Why was it important that your main character be a female – how does she retain her femininity in a masculine environment, and why would women readers be drawn to your book?
The situations and challenges that Bridget Donovan and Audrey Richards face in Black Wings are unique to females. Bridget and Audrey are trailblazers at the Naval Academy; they arrive in 1986, only six years after the first women had graduated. Bridget and Audrey continue to tread new ground in the Navy fleet—Bridget as a public affairs officer and Audrey as one of the first female combat pilots. Because of those experiences, it was important that their point of view and perspective as females inform the narrative. The story is universal and intended for male and female readers, but the time period demanded a female voice.
As a 1988 Naval Academy graduate, my experiences of school and the Navy were complicated. Initially, I had no intention of writing about the military. The defense world seemed too foreign to readers, too personal, too difficult to describe. I found I was hiding behind these excuses. Once I started writing fiction in a military setting, I was drawn in fast. I wanted to understand the women and tell their stories. Given the growing numbers of women in the military and the growing involvement of the military in global affairs, understanding the humanity of women (and men) in that world is important to our understanding of people and society.
Throughout Black Wings, Bridget and Audrey work hard to retain their femininity. They are (literally) surrounded by men from the moment they take the oath of enlistment during plebe summer. While immersed in male culture, they are never completely integrated. The separation is both physical–different uniforms/different haircuts, but also mental. With combat exclusion laws in place, women had different choices and different requirements for graduation.
In their attempts to preserve their female self, Audrey is more audacious. She is strong, resolute, and fiercely confident. She takes pride in her auburn hair and sculpted muscles and maintains her grooming and uniforms to highlight her physique. She also refuses to accept any limits to her sex. She wants to fly at any cost. She routinely beats the guys in push-ups, spouts off at her male classmates, and defies the odds and the stereotypes. Along the way this approach causes her some problems. When she’s faced with a uniquely female problem, she’s trapped. She turns to Bridget for help.
Bridget retains her femininity in different ways. She feels the separation and is aware that she is not and never will be “one of the guys,” but she doesn’t fight it. She hangs out with guys, maintains relationships, busies herself with her studies and continues to ask questions and search for answers.
I’ve been told from female readers that they enjoy Black Wings because of the chance to look behind the walls of the US Naval Academy and be immersed in the world of Navy aviation. Only 100 or so women enroll in the US Naval Academy each year and fewer than that graduate. Black Wings delves into those experiences but also speaks to universal choices, feelings, hurts and friendship struggles all women face.
Release: December 2011
Price: $19.95 paperback, $9.99 ebook
LT Bridget Donovan suspects the worst when her former Naval Academy roommate, Audrey Richards, perishes in a botched take-off from an aircraft carrier. The Navy says it’s an accident, but facts don’t add up. Could it be suicide, or murder? Donovan’s unofficial investigation into what really happened, both during their past Academy days and in Richards’ final hours, forces her to examine the concepts of honor, justice and the role of loyalty in pursuit of those ideals.
Kathleen Toomey Jabs’ Bio:
Kathleen Toomey Jabs is a 1988 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. She served on active duty for six years and is currently a Captain in the Navy Reserve. She holds an MA from the University of New Hampshire and an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. Her stories have been published in a number of literary journals and received several prizes, including selection in the National Public Radio Selected Shorts program. She lives with her husband and two children in Virginia.
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