A Bird named Enza and the Influenza

When I was young I had a horrible time with history. Hated it. Where did this stem from? I never had a very good teacher when it came to the subject. In high school I had a teacher that I think tried to make class time fun. The problem was he wasn’t making the subject fun, just making a spectacle of himself. It tainted the subject for me. In college I was delighted to find a change. Blessed for the first time with an instructor that didn’t dictate facts from a book, but sprinkled interest in what we were learning, he created real people for me to consider and the challenges they faced became much more meaningful.

Today’s one of those interesting, lucky days when we get to touch on history and the people who lived it – in a fictional world, through author Kristy K. James. Her new book, Enza is a beautiful journey into the lives of the people who had to endure the influenza epidemic. It will touch you, the characters will move you and it’s impossible not to get invested.

Please welcome Kristy K. James to the blog to discuss her journey is this amazing tale.

Welcome Kristy, can you tell us about Enza. Why did you write it?

When PBS aired a documentary about the 1918/1919 influenza pandemic, I was fascinated. I mean this was a major event in world history…and I’d never heard of it before. A pandemic that wiped out tens of millions of people around the globe and it didn’t warrant so much as a mention in any of my history classes? At some point during the program I realized that this would be a great subject for a story. And slowly, over the next couple of years, the Owens’ family, Colby Thornton and the rest of the characters came to life.

I didn’t have a computer, or access to the internet at that point, so it took awhile to research the time period. Hours spent going through the archives at libraries netted a great deal of information about World War 1, except the story wasn’t going to be about the war. So learning about the lifestyle of the people back then was very time-consuming.

But eventually it all came together and Enza was born. It’s a story told from five perspectives: shoe store owner Elliot Owens and his ten-year old son, Jonathon (who is trying to prove that their German neighbor is a spy); Colby Thornton, an unhappily married minister; Marcus McClelland, local funeral director; and Daniel Pullman, a young man unable to join the army because of an injury. Readers will get to know (and hopefully love) all of these characters in the first half of the book. In the last half they will discover how each of them handles one of the worst tragedies in the history of the world.

Wow. That’s some serious dedication. Old school right there. So, how did you come up with the title?

During the documentary you could hear young girls chanting a little ditty in the background sometimes. I guess they made it up to sing while they jumped rope. It was very eerie. ‘I had a little bird, and its name was Enza. I opened the window and in-flew-Enza.’ The moment I heard it I got chills…and knew what the title would be.

That is eerie. I’ve never heard of it. Okay, who is your favorite character in your books?

Oh that’s a tough question. It’s a toss up between Elliot Owens and Colby Thornton. But if I had to choose, it would have to be Elliot. He’s such a devoted family man, and I just love his sense of humor.

Humor is a wonderful thing. Love that about my man. ;) What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Everything. Okay, that’s a little too general. Narrowing it down, I think I enjoyed the research the most. I wound up getting copies of many newspapers from that time. And I paid a visit to an antique book store, purchasing an original copy of the 1918 Farmer’s Almanac and a woman’s magazine from that same year. They have become some of my most prized possessions. It just makes you feel good to read about such an innocent time in our history.

So you’re just a little book hound. :) Love digging your nose into the details and figuring them out. That’s cool. Tell us about a book that resonated with you (either recently or prior to your writing career)?

When my little sister was in high school, she read an old book she thought I would enjoy. It’s called Alas, Babylon (Pat Frank). The story is about a small community in Florida, and how the people survived following a nuclear war. I had read-and hated-another story about the same subject…On the Beach. It left me feeling depressed and hopeless by the time I got to the last page. Alas, Babylon was different. It’s scary to think that something like that could really happen, but I think it was a realistic depiction of how decent, motivated people could not only survive something that devastating, but thrive. They didn’t give up. It’s a great message and I read the book every couple of years. When I wore out the first copy, I was relieved to find that it was available in POD.

I may have to check that one out. Alright, spill. Who is the one person that has single handedly inspired you the most in your life?

