Thursday, January 17, 2013

Interview with Suspense Author Jeff Foltz

Jeff Foltz grew up in the Philadelphia area. He received a B. A. in history from Marietta College. In 2002, he returned to school and received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine. Jeff is an avid cross country skier and sculler, competing at the highest level of rowing during college and post college years. He has three grown children and seven grand kids and lives with his wife, Sue, in Camden, Maine.

Welcome back to my blog, Jeff. Please tell us about your new book, Two Men Two Suns.

Two Men Ten Suns is World War II historical fiction with a twist to the commonly accepted theory about why Truman was so quick to use the atomic bomb. Two young men, one American and one Japanese, battle their personal demons to win the first nuclear arms race. One is driven by grief and hatred, the other by pride and ambition. Doubts plague both men, but neither can stop as their governments push them to develop the deadliest weapon.

Only now is information about this desperate competition creeping out of history’s dark corners. Some historians believe Japanese scientists had kept pace with those of the Manhattan Project and were ready to test. Did a handful of the world’s most powerful men bury all evidence that Truman dropped the bomb to beat Japan to the punch? History has criticized Truman’s decision. “It saved half a million G.I.s” was the administrations mantra. Yet the United States could not have marshaled adequate troops and material for an invasion of Japan until five months after Germany’s May 8th surrender. In that time, continued allied bombing and blockades could have pounded the Japanese into submission.

Perhaps Truman knew a deadly clock was ticking as he gave the order to destroy Hiroshima. If intelligence had warned him Japan was close to using their Genzai Bakudan (atomic bomb) on an American city, he could not have risked delay. Two Men, Ten Suns is a gripping fictional account of this perilous episode.

Wow! This story sounds like it’s full of suspense. Where did you get your inspiration for this novel?

Discovering the details of history is fascinating for me. Sorting out which ones to use in a work of fiction is a challenge I enjoy. Enough “facts” to generate an atmosphere of authenticity, mixed with enough tension generating speculation about or deviation from “the accepted story” is the balance I seek.

When the corners of history don’t square or details of an historical event ride on the stooped shoulders of coincidence, I’ve found my fodder, my inspiration. I wrote Two Men Ten Suns as I did because both the American and Japanese atomic bomb programs offered some of those fascinating loose ends.

That’s so interesting. What kind of research did you do for this book?

Once I had my inspiration, I looked for three things in my research. First I sought historical facts, particularly those that might be unknown to most readers. I sorted out facts which could be evidence that, for reasons of national security or perhaps politics, some parts of the truth were buried. Second, I looked for the corners that didn’t square, the “accepted” versions of history that were light on common sense or heavy on coincidence. Third, I wanted to find ways, based on indisputable history, to offer the reader a reasonable, believable alternative to the conventional perceptions.

What first disturbed me during my research was Truman’s rush to drop the bomb. The test at Trinity Site took place on July 16th, 1945. The Enola Gay dropped the first bomb (Little Boy) on Hiroshima exactly three weeks later, on August 6th, the first possible satisfactory weather date. Components of  both bombs (Little Boy and Fat Man), though many accounts indicate that only the Hiroshima bomb was on the Indianapolis, reached Tinian Island on July 26th. Only ten days elapsed while the military moved a nine thousand pound weapon from New Mexico to the middle of the Pacific. In 1945 that’s as fast as they could transport anything so large and so classified. It’s reasonable to ask, “Why the hurry?”

Second, details about the advanced state of the Japanese uranium bomb program have not been detailed in our history texts. Two facts are indisputable. There were two Japanese programs, one run by the army at the University of Tokyo and one overseen by the navy in North Korea. Both had made far more progress than the Nazi program. I had to ask, “Why haven’t we heard more about the Japanese attempt to develop a bomb?”

