, helped me make that journey. For my thesis adviser, I turned to Walter Sullivan, my creative writing professor from my undergraduate days at Vanderbilt University. My thesis, the novel Quilted Lives, was a remarkable journey. The three-generation story is set in my native Tennessee and ties in with the core of my Masters program — a study of Southern women authors of the 20th century.
Quilted Lives, for now, gathers dust in the drawer. When I learned about the WASP, the women pilots who flew in World War II, I opted to follow them and write their stories.
I met my first WASP Nadine Nagle in 1990. Her personal story captivated me, as did the WASP story as a whole. There were 1,102 Women Airforce Service Pilots. Collectively, they flew every aircraft in the U.S. Army Air Forces’ WWII arsenal. Back in the ’90s, few people knew about them. I set out to change that.
But it was when I met Nancy Batson Crews (introduced in last week’s blog post) that things began to pop. Nancy was one of the original WAFS (Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron), as the WASP first were known. Nancy held a reunion of the surviving “Originals” in 1999 so that I could meet and interview them. At her urging and with her help, I wrote The Originals (published 2001) — the story of the original 28 WAFS.
My Award Winner, Finding Dorothy Scott
Fast-forward 17 years. My 7th WASP book — Finding Dorothy Scott (published 2016) — won five awards: 2 first place and 3 finalist awards. I was on a roll. I had one more WASP biography to write. Nancy had introduced me to Original WAFS BJ Erickson London in 1999. BJ became a close friend and a mentor. After her death in 2013, I spent time with her daughter, Terry, gathering material to write BJ’s biography.
Two of my author friends suggested, strongly, that I should switch gears and write these WASP biographies for the young women of today. “I don’t know how!” I whined. They persisted. In my heart, I knew they were right. Girls were the ones who needed to hear these stories! I found a small publisher who specializes in Young Adult books and middle school readers. She helped me capture writing for the young adult market. BJ Erickson: WASP Pilot, published March 2018, was the result. I moved quickly to make this a Y/A series. Nancy Love: WASP Pilot — my second Young Adult WASP biography from Filter Press — will be released May 25, 2019. And, yes, I plan more Y/A WASP biographies.
As you read this, I am in residence at The Author’s Corner, the Women in Aviation conference in Long Beach, California. Next Friday: A full report from Long Beach.
— Sarah Byrn Rickman
The Wordsmith LLC