Steven Teske on Homefront Arkansas

Q:What is the book about?
A:The book details how various wars affected the lives of people in Arkansas. Some of theose Arkansans are soldiers who fight in the wars. Others are family members, friends, or neighbors of soldiers. Each of the nine chapters focuses on one young Arkansan who in some way is shaped by a past or present battle.

Q:Where did you get the ideas for some of these stories?
A:Mrs. Woody came up with the main characters, and we just took it from there. For the most part, the plot of each chapter was shaped by Arkansas’s history. The World War II chapter, for example, reflects the actual experiences of Mrs. Woody’s father as well as her memory of how he shared the accounts of what had happened to him years later. In addition to creating fictitious accounts of real wars, we also focused on other changes over the years—such as what people eat and how people communicate. The book begins with handwritten letters mailed by a soldier and ends with a conversation over the Internet.

Q:What sources did you use in compiling the book?
A:Much of the information came from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture and from the books and journal articles that document Arkansas history. Statistics were verified from online resources, mostly government websites about America’s wars. Most of the pictures come either from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas or from the Butler Center’s collections. Many members of the Butler Center staff collaborated to strengthen the book and to ensure its accuracy in matters of history.

Q:Did you find any surprises in your research?
A:“Surprises” may not be the best word; working with the Encyclopedia, I’ve become fairly familiar with Arkansas history in many of its aspects. Any writer of fiction, though, even historical fiction, can describe times when the characters take over and started telling the story, forcing the author to follow new paths. That happened more than once, when a group of characters “came alive” and I had to sit back and let them talk or act, thinking that I would go back and edit out most of what they were saying. More often than I expected, the unplanned conversations and actions remained, and the parts I earlier thought were going to be good were the parts I had to cut.

Q:What is your favorite part of this book?
A:I’m not sure. Sometimes I like best the “big picture,” the way that wars and battles have shaped Arkansas even when they were fought on the other side of the world, and the ways that different characters in the chapters sense and describe those changes. Other times, I like best the way the main characters deal with events in their lives and gain strength and understanding from the lessons they learn from the soldiers they encounter. Still other times, I revel in the little touches—the letters hidden in Granny’s bureau or the squirrels chasing each other through the forest.

Q:What lessons can Arkansans learn from this book?
A:All of us can learn that the destruction and horror of war are always very bad things, but that the people we send to fight in those wars are often very good people. Growing up when I did, during the Vietnam War, I saw that many people were having trouble recognizing the difference. Those memories may have helped me when writing the chapter on the Vietnam War, but I expect that they were largely responsible for elements of every chapter.
Both Mrs. Woody and I teach history classes part-time at the college level. We share an interest in history, and also an awareness that no one truly knows himself or herself without seeing those past events that have made all of us who we are today. In other words, the more we know about where we have been, the better we understand where we are now and where we might be going. Whether a conflict was right in Arkansas—as happened in the Civil War and the Brooks-Baxter War—or whether it brought Arkansans elsewhere, each of these wars has added another layer to our state’s identity. Homefront Arkansas helps us see examine those layers so we can see ourselves and each other more clearly.