I would have to say my maternal grandfather. I’ve never known anyone in my life who made me feel like I was an important person the way he did. Of course he made everyone feel that way. But when you were there, he was just so happy to see you, giving you his undivided attention. He really loved his family and loved making time for them. He also liked to feed us. I think he thought that was his mission in life.

That’s beautiful, Kristy! Sounds like he was a wonderful man. What is your favorite historical period and why?

I think I would have to choose the 1950s. I know, it’s not what most people would consider ‘historical,’ but I don’t care. The music was good, they had a lot of modern conveniences. And morals were still firmly in place.

No, that’s a good choice for those reasons. Not too stuffy, either. :D Okay, let’s say you can choose your own nickname, with an assurance that no one would ever mock you. Tell us your choice.

I guess I would go with one that’s already been given to me. After sharing an embarrassing episode in my life with a friend, her husband called me JJ for a while. I think it’s kind of cute and have actually used a variation of it for some of my online accounts. If I had to choose a completely new one, Ms Nobel Prize Winner works for me. :)

Ha-ha! That would be a really nice one. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you. Here’s a fun one. If your book was turned into a movie who you choose to play your main characters?

Did you ever watch an old series (I think from the 90s) called I’ll Fly Away? I picture Sam Waterston-then-as Elliot. He’s too old, but at that age he would have been perfect. Now, in my dream cast, I guess I’d have to choose Jeffrey Dean Morgan. For Marcus, Matt Damon all the way. I think he’d be perfect for that role. Bruce Willis is a little too old but I can see him as Colby (I love that man so he’d have to have a place in the movie). Ian Sumerhalder would make a great Daniel. Beyond that, I’m not sure.

You had better start surfing the net and put together a pinterest storyboard for this book. Cast those characters! If you were to write yourself into your book what kind of character would you be?

If I were to write myself into Enza? I’d be the freaked out woman sucking down vitamins and herbs like candy….and trying to convince everyone I know to do the same.

Oh my gosh! You have me laughing up a storm, girl. Before we go, we’re dying to know – do you have anything new in the works?

I do, thanks for asking. I’ll be releasing the second installment in my Coach’s Boys series in May or June. I have two WIPs that are about half-finished, and need to write the fourth book by the end of the year (and the last by next spring). There have also been a few requests to write a sequel to Enza, so I’m tossing some ideas around. After that, I think there are seventeen projects on my ‘to-write’ list. So far… I think I’ll be busy for awhile.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all our questions, Kristy! It’s been great fun. Enza sounds like a true labor of love. Those always make the best books.

Now, pay attention readers! Kristy K. James has a special bonus for you. We will be giving away One paperback version and 3 Kindle versions of Enza to be determined from all those who comment on today’s interview. So don’t just stop and go or hit the “Like” button. Take the time to comment! But it doesn’t stop there! NOPE! Everyone commenting on the tour (that’s not just this post, but every post along the tour. Click here to see them all) will be entered in drawings for ten – $10 and two – $25 gift certificates to be done at the end of the tour (May 5th)! How awesome is that? So join in and comment folks. Comment here and then hop along the tour and comment everywhere for more chances to win.

Kristy K. James’ first goal in life was to work in law enforcement, until the night she called the police to check out a scary noise in her yard. Realizing that she might someday have to check out scary noises in other dark yards if she continued on that path, she turned to her other favorite love, writing. Since then, her days have been filled with being a mom and a reluctant zookeeper (7 pets), creating stories and looking for trouble in her kitchen.

~oOo~

Please know that I always appreciate your time, and love it when you stop by and take the time to comment. Huge thanks! If you enjoyed this post or any of my previous posts, I’d be delighted to have you follow by email or RSS for any future posts!

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About Debra Kristi

Debra Kristi is a paranormal and fantasy writer in Adult and Young Adult Fiction. A creator of worlds, and sometimes whimsical cupid, the magic happens from the comfort of her Southern California home, where she lives with her husband, two children and crazy cats.
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79 Responses to A Bird named Enza and the Influenza

  1. CC MacKenzie says:

    I’m the first, Debra and Kristy! Wow, that’s a first!

