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March 9, 2020

In her debut novel, Goss explores the intersection of history, science, and ethics during WWII as a German POW carrying secrets related to the atomic bomb is sent to America and ultimately works with the Allies on a secret research program.  

What is the story behind this book—why and how did you write it?

I wanted to offer others the opportunity to enjoy some past worlds of my own experience and to show how people interacted and expressed themselves. I drew on my life experiences working in science and growing up in Arkansas. I have not found these worlds to be captured in other books, and I missed them. When writing, I always had a picture in my mind, sort of like watching a movie while composing the story.

During World War II, my hometown of North Little Rock was the state headquarters for more than 30 POW camps housing 23,000 German and Italian POW soldiers. Learning more about these soldiers, their histories, and what they thought of their American journey intrigued me. I tracked the progress of soldiers from Germany to their capture in North Africa, their transport to prison camps in the U.S., and their subsequent labor in Arkansas cotton fields.

What happened at home while the boys were away at war is something I wanted to explore. The POWs who were thrust into the American heartland presented ample plotlines. Germany was a leader in scientific research before World War II, which brought up a historical question: why didn’t Germany develop an atomic bomb? I wondered what would happen if a German soldier carried bomb-making secrets with him to camp and what would happen to that soldier if he were set loose in rural Arkansas. I wondered what he would think about the local people and what they would think about him.

To what extent do you draw from real life, and what responsibility do you feel to reimagine or change characters based on real people?

The nonhistorical characters in the book are amalgams of people, not individuals. My goal was to create characters true to the time and place. I drew from my memory of people from my childhood, but my memory is an inaccurate record. Thinking about people and events through the lens of time yields more of an impression of how things and people were and is not an accumulation of facts or a representation of any one individual. I wanted to bring many voices from memory to life.

Why do you think people enjoy historical fiction so much?

Historical fiction makes for great escapes. People can immerse themselves in another time and place and forget the present for a while. If the storytelling is good enough, readers can return from their visit with a better perspective on the modern world.

What kind of research did you do to ensure historical and cultural authenticity?

I enjoy firsthand narratives, and the memoirs about World War II POW camps in America do not disappoint. The International Red Cross prison camp inspection records gave me priceless insight into daily camp life. I talked to as many people as would talk to me about camps and prisoners and railroads. I took pictures of buildings and landscapes, looked at maps, and studied census records. I developed a mental picture of how people lived in the various neighborhoods given their race, family makeup, and occupations.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a three-part sequel to Driven by Conscience, set between 1946 and 1950. The boys are back from the war and Gwen loses her foothold at the FBI. She and Claudette open Diamond State Detective Agency and go on adventures. They encounter old friends as they continue their lives.