Third, it was clear, even to the Japanese, that the Allies would win the war, especially if and when the Russians kept their Yalta Conference pledge to declare war on Japan. But from May 8th, 1945, when Germany surrendered, until August 8th, Stalin was content to let the U.S. military do the heavy lifting in the Pacific. Was it a coincidence that Stalin entered the Pacific war two days after Hiroshima? His spies had informed him of the success of the Trinity test. He had had three months to find evidence in German records of at least one shipment of U-235 from Germany to Japan. How could he have not suspected that the Japanese had a viable uranium bomb project? How could he have not wanted the opportunity to be first to reach Japanese atomic bomb data?

With those anomalies as a starting point, it was fun to hypothesize an alternative reason for dropping the bomb. Was there pressure on the “national security” nerve? Were Truman and his top advisors disturbed by more than the possibility of half a million military casualties in a full scale invasion of the main islands of Japan? Did they have knowledge, or at least sensible and genuine fear, that the Japanese might use an atomic bomb to annihilate an American city?

To be more specific, Two Men Ten Suns contains a great deal of historical accuracy. For instance, the fact that the Japanese built the largest submarine in the world and that it carried three airplanes is a fact. It was indeed called I-400. Manhattan project scientists did use lead lined Sherman tanks to navigate the Trinity test site immediately after the test. Nagasaki was not the primary target for the second bomb and that mission did encounter the incredible difficulties I describe. Scenes of the aftermath of the Nagasaki bombing are composites of actual eye witness accounts. It was the most gruesome research I’ve ever done and I wanted to be selective in what I used, but use enough to generate an authentic sense of horror for my readers.

Perhaps a bit of general philosophy about historical fiction is appropriate here. For me, an historical novel can and probably should be less accurate than a history text book (but some of those are becoming a bit trumped up), but fall well short of fantasy. Age of the history, the bias of the historical source, and the reader’s willingness to suspend disbelief are some of the factors that delineate an author’s boundaries as he or she puts together a story. Ten year old history is likely to be more accurate than history ten centuries old. Some recorders of history may have biases or agendas. Others may feel a need to protect secrets or perceptions. Some may never be privy to the facts or misunderstand them or the relationship of one fact to another. Enough history to generate authenticity blended with sufficient fiction to entertain is a good recipe.

I love it when authors add real life situations to their stories. Thank you so much for this great interview, Jeff. Your book sounds so intriguing. To learn more, visit Jeff at his website: Every week I have a new book giveaway so stop by often.


debbie curto said...

this book sounds great! I love Historical fiction and a mystery !

Brenda Rumsey said...

I love researching history to find facts that few people know...seeing history from another perspective. This book sounds intriguing. Would love to read it.
grandmabkr at yahoo dot com

Louise said...

Kudos to you, Jeff, for taking the time to research and write this book. I don't feel like I'm wasting time when I read something with an historical background :)

laurie said...

this book sounds great! I love Historical fiction and a mystery !

Charissa said...

Wow! I'm hooked already by the idea and history behind the plot.

Shannon R said...

This sounds fascinating. I enjoy historical fiction, especially when so meticulously researched. Thanks for the chance to win.

Meghan said...

I love this cover and love suspense books! Hope I get a chance to read it!

celina k said...

Love the sound of this book, I look forward to reading it. I enjoy books that are based onhistorical events, and different takes on those events.

dreammie_angel at yahoo dot com

bn100 said...

This sounds suspenseful.


beemama said...

I love historical fiction. This sounds like an intriguing read.

Abinormyl said...

This sounds really interesting. I do love historical fiction and World War 2 is one of my favorite subjects.

Thank you for the giveaway.


abinormyl AT gmail DOT com

Robert said...

Love the premise, sounds like a great book

Kahpow said...

I'm a huge fan of history, and this sounds like a really interesting book! <3


Daniel M said...

my dad would love this one thanks for the giveaway - regnod(at)yahoo(d0t)com

Linda Weaver Clarke said...

Congratulations, Celina K. You are the winner of this wonderful book. I know you'll enjoy reading it.