Kaia Alderson is an alumna of Spelman College and the University of West Georgia. She is a past participant in the creative writing workshops presented by Callaloo Journal, Voices of Our Nation (VONA), Hurston/Wright Foundation, Kweli Journal, and The Second City. Her writing has been featured on Book Riot and Bustle
In this post, Kaia discusses how a single picture inspired Sisters in Arms, how her research allowed her to alter genres, and of the surprising inspiration of a Discount Tires waiting room!
Name: Kaia Alderson
Literary agent: Kevan Lyon/ Lyon Marsal Literary Agency
Book title: Sisters In Arms
Publisher: William Morrow/ HarperCollins
Expected release date: August 3, 2021
Genre/category: Historical Fiction/Women’s Fiction
Elevator pitch for the book: After experiencing personal and professional setbacks, two African-American women become officers in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. They combat racism and sexism both inside and outside the United States military as they figure out how to make their unconventional dreams come true.
What prompted you to write this book?
I saw a picture of African-American women in WW2-era Women’s Army Corps uniforms marching in France on my Twitter timeline.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
About eight or nine years. I initially envisioned a historical romance novella with a gender-swapped twist on the “soldier’s last night in town” trope. I brainstormed an outline of the story before doing any in-depth research, not realizing that the 6888th Postal Battalion was the only all-Black WAC unit to go overseas. I had to chuck a good portion of that romantic 1942-set last night in NYC Christmas idea since, in real life, the 6888th didn’t sail for Europe until February 1945. By then, I had about 100 pages written.
A few years later, I was still figuring out how to salvage what I had into a more historically plausible romance when my now editor put out a call for a women’s fiction novel about the 6888th (referencing the same picture that inspired me initially). The change of genre and increased word count freed me from romance’s genre constraints to include all of the themes and storylines I wanted to explore.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
One of my internal roadblocks was that I was convinced that no one else would ever want to read a story about Black female soldiers from World War II. I’m still surprised by how many people actually do want to read it when I tell them about the book.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
I had my most productive writing sprints in the Discount Tires waiting room. (Not so much in the waiting rooms of the oil change and auto repair shops.)
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
I hope readers walk away with a sense that there is more to the historical Black female experience than what has been shown to us in films and television so far. Black women in the past had adventures and triumphs despite the limitations with which society attempted to constrain them.
If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?
Sisters In Arms is a story that I gave up on dozens of times over the years for a variety of reasons. But it is the one that kept poking me to finish it. The stories that won’t leave you alone are the ones you are meant to tell. Don’t give up.