    The book sounds amazing, Kristy and the characters sound interesting too. As Debra says get on pinterest and set up a storyboard for your readers. They like them a lot.

    Great interview and strangely enough I do know quite a bit about the flu epidemic and how it was started. Soldiers living too close to chickens and the flu jumped species then of course all the soldiers got on boats and went home to their respective countries. We’ve had a lot of documentaries on it over here. A couple of years ago there was a really scary one about bird flu merging with swine flu and the results were horrific. Which is the premise for my futuristic vampire story set in 2039 after just such an event!

    • Debra Kristi says:

      First! I have a friend’s blog everyone does that on. LOL. Yes, Kristy should take notes from you on pinterest. You have that thing DOWN. I don’t know where you find the time for everything that you do. :) Fantastic storyboards, Christine. Thank you for your praise and for sharing such a wealth of information. Fascinating to hear. The premise for your futuristic vampire story sounds intersting.

    • Hi, CC…thanks! I’m impressed! You’re the only person I’ve ‘met’ who knows anything about the pandemic. I know what you mean about current epidemics being scary. Every time I hear ‘H1N1,’ or new strains of flu viruses, it makes me nervous.

      Debra finally convinced me to set up a Pinterest account last week and, now that things are settling down a bit, I’m going to have to hunt up August McLaughlin’s blog on how to use that site legally. The whole storyboard thing sounds like it could be fun! So does your book. What’s the title? I like vampire stories…as long as they’re not too scary. :)

  2. mgmillerbooks says:

    This looks really good. Thanks for a great interview, Debra, and congrats to Kristy!

  3. shayfabbro says:

    I had a hard time with history too. It was a challenge for me when I wrote my YA/fantasy, but I learned a lot bu researching historical facts and places :D

  4. Enza certainly does sound like a labor of love. So much fun learning how stories come into fruition. Wishing you oodles of success, Kristy! Thanks for the fab interview. :)

  5. tedstrutz says:

    I do not recall much being mentioned regarding the 1918 Pandemic in my history classes, and I liked history. I do remember seeing a photo of a gymnasium being filled with cots and nurses and knew a hell of a lot people died… Enza sounds like a good way to learn more. Historical fiction is a great way to learn our history, especially when the research is solid… Farmer’s Almanac, good idea. Interesting book and author to interview, Debra, it’s on my list. I’m sure the song was chilling; the innocence and defience of youth.

    1950′s, Ms Nobel Prize Winner? Interesting choice, and it’s historical by now i guess. I liked your description, and it was an era when things started happening very quickly, and I think innocence started to become lost. Gook luck with .

      • Thank you, Ted! You remember more than I do. I don’t remember ever hearing a thing about it until I watched the documentary. And you’re right…historical fiction makes learning about history more interesting.

        As for the historical time period, I used to say I’d liked to have lived around the turn of the century (1900), but then I realized I could never get into outhouses, washboards, and heating water on the wood stove in order to do dishes or take a bath. :)

        Some teachers cornered the market on boring didn’t they, Debra? My worst were usually in math and science classes (of course the fact that they weren’t my favorite subjects might be coloring my memories just a bit, too). :)

    • Debra Kristi says:

      I don’t recall my history class getting that indepth either, Ted. But then my high school history class was rather lacking, as I may have mentioned. This is the kind of thing my college instructor would have mentioned with really interesting lesser known facts. He was just cool like that. If you read it you’ll have to stop back here and let us know what you thought.

  6. Great interview, Deb! Sounds like a fascinating story, Kristy. My great-grandparents lost 5 children in a single year about that time. I never knew what the cause of death was, but now I’m thinking it might have been Enza? The jump-rope song is chilling….And I’m good with calling you Ms. Nobel Prize Winner as long as you’re good with sharing all that lovely cash that comes with the prize!! :-)

    • Debra Kristi says:

      Wow. Five children. I can’t even imagine. What a horrible thing to have to endure. At about the same time our country was battling the influenza and Tuberculosis. Two major destructive forces among our population. What a depressing time for our nation. I beleive you can hear that chilling Enza song on Kristy’s blog. Chilling.

