Interview by Sadye Scott-Hainchek of The Fussy Librarian, August 23, 2018.
If you diligently follow our author Q&As, you might have noticed that we’re fascinated by family history and love interviewing authors who feel the same.
So Nadine Taylor fits our type perfectly.
As a teenager, Taylor found a photo of her mother getting married … but she was in a dress, not the outfit Taylor recognized from her parents’ wedding.
It turned out that her mother had been married previously to a man who died in World War II; Taylor’s father, out of extreme jealousy, commanded her to keep this a secret and never speak of it.
The first husband — Lyndon Raff — became the perfect foil to Taylor’s father, who, sadly, had followed his abusive, alcoholic parents’ footsteps.
She had so many questions for her mother, who slowly but surely shared her stories of a wartime romance, a broken heart, and an unhappy second marriage.
When Taylor’s mother passed away, among her belongings were Raff’s wartime medals and other memorabilia. It only seemed right to return those to Raff’s surviving family members.
Not only was she successful in finding his brother and niece to accomplish this, but they also repaid her generosity by sharing Raff’s letters home and personnel file — positioning Taylor perfectly to bring this stranger-than-fiction story to life.
We spoke with Taylor about her journey from writing nonfiction and ghostwriting others’ memoirs to penning If My Heart Had Wings: A World War II Love Story.
SADYE: How did you break into the writing field professionally?
NADINE: Although writing had always come easily to me, I ended up with a career in the health field, working as a registered dietitian.
Then my husband, an author, was asked to do a book on the health benefits of green tea. He was too busy, but told the publisher that I had a background in health plus the ability to write well (although I had no credits).
He said that if the publisher gave me the project and didn’t like my writing, he would rewrite the book until it was satisfactory.
The publisher agreed, I wrote the book, no rewrites were necessary, and eventually it sold 80,000 copies.
SADYE: What is it like to serve as a ghostwriter?
NADINE: Being a ghostwriter is quite a bit like being an actor.
Figuratively, you put on someone else’s clothes and walk around in them, and you listen to their stories and put yourself in their place.
You look for a theme, and form a collection of their most interesting stories based on that theme.
Then you “become” them and go through their trials, tribulations, and triumphs, speaking for them and those around them. And you hope you get it right.
One very memorable experience I had was flying in a client’s private jet to all of the places she had ever lived (from the dirt poor to the exceedingly expensive) before I wrote her memoir.
This experience made it a thousand times easier for me to write about her life, as I could visualize it at every step.
SADYE: How did you get yourself into the mindset of a 1940s wife, beyond the memories of the stories your late mother had told you when you were younger?
NADINE: From the time I was very little, I was extremely interested in the way things were in the “old days,” especially during WWII, one of the most romantic and dramatic eras that ever existed.
Anything from the ’40s automatically caught my eye: Mom’s old fur coat, the considerable collection of photos she had from that time, old movies, and biographies of movie stars from that generation.
This information, coupled with my own ability to fantasize and conjure up situations, made it quite easy for me to put myself in Mom’s shoes.
SADYE: What has the Raff family’s reaction to the story been like?
NADINE: Bill Raff and his two sisters were absolutely thrilled to receive Lyndon’s war medals and wedding pictures fifty-seven years after his death.
None of them had attended the wedding since they were scattered far and wide during the war, so they had never seen the pictures.
As for Dixie, Lyndon’s niece, she was delighted with the book and told me that she wished her Uncle Bill was still alive so he could see it. (Bill died a year after I sent him Lyndon’s memorabilia.)
Dixie did mention, however, that in the book her grandmother looked like she “wasn’t a very nice person,” which was not how she remembered her.
However, Dixie did agree that I needed to tell the truth, even if it wasn’t pretty.
SADYE: Now that you’ve ventured into fiction, are there more stories to tell?
NADINE: Although the book may read like fiction, it’s actually 100 percent true!
That said, I must admit that I really enjoyed writing narrative and dialogue, which is a completely different experience than writing health books and many of the other nonfiction projects I’ve worked on.