ELMHURST – Michael Joseph Lyons, an Elmhurst resident of about 24 years, considers his hometown to be the U.S. Army.
With a father who was a U.S. Army colonel, Lyons moved nine times, spent 12 years overseas and attended 11 schools by the time he graduated from Lyons Township High School in 1969. As an adult, he continued to serve in the U.S. Army, leaving with the rank of captain.
He decided to write a series of novels depicting the life military brats experience in which he borrows from his own personal experiences. The first book of the series, "BRAT and the Kids of Warriors," was formally launched Nov. 1, the first day of National Military Family Appreciation Month. The central character of the book is Jack McMasters, an 11-year-old who has to adapt when his father gets stationed with the 4th Armored Division in 1957.
Suburban Life reporter Mary Stroka spoke with Lyons on Oct. 25 about the forthcoming series and Lyons' viewpoint on the lifestyle of military brats. The interview has been edited for length.
Stroka: Why did you decide to write this series, which begins with the book, "BRAT and the Kids of Warriors"?
Lyons: I grew up as a brat, and I feel like that is a seriously unique lifestyle. I wanted to write an adventure story and a spy story that older kids would like and actually read, and it was also motivated to get boys to read. .... What really got me going was my children. When they were growing up ... they'd say, "Tell us about when you were a kid." And the interesting thing about growing up as a military brat is you have a great deal of material that you can draw on for stories. .... And they kept saying, "You need to write. You need to talk about this."
Stroka: I read somewhere, probably in the press materials or something, that the book is geared for young adults and an adult audience? Why did you choose to write a fiction book and have it as a book geared for young adults and adults?
Lyons: There are like 1.7 million [military brats] on active duty today. Now, some of them are babies, but probably 600,000 are within the zone who would want to read this. I wanted to talk to them. I wanted to talk to those kids, and this was a way to be able to do it. But I also wanted to talk to other kids, you know, who grow up in Elmhurst, Ill., and give them some visibility into what it's like for the lives of our military families because most Americans just don't have very much exposure to the military. Because I'm ex-military, and I grew up in that world, I just think it's a very different world than the average kid in Elmhurst grows up in, but I think it's a world that they would find fascinating, so that's why I chose it as a backdrop for doing it.
Stroka: What is your hope for people who read the book? What would you like for them to get out of it?
Lyons: I would like the readers to get a much better perspective on our U.S. military and what it's like to grow up in a military family. And the second thing I'd like them to get is this feeling and this notion of what brats get out of this kind of unique lifestyle that they live. .... They're compelled to move every two or three years. So as they grow up, they'll live in 10, 11, 12 different places, go to 10 or 12 different schools. .... It makes these kids highly, highly adaptive. They have grit, and I want the reader to come way with saying, "Wow. I wish I was a brat. These guys really get to do cool stuff. And they may have hard stuff, and they have to overcome a bunch of stuff. But they live exciting lives." .... I didn't say it was easy. But it teaches them very rapidly how to size up people, how to make friends. But it teaches them really to value diversity. If you've only got a year or two in a place, you better figure out how to make friends fast. For me, that's why the brats are the most color-blind, culture-blind, privilege-blind, status-blind, blind-blind kids on the planet.