    • Hi, Diane! I hope people think the story is fascinating. I know the research was. And something I found out later. The names Colby and Nina are actually tributes to my grandmother’s grandfather and her mother. I didn’t find out until a few weeks ago that Nina actually died from the Spanish flu.

      Hmm… I guess I didn’t realize that Nobel Prize-winning authors also won cash. Okay, I’ll share. Can you put in a good word for me? :)

      Debra…the Spanish flu wiped out entire families, and nearly decimated entire villages overseas. And I did put up a video in a recent blog that has the chant from the documentary in it. Every time I hear it it reminds me of the little boy seeing the dead girls in The Shining. :)

  7. Interesting post ladies. I really love to read books that are fiction but based on real life events. Since we weren’t actually there to live it, we have to let our imaginations fill in the story. Sounds like you did that well Ms. Nobel Prize winner!

    I love the 1950′s too! Elvis is the man!

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    • Debra Kristi says:

      Maybe we should all chant: Novel Prize! :) I believe this story takes place in the 1910′s to 1920′s. No Elvis yet. :-| Thank’s for commenting, Patricia.

    • Thank you, Patricia! It did take a lot of filling in, but by the time I started writing, I’d read so many newspapers from October 1918 that I had a fairly good idea of what happened. The papers back then were a lot different than they are today. There were short articles about who was sick, or had died, in households around the city. They were a lot more personal. Happenings around town were always newsworthy. And yes…Elvis! I wish he hadn’t left the building. :)

      Thanks, Debra. Yes, I would love to win that prize. Of course I wanted to win that big lottery a couple of weeks ago, too. I might have had a 1/500,000,000,000 if I’d actually purchased a ticket. :)

  8. What a fun interview! :) Nice job both of you, Debra and Kristy! Enza is fantastic, so make sure to check it out, everyone.

  9. I saw that documentary and it was extremely disturbing. After I watched it, I couldn’t figure out why I’d never read about it in any history book, What I surmised from the film was that people were so traumatized by it, they did their best to bury it and not think about what happened. The sheer numbers were so staggering, it must have been terrifying. Really wanna check out the book now!

    • Hi, Paige! You’re the only person I’ve heard of who saw the documentary. It was very disturbing, wasn’t it? You are right about the reason it was ‘forgotten.’ It was so horrible that no one wanted to think or talk about it. Which I think was wrong. The victims didn’t deserve it. And I think people from the 20th century need to know that this kind of thing can still happen. :)

    • Debra Kristi says:

      Agreed. We should all be aware. Great that you saw the documentary Paige. The numbers were simply staggering! But Kristy is right, the victims deserve to be remembered. Hey! You now have a chance at winning a copy of the book. Cross your fingers. ;) Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Debra…thank you so much for helping me celebrate the release of Enza! This interview was so much fun, and I really appreciate it! Especially since this is one of my favorite blogs. And now that things have settled down a bit, I hope to catch up here (and on SO many others!). :)

    • Debra Kristi says:

      You are most welcome! I had fun with the interview as well and I was happy to do it! You know I am looking forward to reading this gem – tissue in hand. You know I get headaches when I cry. Just saying. LOL.

  11. Jennette Marie Powell says:

    I think history was boring in school because so much of it focused on rote memorization of names and dates. Books and shows where we get a glimpse of what life was like are what’s fascinating. I actually ran across the flu epidemic of 1918 when researching my first time travel book, part of which takes place in 1913. Creepy and fascinating!

    • Debra Kristi says:

      I agree with that thought. Names and dates is what killed it for me. But I’m always drawn in when it built around someone’s life. When it becomes personal, then it gets interesting.

      I bet you have to do a lot of research for you books!

