Mary Lawlor grew up in an Army family during the Cold War. Her father was a decorated fighter pilot who fought in the Pacific during World War II, flew missions in Korea, and did two combat tours in Vietnam. His family followed him from base to base and country to country during his years of service. Every two or three years, Mary, her three sisters, and her mother packed up their household and moved. By the time she graduated from high school, she had attended fourteen different schools. These displacements, plus her father?s frequent absences and brief, dramatic returns, were part of the fabric of her childhood, as were the rituals of base life and the adventures of life abroad.
As Mary came of age, tensions between the patriotic, Catholic culture of her upbringing and the values of the sixties counterculture set family life on fire. While attending the American College in Paris, she became involved in the famous student uprisings of May 1968. Facing her father, then posted in Vietnam, across a deep political divide, she fought as he had taught her to for a way of life completely different from his and her mother’s.
Years of turbulence followed. After working in Germany, Spain and Japan, Mary went on to graduate school at NYU, earned a Ph.D. and became a professor of literature and American Studies at Muhlenberg College. She has published three books, Recalling the Wild (Rutgers UP, 2000), Public Native America (Rutgers UP, 2006), and most recently Fighter Pilot’s Daughter: Growing Up in the Sixties and the Cold War (Rowman and Littlefield, September 2013).
She and her husband spend part of each year on a small farm in the mountains of southern Spain.
Her latest book is the memoir, Fighter Pilot’s Daughter: Growing Up in the Sixties and the Cold War.
For More Information
- Visit Mary Lawlor’s website.
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- Find out more about Mary at Goodreads.
- More books by Mary Lawlor.
- Contact Mary.
About the Book:
Title: Fighter Pilot’s Daughter: Growing Up in the Sixties and the Cold War
Author: Mary Lawlor
Publisher: Rowman and Littlefield
FIGHTER PILOT’S DAUGHTER: GROWING UP IN THE SIXTIES AND THE COLD WAR tells the story of the author as a young woman coming of age in an Irish Catholic, military family during the Cold War. Her father, an aviator in the Marines and later the Army, was transferred more than a dozen times to posts from Miami to California and Germany as the government’s Cold War policies demanded. For the pilot’s wife and daughters, each move meant a complete upheaval of ordinary life. The car was sold, bank accounts closed, and of course one school after another was left behind. Friends and later boyfriends lined up in memory as a series of temporary attachments. The book describes the dramas of this traveling household during the middle years of the Cold War. In the process, FIGHTER PILOT’S DAUGHTER shows how the larger turmoil of American foreign policy and the effects of Cold War politics permeated the domestic universe. The climactic moment of the story takes place in the spring of 1968, when the author’s father was stationed in Vietnam and she was attending college in Paris. Having left the family’s quarters in Heidelberg, Germany the previous fall, she was still an ingénue; but her strict upbringing had not gone deep enough to keep her anchored to her parents’ world. When the May riots broke out in the Latin quarter, she attached myself to the student leftists and American draft resisters who were throwing cobblestones at the French police. Getting word of her activities via a Red Cross telegram delivered on the airfield in Da Nang, Vietnam, her father came to Paris to find her. The book narrates their dramatically contentious meeting and return to the American military community of Heidelberg. The book concludes many years later, as the Cold War came to a close. After decades of tension that made communication all but impossible, the author and her father reunited. As the chill subsided in the world at large, so it did in the relationship between the pilot and his daughter. When he died a few years later, the hard edge between them, like the Cold War stand-off, had become a distant memory.
For More Information
- Fighter Pilot’s Daughter: Growing Up in the Sixties and the Cold War is available at Amazon.
- Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
- Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
Would you call yourself a born writer?
I was fascinated with language since I was very young—probably since first grade. I remember being amazed at the idea that a young Vietnamese girl in my class spoke a different language. I spent a lot of time with her, asking her what the words for things like doll, lipstick, shoes, etc. were in Vietnamese. I was completely enchanted with the words she gave me, though I don’t remember them now. These exchanges made me think a lot—even then, as a kid—about what words sounded like and their rhythms, how they could mean things, and how entirely different words were used to mean the same thing.
I’ve been a big day dreamer all my life, and many of these dreams have taken the shape of stories. Sometimes now, as in the past, I have to shake myself from these stories to bring myself back to the people I’m with, what they’re doing and talking about. I didn’t start writing things down until later grade school years, and didn’t publish anything until I was in graduate school; but I’ve always been making stories in my head.
What was your inspiration for FIGHTER PILOT’S DAUGHTER?
The inspiration for Fighter Pilot’s Daughter came from my experiences of growing up in a military family. We moved on average every two years. By the time I graduated from high school, I’d been to fourteen different schools. It was exciting, but it was also a difficult way to grow up. In writing Fighter Pilot’s Daughter, I wanted to map all this moving and make sense of what it meant in ways I couldn’t when I was growing up.
The book grew from a desire to explore as far as I could what it meant to not have a sense of place and how this effected who I became later, who I am now. I still move a lot, back and forth between Spain and Pennsylvania every three months. But now at least I have steady homes in both places and friends with whom I’m very close. These were things I didn’t have as a kid. The sharp sense of not belonging anywhere stayed with me even after I managed to establish my two homes. So the inspiration for the book was very much in the psychological effects of having been a military child and growing up in a gypsy family.
What themes do you like to explore in your writing?
I like to explore themes having to do with the experience of being a stranger or a foreigner. In Fighter Pilot’s Daughter the central idea is that I never belonged anywhere while I was growing up. I use myself as a representative figure for what most military children go through in this sense—how it affects your sense of yourself, your relationship to place, to time, and to the future.
In the fiction I’ve written over the past couple of years, the experience of being a foreigner is a central theme—what it’s like to try to make a life in a small town or village in a country other than your own. This is similar to what I went through during the years described in Fighter Pilot’s Daughter. Everywhere we lived in the United States, I felt like a foreigner and an outsider. The fiction, like the memoir, tries to resolve the problems that come with the lack of a sense of place and the difficulties of finding a place to call your own even when you finally have the means to do so.
How long did it take you to complete the novel?
It took me about five years to write the memoir.
Are you disciplined? Describe a typical writing day.
I’m pretty disciplined, although I let other needs bump the writing schedule out of order more often than I’d like. A typical writing day starts at about 9 in the morning, when I have a pot of tea made. I take it up to the room where I write and position myself on a stationary bicycle. This bike is my desk. It has a ledge that my husband rigged up for me where I place my laptop. I peddle slowly and drink tea while writing. Usually the peddling is so slow that I don’t get much exercise from it, but I like this better than sitting at a conventional desk. Something about the turning of the wheels and the moving of the metabolism keeps my brain moving. I usually keep writing for about 3 hours, take a break and then if I’m lucky come back again in the afternoon or evening for more.
What did you find most challenging about writing this book?
I worried about finding documents to back up my memories and got to be rather obsessive about hunting down records. Finally I convinced myself the memories were important in themselves—as part as well as source of the story. Once I realized this, the challenges of research lessened and I started trusting myself more as a narrator of my own life.
What do you love most about being an author?
I like the independence of it, the fact that you don’t have to show up in a classroom or an office and that you don’t have to answer to any particular boss apart from yourself, your agent, publisher and audience!
Did you go with a traditional publisher, small press, or did you self publish? What was the process like and are you happy with your decision?
I went with a traditional publisher, Rowman & Littlefield. It was a good experience, and I’d be happy to publish with them again.
Where can we find you on the web?
I’m at www.marylawlor.net. I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, Instragram and the other social media sites—my pages are all linked to my website.