Author Kit Crumpton is a history lover, a public speaker, and a former engineer. The inspiration for her first book, Raiding the Empire of the Sun: Tinian 1945 (2015), was her father’s own manuscript based on his experiences flying B-29 bombers during World War II. You can find Kit at her website KitCrumpton.com.
What is your elevator pitch for Raiding the Empire of the Sun?
This book is about B-29 Superfortress bombing missions over Japan during the last year of WWII. It is written like an adventure novel, for good storytelling, but it is historically accurate. The main character is a Superfortress Airplane Commander based on the real life experiences of my father. It is well annotated with over 70 footnotes, and it includes a bibliography in the back of the book. There are four authentic letters that have historical significance to the story. The book also contains my father’s WWII bombing mission list.
How did the book come together?
Since sometime before 1975, I have had the three-ring notebooks that held my father’s manuscript for this book. I don’t know if he lost interest at some point or decided to nix it altogether, but since I had an interest in it, my father gave his manuscript to me. He also gave me a hand-written journal of all the B-29 missions he flew.
My dad died in 2008, and the one day I had vowed came to pass. I was enthralled when I read his manuscript, so I transferred the material into Microsoft Word and began re-writing the book. Research took me to places I would never have gone to otherwise. I now own a healthy library of B-29 technical manuals and WWII books of the war in the Pacific Theater. I have my dad’s military A2 file and the WWII monthly reports written by the historical officer at Tinian in 1945. I also have the letters my dad wrote to my mother while he was on Tinian. And he left behind negatives of pictures taken on Tinian Island. WWII Army Air Corps training films on YouTube were helpful as well. There at my fingertips, I had all I needed to follow the WWII adventures of the B-29s in the Army Air Corps on the Mariana Islands. This project took me five years to complete. Finally, I actually flew on the B-29 FIFI on September 20, 2015. My seat was right behind the pilot. Metaphorically speaking, during flight, I was looking over my father’s shoulder.
Tell us a little about your main characters.
The main character, the Superfortress Airplane Commander (who is based on my father), feels the weight of responsibility for the aircrafts he flies and for each crew member. There are two B-29 crews in my book, each having eleven men (i.e. Pilot, Co-Pilot, Bombardier, Flight Engineer, Radio Operator, Navigator, Radar, and four gunners). The bombing missions are dramatic. Crew members deal with tension from combat differently. I knew my father and could fashion the main character after him. I could not do this with the other characters, so they are more fictionalized.
Is there a scene in the book you’d love to see play out in a movie?
Yes, it is mission number three (depicted on the front cover) that shows an artist’s rendition of the B-29 named Eddie Allen in combat over Tokyo. If you look closely, you will see engine number one is disabled and the bottom of the aircraft is damaged like Swiss cheese. What makes the Eddie Allen poignant is that it was funded by war bonds purchased by Boeing factory workers who then built this aircraft. Eddie Allen was a B-29 aircraft designer who died in a test flight. My dad and his crew actually flew this mission on this special B-29.
How did writing this book impact you?
I have become more appreciative of “The Greatest Generation” and my country. United States citizens came together under extreme calamity, with a war in Europe that was started by Nazi Germany, and then we suffered an attack by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. By sheer internal fortitude, commitment and resolve, we were able to push back the predators in our midst and defeat them.
Also, there are pivotal moments (i.e. “come to Jesus” moments) that sometimes happen to people. I think some of these moments did something to my father and members of his crew. The main character of my book digs in his heals, is a leader and a survivor. My father really was all about the structured life and Standing Operating Procedure (SOP). I knew him to be a man who took responsibility seriously. For years after WWII, my dad and his crew kept in touch with the exception of one crew member who disappeared. Using twenty-first century technology, I was able to find him, but he has since passed away. In researching and writing this book, I feel like I experienced what they experienced. It’s truly amazing.
What interesting discoveries did you make while doing research for this book?
The B-29 was an elite, state of the art aircraft, especially designed to fight the Japanese on their own turf. It could fly higher, be stronger, go faster and carry heavy bomb loads. Too large for the runways on naval ships, the airplanes were housed on the Mariana Islands (Guam, Tinian and Saipan). When the United States used atomic weaponry, it was a surprise to the island’s inhabitants that “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” were housed on their island. It was a well-kept secret. My dad was able to fly his Superfortress Dark Eyes back to the United States after the war was over. This airship was named after my mother. I have a picture of the flight crew and the ground crew celebrating news of the end of the war under the nose of Dark Eyes.
The Eddie Allen was supposed to fly twenty-five missions and then be flown back to Spokane, Washington to be put on display as a war memorial. Heavily damaged, the wounded war bird had to fly all the way back to Tinian. Iwo Jima was closed due to an accident on the runway. It was a precarious trip back to Tinian. Years ago, my dad told me the last two miles were flown on pure fumes. The Eddie Allen never made it back to the United States, but it was strong enough to bring my father and his crew home.
What was the most rewarding aspect of writing Raiding the Empire of the Sun?
Pride. Proud of my country, of our military, of my father and his crew. Proud that I have been given the privilege to tell and publish their story. And then also, thanksgiving. I was at a book signing at the Double Eagle II Fly-In aviation event on August 27, 2016. A gentleman, I think in his nineties, came to my table, and I told him about my book. He burst into tears. I think he was moved that I wrote a book about his generation and, most important of all, about my dad. I put my arm around this man while we shared a moment of reflection and thanksgiving. The same thing happened at another book signing I had in September 2016. This is evidence that my book strikes the heart strings of aviators and military historians. I am pleased that I have “hit the mark”, so to speak, with members of this group.
Why do you write in the historical fiction genre?
Because life is astonishing and history helps explain why things are the way they are.
How did your 25-year experience working as an engineer impact your writing?
My experience in computers and project engineering taught me how to plan, research, dig for the data and analyze it, organize, produce artifacts and figure things out. I’m not shy to ask for help, and I get it when I need it.
How has participating in Toastmasters helped in marketing and promoting your book?
I have been a member of Toastmasters for over sixteen years. I have found it compliments writing, promoting and marketing. It’s all about effective communication. I give my Toastmasters experience credit for my success at book signings and public speaking engagements. Toastmasters is an organization where people hone their leadership and public speaking skills. (You can find out more about Toastmasters at Toastmasters.org.)
What writing projects are you working on now?
I am working on my next book, The Fading of Lloyd. Lloyd was my uncle. He was born retarded in 1911 and died at Elgin State (Mental) Hospital in Illinois in 1941. On his death certificate the cause of death is listed as “exhaustion incidental to psychosis.” This sounds like psycho-babble to me, so I did some sleuthing, going down the dark crevices of mental institutions in the early twentieth century. I’ve been a genealogist for many years, and I’ve collected family stories, many of them about Lloyd. The Fading of Lloyd is a sad story but a riveting one. I hope to publish it in December 2016.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.