    • I didn’t like the dates either. Kind of like the majority of what we learned math and science…what good did it do most of us. Addition/subtraction for the checkbook, fractions for cooking…those are handy. Algebra? Not so much. And the only thing I remember from science is herbivore (plant eater), carnivore (meat eater) and omnivore (eats both). Amazingly enough, it’s never really come up (except in conversations like this). I suppose if we still lived with dinosaurs it would be good information to know though. :)

      Time travel, hmm? Those are fun books to read!

      • Debra Kristi says:

        I remember my science class – because my teacher would come to class drunk with mismatched shoes. Oops! LOL

        Oh, wait. You mean the information. Yeah, not so much. I learned it later in life. She wasn’t very helpful.

        • LOLOLOL! I think I’d have LOVED your science class. I had a woman teacher in one class who always wore sleeveless dresses and she had this ‘thing’ under one arm…it wasn’t pretty. Another was really nice (the one who taught about the meat/plant eaters), but the main thing I remember about that class was a substitute teacher named Mr. Butts. You just have to know in 9th grade…it wasn’t a cool name to have. And some of those kids were downright mean. :)

          Drunk though…that would have made science class a blast! :)

        • Debra Kristi says:

          Yeah, I remember she spent one entire class talking about Superman. :D She was really happy that day.

        • My 6th grade teacher might have been married to her. The entire class knew he loved the Tarzan books and if we could distract him with that, he’d spend the afternoon reading to us. :)

  12. Emma says:

    Enza sounds fantastic Kristy. You must have spent so many hours doing research. Good luck with the release.
    Sidenote: I think this influenza was what Edward Cullen in the book Twilight was dying from when he was turned into a vampire. Useless bit of trivia right there :)

  13. Fabio Bueno says:

    Wow, thank you, Kristy and Kristi. Or, JJ and Debra :-)
    I enjoyed learning about your writing process, Kristy. So much research! When I first learned about the epidemic, I had the same reaction: how come no history teacher told us that? It’s huge, and I was always curious about it.
    Now I need to get a copy (hint, hint) of Enza! And what an absolutely fantastic cover!

    • Debra Kristi says:

      Got the hint. I’ll see what I can do. ;) Kristy, you hear that? One right here for Fabio! Hehe.
      Isn’t the book beautiful? I’ll be jealous of the individual that gets the hard copy. :D I’m not eligible.

    • Hi, Fabio! Fortunately for me I love to research…when the subject interests me. And this definitely interested me. Hopefully you’ll get one of the copies. I have to check with the person I’m working with at Lightning Book Promotions to find out how this part of the giveaways works. And thanks…I was very happy with the way the cover turned out. :)

  14. Coleen Patrick says:

    I didn’t know about that epidemic either. I can tell you really love this story Kristy (aka Ms. Nobel Prize winner) and I just bet it will read like a well-loved story. :)
    Congrats on the release!
    And great interview Debra!

  15. That song about Enza the little girl was singing is going to stick in my head. That’s disturbing. I hadn’t heard of this epidemic either until Kristy posted about it on her blog. I’m very impressed that the original research was done without the help of the internet.

    P.S. Kristy – I love that you’re using your new headshot now.

    • Debra Kristi says:

      Isn’t her headshot gorgeous? She needs to update Amazon. Hint hint. I’m with you on that creepy song. Hearing those girls sing it on Kristy’s blog was just disturbing. *shivers* And all that research! Ugh! Brought back memories for me of work, searching microfilm and files in bank vaults. No thank you. I heart the internet. :D

    • I know what you mean, Marcy. Kids can be pretty morbid sometimes. I think it’s only because they don’t understand, or maybe it’s their way of dealing with the stress. Make it seem like fun and it won’t be as bad. I don’t know. But it is hard to get out of my head when I think about it. And thanks. I’m a lot happier with this picture. :)

      Debra…I just changed it at Amazon. LOL…I love the internet, but I have to say I didn’t mind the research for this. There was just something about going through all the microfiche…and touching the actual newspapers and records books that made it seem more real. I’ve definitely done a lot online now…in fact, that’s where I learned about ice harvesting (thank God for ice cube trays and freezers!). :)

  16. Well done, Ladies. I enjoyed the interview and am starting the book tonight. As I mentioned to Kristy, I had no idea about the flu epidemic. sure gave me pause to consider what might happen today – given our travelling around the world.

