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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, Heather B. Moore shares the inspiration behind her new historical fiction novel, Under The Java Moon, about Dutch people in Indonesia during World War 2.
Written by JJ Barnes
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I live in a beautiful neighborhood at the base of the Wasatch mountains in Utah, and my office has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, which should be an author’s writing paradise. But no. As a wife, mother, grandmother, and apparently caretaker of multiple pets, I write most mornings at the local library. I’ve learned to fill in the cracks of time, or sometimes bulldoze right through them, while juggling family, life in general, and a writing career.
After nearly twenty years of writing, my published manuscripts finally outnumber my unpublished ones. I absolutely love to travel, and learn about history, and I blame that on my parents for dragging a reluctant teenager across the world. I returned a much better-behaved human and grateful for pretty much everything.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
Growing up, I was an avid reader, but I never thought about becoming an author. Sounded like homework. Besides, I thought authors lived on the East Coast and wore gorgeous, tailored suits and pearls like Mary Higgins Clark. I lived in the west and owned no pearls. It wasn’t until I was 30 years old that I had an idea for a short fiction piece.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I was helping my 85-year-old grandmother put together her personal history, and I had a story idea that sprung from her experiences. I thought, “Maybe I can write a novelette for a magazine.” I did, and it was rejected, but then I worked on another story idea. That grew much longer than a novelette . . . 300 pages and counting.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
Drafting my first book took around three months, and it’s safely saved on a floppy disk in the depths of a random drawer. I still love the title, Where the Lilacs Grow, but readers will thank me for not publishing it.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
I first met with Marie Elliott in August of 2021. We signed our contracts in January 2022, and that’s when I deep dove into research and questions for Marie. Every fifty pages, I sent her the draft so that I wouldn’t take any severe detours. After Marie’s edits, beta reader edits, my agent’s edits, I submitted to my publisher in September 2022. Soon after, the book was officially accepted by Shadow Mountain and slated for a fall 2023 release.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Under The Java Moon?
The publisher brought me the idea of writing Marie’s story, but first she wanted to meet me. We met in August 2021 when she visited my home state. My husband and I spent about two hours with Marie just listening to her tell her story. I was touched, inspired, and astounded to hear a part of WW2 history I’d never learned before.
I’d read dozens of WW2 novels over the years, yet had heard nothing about the experiences of the Dutch people in Indonesia. I was hoping that Marie would say yes to working with me, but I understood as well the reluctance on her part to have her story told in a historical fiction setting—especially when it was a story of the most heart-rendering time in her family’s lives.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Under The Java Moon?
This is the second historical novel I’ve written based on a true person whom I’ve been able to interview (The Slow March of Light was the first book, set in Cold War East Germany). Because I had some experience already, I knew how to structure the process . . . but there were still decisions to be made.
I’d say the biggest challenge was respecting the point of view of Marie at a young age and combining the world of creative writing and story structure with the very real memories that were regularly surfacing as the interview questions continued. The next challenge was to structure both of her parents’ points of view from scratch—of which I mostly relied on research from self-published memoirs of other camp prisoners, and an article series written by her father.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
For this story, clearly the protagonists are Marie, and her parents, of which I have all three points of view in the story. Since Marie is a young child, I thought having her parents’ viewpoints would develop the story of the Dutch people more fully—especially since her parents were separated for the duration of the war. Other protagonists came into play, such as the fictional Johan Vos, and the real-life Japanese guards Kano and Noda, who are credited with saving lives of the Dutch.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
The rules of war are very gray, and for every hero, there is a villain. But that can change quickly depending on a person’s loyalties. Captain Kenichi Sonei was certainly the villain, and not simply because he was the Japanese commander over Tjideng Camp. But because Sonei went way beyond his leadership role to make life miserable and torturous for the women. In fact, after the war, he was tried and executed for his war crimes.
What is the inciting incident of Under The Java Moon?
The bombing of Pear Harbor sets off the chain of events in the book because the Netherlands declared war on Japan, and in turn, Japan invaded Dutch-occupied Indonesia (then called the Dutch East Indies). Without any exceptions, all Dutch (and other Europeans) were rounded up and confined to either internment camps or prisons.
What is the main conflict of Under The Java Moon?
A family separated during the war and faced with surviving brutal conditions, wondering if they’ll ever be reunited.
Did you plot Under The Java Moon in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I’m a pantser for the most part, but with historical fiction, I aim for specific markers and/or events. I never can predict how long a scene will be or if it will take an interesting direction. Unexpected characters also pop up. I didn’t have the intention of adding in many fictional characters, but Johan Vos showed up at Marie’s house, and their friendship bloomed from there.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Under The Java Moon need?
Even with Marie reading and re-reading every page—she’s a good editor in her own right—I lined up advanced readers before I submitted to my agent, Ann Leslie Tuttle (who is also an editor). She always gives fantastic feedback. Once it reached the publisher, the book went through more than one editing stage. I also used an editor friend to read my final-stage galleys. By then, I wanted to change everything and start over, haha, so it was good to farm that out. Marie also read through the galleys a couple of times before giving her final approval.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Plan A rarely works, so have Plan B and C and sometimes D in place. Publishing is a business, and every time a door shuts on your publishing hopes, look for the open window—and despite the cliché, it’s true that perseverance will pay off. Today, there are so many viable publishing options and avenues that make following your publishing dreams more of a reality than ever before.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I’m currently working on a WW2 era novel based on the life of aviator Nancy Harkness Love. She was the first woman to fly military planes such as the P-51 Mustang and the B-17 Flying Fortress. During World War II, Nancy convinced the U.S. Army Air Corps to establish a squadron of female pilots to ferry aircraft from factories to air bases, freeing up male pilots for combat. This group of women civilian pilots were known as the WAFS, and later as the WASP.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Stories of the resilience of the human spirit continue to inspire me, and Marie’s is no exception. Just reading the advance reviews coming in on the story and working on interviews, I’ve been reminded time and time again just how remarkable Marie is and how difficult it must have been to open her heart on such a tender subject. This story is to honor Marie and all those who lost so much during WW2. The effort was 100% worth it.
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