I interviewed military spouse author Bonnie Bartel Latino on the award-winning novel YOUR GIFT TO ME she co-authored with Bob Vale.
- Please briefly describe your milspouse experience.
I pinned my husband’s second lieutenant “butter” bars on at Mississippi State University after he completed ROTC and graduated. We were engaged at the time. Six months later I married 2nd Lt. Tom Latino while he was in pilot training at Reese AFB, Texas.
Tom served in the Air Force for 30 years, retiring as an 0-6. We were stationed in many places, including assignments to Germany, Greece, Guam and Great Britain, plus Hawaii and numerous stateside bases. We moved over 20 times.
Honestly, the three decades I spent as a military spouse were years I often loathed and loved in equal measure. It’s not an easy life; all are not suited to be camp followers.
But for those who know the importance of working to make their spouse their best friend, it is a rewarding life. If, every time you move, you take your best friend with you, everything becomes easier and makes the adventure much more rewarding.
- What was the impetus for writing a novel featuring a military spouse?
Within one 24-hour period, I endured three traumatic deaths, including my father and two close family friends. In the following months and years, I learned about the compounding effects of grief and felt compelled to share my experience through my writing.
I have been a journalist my entire life. “Write what you know” is a well-worn cliché, but it’s what writers do. I know about the military lifestyle, and I know Southern women, so that’s what I wrote about. (Think “Top Gun” meets “Steel Magnolias.”)
As compelling as TV dramas like “Army Wives” may be, I wanted to portray the character and values of the majority of the men and women who make the military their profession. It’s not simply a career; for many it is a true calling. Lord knows they don’t do it for the money!
- How much of your novel YOUR GIFT TO ME is based on your own experience and how much is imaginary?
YOUR GIFT TO ME is an inspirational love story and a military mystery. My co-author, Bob Vale, is a civilian, an award-winning graphic-designer, writer and photographer from New Jersey. We “met” online in a professional military forum.
I joke that Bob is the only male I know who went to Woodstock rather than Vietnam, but it’s not his fault that he had a high draft number. We wove unique ways to survive deep grief into our story, and I used some settings with which I was intimately familiar from past assignments.
Although my co-author had no military background, he was fascinated by stories I told him about the life of a senior officer and spouse. He convinced me that avid readers would find compelling insight into military life. Bob is also blessed with a richly layered imagination, which is obvious in our novel.
- Do you find it uncomfortable reliving some of the more tense moments of a being a military spouse?
Not at all. Plotting the novel and writing it were a cathartic event. That healing continued after we published the book and I was invited to speak to military and civilian groups, book clubs and libraries. I’m not sure I would have mentally or emotionally survived the tragedies I endured had Bob and I not written YOUR GIFT TO ME.
- What advice would you give new military spouses today — women or men?
For those fortunate enough to have children, I would say, “Pay attention to what your child loves to do. It may, one day, become their profession.” And should a child be interested in writing, if they have vivid imaginations, steer them toward creative writing classes. If they are meticulous about facts, put them in journalism classes.
I earned my first money by writing when I was about 10 years old. I collected gossip around the neighborhood, one-finger typed it and sold copies for a dime until my mortified Southern mama learned of my entrepreneurial endeavors and stopped the press!
I edited my sixth grade and high school newspapers, and wrote for the local newspaper during my teen years. I double majored in college in journalism and speech. Eventually, I became a columnist for “Stars and Stripes” newspaper in Europe and occasionally freelanced for “Air Force Times.” Had I taken creative writing courses before Bob and I began our novel, it would have been enormously helpful.
- What are you proudest about your novel?
It would be easy to say that we’re proud that YOUR GIFT TO ME has won four literary awards in three genres, Inspirational and Healing Fiction, Adult Fiction, and Military Super Romance. Two of the awards came from organizations with military affiliations and two from civilian groups.
But what Bob and I are most proud is the number of Amazon reviews we have received from widows and widowers, civilian and military, who have known deep grief and who say YOUR GIFT TO ME has given them hope that they might find love again someday.
- Where can your book be purchased?
YOUR GIFT TO ME is available on Amazon in eBook and paper. It can also be purchased by special order from any bookstore.
- Do you have plans to write any other milspouse fiction or nonfiction?
Bob and I are working on a book of non-fiction stories about interesting people from Alabama. Many but not all are about people who have served in the military.
- Where are the best places to find you online?
Contact me on Facebook by searching for Bonnie Bartel Latino or for the novel at “Your Gift to Me 2012.” My Twitter user name is @BonnieBLatino
Note from PZM: YOUR GIFT TO ME is on Terri Barne’s wish list post on “Stars and Stripes” of stories about military life. Click here to see that list now.