    • Debra Kristi says:

      Scary thought, isn’t it Louise? With all our advancements we are not beyond a massive take down by nature. It’s mother natures way of keeping control of the population. And staying home won’t keep you safe because the people around you are traveling and any one of them could bring something home at any time. So it all goes back to living each day to its fullest potential as often as possible.

      • I work in health care and am in and out of a number of hospitals on a daily basis. I don’t usually hold the handrails. And I am really aware that there are sick people in there. sick people who could make me sick. yikes. If I think about it too much, I’d have to quit my job.

        • I never realized that until my son was born, Louise. He spent 2 months in intensive care after he was born. In order to touch him through the holes in the isolette, I had to scrub for 2 minutes from the elbows down with Betadine, then put on a sterile gown…at which point the tip of my nose would itch and if I’d forget and scratch it, I’d have to do it all over again (not owning up to how many times I had to). It was a crash course in germs, that’s for sure. LOL…guess that made me a good candidate to research the Spanish flu, hmm? :)

    • Thanks, Louise! It is scary to think about how a pandemic of that magnitude could spread today. Back then traveling to other countries was strictly by ship. And most people didn’t go far within their own country. It would be so much worse today. And it does make you wonder. I kind of freaked out when the news was full of stories about H1N1 a few years ago. Hope you enjoy the book. :)

      It’s possible it wouldn’t be as bad today, Debra (I hope!). Back then they thought face masks would help, but the germs were too tiny to be stopped. They’ve also learned a lot more. LOL…this is what I tell myself now when flu season hits anyway. :)

  17. JakiCheli says:

    Wonderful interview Debra and great responses to the questions Kristy. I’ve read ‘Enza’ twice and know it will become one of my ‘read it again’ books. Since I read lots that places your work close to the top of the list of favorite authors. I expect your name will join several of them in the ‘well known’ authors of our time. I’m waiting anxiously for the sequel to Reluctant Guardian as well as the next book in the Coach’s Boys’ series.

    • Debra Kristi says:

      Hi Jaki! Wonderful to meet you. Wow! Twice already? That’s a fabulous testament to the book and Kristy’s story. It’s a pleasure to have you here. Thank you so much for your comment! :D

    • Hi, Jaki! Nice to see you here. She’s been one of my beta readers for a long time, Debra (only before last summer I just said proof-reader). Jaki…still not sure about a sequel for Reluctant Guardian…when you have time we’ll have to brainstorm. I also think I need to ask you about this picture… Hmm. :)

  18. Kristy, it was nice to learn about you and your book. I’ll be putting it on my to-read list!

    Debra, thanks for this interview!

    • Debra Kristi says:

      You’re very welcome. Thank you for stopping by Laura.

    • Hi, Laura. It’s nice to ‘meet’ you. Thanks for stopping by Debra’s blog today. And I hope you enjoy Enza when you read it. :)

      • I’m sure I will. Your premise really has me hooked.

        My grandfather lost a sister during that period. She was about two years old–the youngest in the family. I was told the entire family got sick all at once. It happened during a horrible blizzard, and the doctor couldn’t reach them in time to help. So sad.

        • When I was creating the cast of characters, as a kind of tribute to family members I never had the opportunity to meet, I chose the names Colby and Nina (pronounced Nine-a in our family) after my grandma’s grandfather and mother. I didn’t find out until a few weeks ago that Nina died of the Spanish flu in 1918. With all the research I’d done, I never thought to question my own family.

          Just based on what I know of the pandemic, doctors really weren’t able to help anyone. In fact, young people were given plenty of aspirin for fevers…because they didn’t know about Reye’s Syndrome back then. That’s likely what contributed to so many deaths in that age group.

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