A CONVERSATION WITH ELIZABETH MARRO
Much of the fiction involving the military or the war focuses on the perspective of soldiers. Why, instead, did you choose to focus on the mother of a Marine?
As a mother of a son myself, that was a very natural decision. Others have written masterful fiction about what happens on the battlefield and the emotional minefield that awaits those returning from war. I wanted to explore the perspectives of those who were left behind and who may not be equipped for the return of those they love.
You began writing this book close to eleven years ago. Did you expect the war to be over by the time it was published?
I hoped so. As I wrote CASUALTIES, people would tell me that I’d better hurry up because the war would be over and the story I was trying to tell would no longer be relevant. I am sorry that it isn’t true. The fallout from our most recent wars will impact families for years to come.
How did your time as a pharmaceutical executive inform Ruth?
We all know that in today’s world, those who work in large corporations make decisions and trade-offs that affect lives. We see it as “business as usual.” But what happens when those trade-offs result in something terrible and very personal? It can, it does.
What were the biggest challenges in writing this book?
The responsibility to portray Robbie accurately at every point—his decision to enlist, his return home unscathed physically but deeply wounded within—weighed heavily. It also motivated me to get it as right as I possibly could. I was humbled by the stories of veterans and families who struggled and continue to struggle with the aftermath of our most recent wars.
As I wrote, I also revisited my experience as a single mother, which was not always easy or comfortable. There is joy, so much joy, but the years that race by are also littered with regret, missed opportunities, decisions and trade-offs we can’t unmake. Then the child is an adult and the only thing left for a parent to do is let go and accept whatever happens.
You don’t have an obvious personal connection to the military. What was the impetus for this story?
Few of us have that connection and Ruth is no exception. She is like the millions of us whose involvement in the military ended with our parents’ generation and the suspension of the draft. She seized the opportunity to work for a defense contractor when she was young and hungry to make something of herself. Her disconnect is clear when she is shocked by her son Robbie’s enlistment in the Marines.
I could imagine myself in her shoes because she’s not so different from me or many of the women of my generation who have raised children while building careers and financial security. The country went to war the year after we moved to San Diego, where the military and defense industries play a huge role. I was surrounded by people working in one or the other, trying to do what is right for themselves, their families and the country. I’d never lived in a place where those involved in the work of war and defense were so visible. It drove home the impact of the war on people’s lives.
Were you nervous that some would challenge your decision to approach this subject because you are a civilian?
I challenged myself on that as I wrote. Although this is Ruth’s story, it could only work if I understood Robbie’s. Am I, a woman and one of 99% of Americans relying on 1% of my fellow citizens to defend the country, entitled to write a story that hinges on the enlistment and death of a young Marine? I’ve read some eloquent essays on this subject by civilian novelists who have written about war, along with equally eloquent responses by writers from the military and veteran writing community.
The discussion will continue, as it should, if only so that a writer must think about her motivation and, if convinced to proceed, do the best she can to get it right. If she comes close, there is the potential for readers to empathize more deeply with people who have been buried in statistics or who work and live next to us with pain we have glimpsed but that frightens us. That connection can help to close the gap between civilians and the military.
Your career path does not look like one that would lead to writing a novel. How did you get here?
Beginning with my years in journalism, writing has been central to each and every job I’ve ever done and each job has fed my writing in some important way. I’ve learned how to look deeply, learn, and find the story that needs to be told. And every job I’ve had—from mowing greens and raking sand traps on a Boca Raton golf course to working in the pharmaceutical industry—has revealed something about life and people to me that I didn’t understand going in. As Nora Ephron used to say, “Everything is material.”
What was your inspiration for Casey? How did he emerge?
All along I knew that Ruth needed someone to help her find her way, and it couldn’t be anyone from the world she’d occupied for so long. Casey arrived all in one piece and rather unexpectedly. Right after I launched Ruth on her journey, I saw him waking up in his trailer in the middle of the desert and took it from there. From the outside, no two people could be more different. They have much in common though: loneliness, a sense of isolation, grief old and new. They can help each other in ways that people who’ve known each other all their lives cannot.
On your website, you provide photographs that evoke the places Ruth journeys to. What was the inspiration for that project?
Through these photographs it is possible to sense the mood of the story as well as the vast distance Ruth travels from her old life to whatever lies ahead. These photos show both the beauty and the challenge of the landscape that lies between the coasts. When I saw them, I knew I wanted to share them.
Title: Casualties by Elizabeth Marrow
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Thriller
Length: 368 pages
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
A heartbreaking and insightful debut novel about the wars we fight overseas, at home, and within our own hearts.
Some come back whole. Some come back broken. Some just never come back…
As an executive for one of the most successful military defense contractors in the country, Ruth Nolan should have been thrilled when her troubled son, Robbie, chose to join the marines. But she wasn’t. She was terrified.
So, when he returns home to San Diego after his second tour in Iraq, apparently unscathed, it feels like a chance to start over and make things right—until a scandal at work tears her away from their reunion. By the next morning, Robbie is gone. A note arrives for Ruth in the mail a few days later saying, “I’m sorry for everything. It’s not your fault. I love you.”
Without a backward glance, Ruth packs up Robbie’s ashes and drives east, heading away from her guilt and regret. But the closer she gets to the coast she was born on, the more evident it becomes that she won’t outrun her demons—eventually, she’ll have to face them and confront the painful truth about her past, her choices, the war, and her son.
Read my review HERE.
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Author Bio (From Author Website)
is the author of the novel, CASUALTIES, the story of a defense executive who loses her son just when she thought he was safely home from war. Now, she must face the painful truth about her past, her choices, the war, and her son. Selected as a finalist in the 2014 San Diego Book Association Unpublished Novel Contest, CASUALTIES will be published in February 2016 by Berkley.
She is a dedicated walker who loves to share what moving across the planet by foot reveals and how it helps her write. You can read about that in her blog.
I am giving away ONE PRINT copy of Casualities. Contest open to US mailing addresses ONLY (no PO Boxes please). To enter today’s contest, please fill the form below by 5 PM mountain time Friday February 5:
The winner will be selected using random.org and one PRINT copy of Casualties will be mailed directly from the publisher.
***The book in this giveaway has been provided by Berkley.***