LA GRANGE PARK — In her latest novel, La Grange Park resident Loretta Nyhan shares the stories of Rita Vincenzo and Glory Whitehall, two women struggling with everyday life while their husbands are away fighting in World War II.
The novel, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” was written by Nyhan, 42, and Suzanne Hayes of New Haven, Conn. Each author assumed the persona of one of the women and wrote it in her voice. Nyhan became Rita, an Iowa woman with a love of gardening, while Hayes assumed the role of Glory, a young New England woman.
Nyhan and Hayes wrote to each other in character throughout the writing process. Nyhan said Hayes got the ball rolling in an email with “Dear Rita” in the subject line.
“Everything just clicked. As soon as she sent me that first email I knew who my character was immediately. The whole world kind of fleshed out,” said Nyhan, who taught literature at DeVry University.
The two authors wrote back and forth to each other entirely within character from Feb. 14, 2011 to July 4, 2011. Despite their close working relationship Nyhan and Hayes have yet to meet face-to-face.
“We’ve never sat down in the same room and I’ve never even given her a hug," Nyhan said. "But we became good friends during this process."
Hayes and Nyhan met online through various writing websites and blogs. The two developed a friendship and began to bounce ideas for stories off of each other and began to critique each other’s work. Both women had submitted books to publishers and while they waited to see if they would be published, Hayes suggested writing a book together. The women, both self-described “history geeks” decided to set the story in war time, but did not set any story points in stone.
“I’ll Be Seeing You” is the story of two women who find friendship and support from each other through the mail while their loved ones are in the theater of war. Rita and Glory shared their thoughts on a wide range of topics, from whether or not their family would return from war, to rationing, to gardening tips, to the sharing of recipes.
Nyhan said Rita and Glory leaned on each other for support in overcoming their challenges.
Although not trained historians, Nyhan and Hayes wanted the letters to be as authentic as possible. They read numerous letters from the era, some she found at the Jackson Antique Mall in La Grange, and were struck both by how mundane and how intimate the letters could be. She said wives would write to their husbands about the more mundane things like a broken lock or poor yield from the garden.
“They were trying to tie their husbands to what was going on at home, but at the same time there were some very intimate things in those letters,” she said. “We tried to express all of it in our letters. We tried to make it feel real, like you were peaking into their daily lives.”
Although Nyhan and Hayes worked half a country apart, their partnership turned out to be successful. Buoyed by the success of their first writing partnership the two women are well on their way to completing their second novel together. The new novel, “Finding Kingston”, is about two sisters looking for their brother in 1917 Manhattan. As in “Ill Be Seeing You,” each author assumes the role of one of the sisters. The two women tell their stories in alternating chapters.
“This was just a very satisfying experience. The process was something we both called magic,” she said. “It’s been going well and we’ve got multiple ideas for books."
In addition to her two books with Hayes, Nyhan has a solo novel set for an April 2 release. “The Witch Collector,” published by HarperTeen Impulse, is a paranormal thriller. The book will be released in two parts, she said.
“It’s been a busy bunch of months for me, but I love it,” she said.
Hayes also has a solo book, published under the name Suzanne Palmieri, coming out in March, “The Witch of Little Italy.”
“I’ll Be Seeing You” is set for release May 28 by Harlequin-Mira.