A few weeks after this review went live, I received a comment from Mr. Thomas Easterling, the man whose story “Furrow in the Clouds” is – I wanted to share it with you:
Lindsey, I ran across this site quite by accident and was surprised to find your comments about my story, “Furrow in the Clouds” on it. I’m glad that you could connect with part of it. I would like for the reader to also be reminded of the many who gave their lives for our freedom.
“Freedom is not free”
This is a memoir worth reading!
Furrow in the Clouds gave me the opportunity to see life through the eyes of 21-year-old Thomas Easterling, a young man who fought for our freedom in World War II. But it’s not just his “war story” – I really felt like I got to know Thomas from the very beginning as I met his family, saw his everyday life, found out why he joined the Air Force, and saw (and felt) the pain and fear he experienced when he was caught by the Nazis. I felt like I was sitting with Thomas and hearing him tell his story in his own voice, and it was an amazing experience!
There are childhood anecdotes and stories in Furrow in the Clouds, and as Thomas’ memories were shared I couldn’t help but smile. One of my favorite memories is his story of his childhood “facial eruptions” – no one could figure out why he was getting a strange rash on his face periodically, and the doctor even came and prescribed an ointment to be applied to his face. It was eventually discovered that his sisters were coming into his room and teasing him with a straw broom, and his mother never caught them. So typical! There are many more stories, and I loved hearing them all.
When Thomas joins the Air Force, he shares that experience in a way that really satisfied my curiosity about what happens after you join the military. His love for flying, the people he met along the way that made an impression, the seemingly harsh rules and ways of the Air Force that truly must have prepared Thomas to be stronger than he ever had been before when captured by the enemy – it all was completely fascinating to me.
Here’s a description of what daily life was like for him:
“None of our hundreds of cadets had “casually” entered the chow hall for one of their three “square meals”. After standing at a brace until all squadrons waited silently inside, they had positioned themselves exactly two paces apart for sharp left-face turns, holding trays firmly in right hands. On the trays a sound of “something” plopping or pelting might stoke the imagination – but a cadet’s head was rigidly doweled to the shoulders and “pivot-less.” In the queue, cadets’ training riveted them to an invisible conveyor belt, stopping and starting at intervals, until finally ordered to tables by upperclassmen.
No one ate until all partook together; no one sat unless all were ordered to take seats. Each aviator piloted his fork in terms of military spatial positioning – potatoes at 1 o’clock; peas at 3 o’clock; pork at 6 o’clock – and woe to the zombie who failed to maintain a “dead man’s stare” through the cadet across the table. “
When Thomas is forced to crash-land his plane, the inhumanity he suffers at the hands of the Nazis is shocking. You can’t help but be impressed by his fortitude despite the torture of his broken body as he’s tossed from vehicle to vehicle, ultimately ending up in a prison.
“Both my legs simply folded in the wrong direction at their respective breaks and tears. Upon orders from the sergeant, another trooper grabbed my waist to support my torso and horse me into the cart, where I lay exhausted.”
This is a journey you don’t want to miss. I was so enthralled I could hardly look up from my Kindle while reading, especially when he was being trained in the Army and when he was caught by the Germans. Furrow in the Clouds is so creatively written that you can’t help but feel you’ve been thrown back in time and are walking through life in the 1940’s along with Thomas Easterling. I think WWII history buffs will love it, but it’s a book that can be appreciated by anybody who takes the time to read it. Recommended!
And now, an interview with the author, Richard Drebert!
1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a 56-year-old Alaskan. When I first moved here I worked at The Anchorage Times newspaper, then opened a theme park featuring sled dog excursions and gold rush museum. My family ran the park for about 10 years. Presently I write for Good Catch Publishing, Good Book Publishing, and Books Behind Bars. I also write periodically for the Alaska Correctional Ministries here in Anchorage.
I have three sons, all grown, nine grandchildren, and a wife who is my best friend and editor. We love our summers in Alaska, but winters are growing a little colder than they used to be. My passion is writing about people.
2. I would love to know more about how the biography-writing process works. Please share your experiences.
Biography writing is like all good storytelling: it needs a hook, conflict, resolution, and characters that carry the reader through the story to a satisfying conclusion. In the book Furrow in the Clouds I did a great deal of research on WWII planes, European battles, Army Air Corps training, etc. to stay true to the historical setting. I use the same research process for short biographies. I gather maps, pictures, and historical information to help create scenes with the storyteller.
Each interview for a short biography (around 7K words) takes about three hours. Chapters for books take about three hours each, but I email or phone call to confirm direction or facts as I write.
I record, then transcribe interviews, adding copious notes. I outline book chapters thoroughly, but change things as I go. In short biographies I outline but never follow them. I write in 1,000-word blocks – telling myself, “Rick you cannot get that second cup of coffee until you have completed your thousand.” I am easily distracted, so I must shoot for word count to finish a book or story –not hour by hour, or I’ll never get done! I love to finish a story!
3. Do you write with a pen and paper, or on your laptop?
I write with a laptop, my workhorse, and use pencil (not pen, too many mistakes) and paper whenever I get a block. I am using Drop Box on my iPad now a lot to keep my project near me, and use pencil and paper to scribble a page or two when downtown. I hate lugging a laptop all over .
4. Was there any part of “Furrows in the Clouds” that you had difficulty writing?
In Furrow in the Clouds I had the most difficulty writing the first chapter, as always. It must catch the reader’s attention and guide the rest of the book in a direction. The last chapter is a challenge too, because the ending must fulfill expectations, like the final act in a play or movie.
5. Which was your favorite chapter to write and why?
My favorite section in Furrow was chapter 6, “Into the Furnace” because I was able to capture fighter-pilot Tom Easterling’s harrowing crash and capture inside Germany. Hearing him tell the story on tapes while he was alone was an emotional experience for him – and later for me. I had no personal interviews with Mr. Easterling, but his family provided the recordings for me to sift through and reconstruct his story. The book was a surprise for the 86-year-old WWII hero. Through Good Catch Publishing, Mr. Easterling’s daughter-in-law, Olivia Newton John, and her husband “Amazon John Easterling,” contracted me to write the book.
6. What project are you working on now?
I just finished a book project for Good Catch Publishing about a high-rise developer on the East Coast. It should be out in March. I am working on stories at present for Good Catch: one about a biker gang enforcer, one about a former illegal immigrant, and another about a big city drug dealer.
Just for Fun…
7. Do you have any quirks you want to share?
I pace when I’m on the telephone interviewing – for three hours straight!
8. That’s a great workout! :) What book are you reading right now?
I’m reading Story by Robert McKee on the principles of screenwriting, The Bible in Its Making by Mildred Duff, and Henry Ford’s Own Story by Rose Wilder Lane (Rose Wilder Lane was the first child of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Almanzo Wilder).
9. If you could spend an evening with one person in history, who would it be?
Probably Theodore Roosevelt, because he was such a transitional figure in history.
Thank you for your time, Richard! Folks, you can read more by Richard Drebert and follow his writing journeys at his blog, PenTracker.
Also by Richard Drebert:
You can read the first chapter here.