I, Jennifer Hallock, have never met a research rabbit hole that I could resist. In order to help me brainstorm a historical romance series set in the American colonial Philippines, I camped out in the microfiche room of Ateneo de Manila University, reading copies of the Manila Times and looking for plot bunnies. I found one: a letter from a young American woman searching for her missing brother. The missive had been delivered to the wrong person and, without any better information on where to forward it, some good Samaritan had published it in the hope of reuniting estranged siblings. I wondered: what could have happened to this brother? Why had he come to the Philippines in the first place? The reason most young men crossed the Pacific was to fight in the Philippine-American War, so had he been a soldier? What if he had survived an attack but had been initially reported dead by the army? (Such things happened.)
I decided that, yes, my Ben was an ambivalent soldier—and after, a troubled survivor. His emotional backstory was shaped by three of my best friends who suffer combat trauma. Two served in Vietnam and one was injured in a terror attack on a US embassy overseas. Collectively, I have spent hundreds of hours sitting in a classroom, at a dinner table, or on a bar stool next to these men listening to what they were willing to share about their nightmares, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, survivor’s guilt, and more. While Ben is none of these men explicitly, he is parts of all of them. I understand that love alone is not a magic potion for posttraumatic stress, and Ben’s journey is not that simple—but love is involved. And, lucky for Ben, he falls for a woman strong enough to lean on.
Allegra Alazas was always going to have her book. She stole every scene of Under the Sugar Sun that she was in, and maybe a few she wasn’t. But I knew her love story could not be a traditional one. This young woman might dress conventionally, go to conventional schools, and work a conventional job, but she is still the most unconventional heroine I have ever written. Allegra was inspired by a lantern slide from the University of Michigan collection—or, more accurately, she was inspired by the slight scowl on the face of the woman in the slide. It is a smile that says, “I think you are an idiot, Mr. Photographer—and if you are very lucky, I will tell you so to your face.” Do I tone Allegra down through the book, you might wonder? No. In fact, her relationship with Ben only increases her confidence. He falls at her feet—or, to use a Philippine saying, falls “under her dress.” This heroine was so much fun to write.
Allegra and Ben take quite a journey in Sugar Moon, so not surprisingly the book took me over two years to write. The three of us—Allegra, Ben, and I—think it was worth the wait, and we hope you will too.
Bio: Jennifer Hallock spends her days teaching history and her nights writing historical happily-ever-afters. She has lived and worked in the Philippines, the setting of her books, but she currently writes at her little brick house on a New England homestead—kept company by her husband, a growing flock of chickens, and a mutt named Wile E.