Interview: Kathleen Benner Duble

Today the Damsels welcome Kathleen Benner Duble, author of Phantoms in the Snow.  Starting Friday, you can enter to win a signed copy of this fascinating book.  Until then, read about Kathleen’s inspiration.

1.  You said on your web site that you got the idea for Phantoms from an article on these skiing soldiers.  What about that story sparked your interest?

 In the Sports Illustrated news article, they mentioned that they called the skiing soldiers Phantoms.  The name caught my attention.  I wondered what it would be like to be in a unit that had that nickname attached to it.


2.  Were any of the characters in the book based on people you know, such as the Phantoms you met or your relatives who served in World War II?

  No, none of the characters in the book are based on people I know, but a little of everyone you come into contact always seeps into your writing.  I do know several Phantoms, one very well, Peter Binzen.  But I’ve only known him since he was older.

3.  How did Noah’s pacifism come to play a role in this story?

I grew up in a military family.  My father is a jet pilot and my sister is a tanker pilot.  I’ve always wrestled with the idea of fighting and going to war.  Noah was a nice catalyst for me to be able to explore my own feelings about the topic.  As you can tell from the story, there is no easy answer.  And the only conclusion I came to was the same one Noah did – that in war, innocents always pay a price.

4.  What sort of research did you do?  What was an interesting piece of information you had to leave out of the story?

Well, learning to ski was something I had done – at a much too old age!  Many of Noah’s failed attempts, I experienced.  As for research, I read a lot of books and newspaper articles on the  10th Mountain Division.  There are several wonderful videos on this group which I watched.  I had been to Vail, near where they trained so I knew the terrain.  I had also been to Italy, near Riva, so again, the descriptions were easy.  Also, Peter Binzen was good enough to read a draft of my book and make sure the details were accurate.

I didn’t include the attack the next morning on Mount Belvedere.  While the attack on Riva was fairly easy in terms of casualties, the attack on Mount Belvedere was not.  A lot of good Phantoms were lost in that charge.  However, without the capture of Riga the night before, the casualties would have been a lot higher.

5.  You’ve written several historical novels in different time periods.  Do you have a favorite period, or one that you find easier to research or write in?

I don’t have a favorite time period.  I find all historical periods fascinating.  And each time I choose a new one, I learn a lot of things that either I’ve forgotten from school or I just never learned.  I love finding really cool facts to relay to kids – things like how a sailor went to the bathroom on a boat or the fact that rats permeated a jail cell in 1692 Colonial America.  Obviously, the more recent the history, the easier it is to research, but it doesn’t make the time period more interesting to me.

6.  I’m always impressed with authors who seem to write comfortably inside the head of the opposite gender.  Was it easy or difficult for you to write from Noah’s point of view, as well as writing so many other male characters?

It is always a bit difficult for me to write male characters.  I don’t have any brothers and I had no sons.  So I have to rely on my daughter’s guy friends to try and imagine their perspective.  Noah is not a rough and tumble kind of kid to start with, so that made writing about him a bit easier.  Although, my girls did play ice hockey growing up so rough and tumble is something I do understand.  But there is no doubt that I am more comfortable writing from a girl’s perspective.  But then again, trying a boy’s perspective stretches my growth as a writer.

7.  Do you have any other upcoming projects you’d care to share?

I just finished a book about the French Revolution from Madame Tussaud’s apprentice’s point of view.  If you aren’t aware, Madame Tussaud lived during this period and later opened a wax museum in London.  Before the Revolution in France, she worked with the King’s sister showing her how to mold wax saints.  When the Revolution happened, she was accused of being a Royalist, arrested and slated to go to the guillotine (her hair was hacked off to be ready).  Right before her beheading, the National Assembly came to her and offered to free her if she would make wax heads of the people they beheaded (namely Marie Antoinette and the kIng).  She agreed and that is why at Madame Tussaud’s waxwork house in London, they have the head of the kIng and queen of France.


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