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When 45-year-old Ellen Michaels loses her husband to a tragic military accident, she is left in a world of gray. For 25 years her life has been dictated by the ubiquitous They—the military establishment that has included her like chattel with John’s worldly goods—his Dependents, Furniture, and Effects. They—who have stolen her hopes, her dreams and her innocence, and now in mere months will take away the roof over her head. Ellen is left with nothing to hold on to but memories and guilt and an awful secret that has held her in its grip since she was 19. John’s untimely death takes away her anchor, and now, without the military, there is no one to tell her where to go, what to do—no one to dictate who she is. Dependent deals with issues ever-present in today’s service families—early marriage, frequent long absences, the culture of rank, and posttraumatic stress, as well as harassment and abuse of power by higher-ranking officials. It presents a raw and realistic view of life for the lives of the invisible support behind the uniform.
AMM: Welcome, Brenda.
BC: Thanks for having me, Ann Marie
AMM: Have you always wanted to write?
BC: In a way, yes. I don’t think I realized it when I was in my teens and twenties, even when I was writing the occasional newspaper article or volunteering as secretary for non-profit organizations. I think I was always writing in my head—making up stories both fantastical and realistic—but the true desire to be an author didn’t strike until about seven years ago. We were living in England, touring castles and henges and having pints in pubs Shakespeare frequented. The very air screamed WRITE! I started blogging, then took it more seriously and began my first serious attempt at writing a novel.
AMM: Very cool. But why the military as a subject for your books?
BC: I really didn’t mean to write a story about the military, it just sort of happened. My other manuscripts are fantasies, or fictional to the point of being barely possible. Even when I read, I prefer to avoid reality, sticking to fantasy and paranormal, with the occasional contemporary novel thrown in. Dependent started out as a way to write down the things I think every military spouse fears… and it just grew from there. I’ve worn a uniform or been married to one (my husband is an Air Force officer in the RCAF) for more than twenty-five years, so military life is very real for me. I guess you write best the things you know. I tried very hard to not sugar-coat the less desirable aspects of being a military spouse, so that non-military readers could get a sense of the issues we have to deal with, but I also wanted to be honest and realistic. Hopefully it worked.
AMM: Twenty-five years in the military life! That’s intriguing, yet I have to ask this. Despite the story behind Dependent do you enjoy life as the wife of a military guy?
BC: I LOVE the military lifestyle. Yes, there are difficulties, but there are also so many opportunities available to military families. So many adventures! We have lived in three different countries, holidayed in French castles and on beaches in Greece, toured salt mines in Austria and skied in the Alps. We’ve met lifelong friends from countries all over the world, and had tea at Buckingham Palace. Sure there are difficult things about it—living far from family, frequent moves, constant instability—but I guess life will always depend on how you look at it. We try to fully immerse ourselves wherever we are, and the experiences are well worth the occasional hiccups.
AMM: Tea in Buckingham Palace. I’m turning green here. Still, how wonderful that you were able to live in and experience so many different countries. Was Dependent shaped by any particular aspect of your life?
BC: Dependent is fiction, in that none of the really awful things that happen to Ellen have happened to me, personally. I have been blessed with a wonderful husband, adventurous kids and so many fabulous experiences. I’ve had a few sleepless nights, and a few scary moments, but on the whole we’ve had a great go. Unfortunately many, many military spouses have lived through at least some part of Ellen’s difficulties. We all know someone who has lost a love one to a military tragedy. And sexual assault in the military is a topic frequently discussed on today’s news networks.
What really shaped the story was my fear of losing myself in the military lifestyle. Before I married my husband I was a Captain in the Air Force, working as a licensed Physiotherapy Officer. I had my own car, apartment and retirement savings. Through a series of postings (one of them out-of-country), pregnancies and other events, I was at risk of letting all of that slide away from me. Don’t get me wrong—I loved being a stay-at-home mom. It was great for my kids, and was so much easier than searching for jobs and new babysitters every time we moved. But what sort of example would that be for my children, especially my girls? I had worked hard to become a physiotherapist, and I owed it to myself to keep working toward my own career goals. The first chapters of Dependent sprung from that realization, one I’m sure many military spouses face.
AMM: I think this is a situation that many women face. I have to admit, I’m now looking forward to reading Dependent. So, what’s next for you?
BC: Right now, I’m focusing on getting our house in order (after our 10th move in 17 years) and launching Dependent into the world. I have two manuscripts in the hands of my wonderful agents—Frances Black and Jennifer Mishler at Literary Counsel—and I’m hoping for great things to come of that! I also will be celebrating a HUGE career step for my amazing husband, Col Tom Dunne next week, as he takes command of 19 Wing Comox. I am so incredibly proud of him! When the dust has settled from that, I hope to get back to the two different WIP’s I have on the go—the first is a sequel to my self-pubbed novel Treasure in the Flame, and the other is a contemporary manuscript about the meaning of ‘home’ to military families.
AMM: I don’t think you need worry about setting an example for your children, Brenda. Your success speaks for itself. How about sharing something about yourself that most people won’t know?
BC: Hmmm… Most people won’t know that I play the Celtic harp? Badly…but I love the rich sound and I really enjoy sitting down and strumming the strings in the evening. I love my harp!
Brenda Corey Dunne grew up in rural New Brunswick, Canada. She originally trained as a physiotherapist and worked several years as a Physiotherapy Officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force before meeting the love of her life and taking her release. Since that time she has ridden the RCAF posting train with her Air Force husband and family, living in such places as Nova Scotia (Canada), Watchfield (England) and Elizabeth City, (NC). She currently calls Vancouver Island home.
Brenda spent several years volunteering on the Board of Directors at a Military Family Resource Centre in Nova Scotia, culminating in a year term as Chairperson of the Board. She completed her first full length manuscript in 2008 as a bucket-list item and caught the writing bug. DEPENDENT released in July of 2014, and her self-pubbed YA historical fiction, TREASURE IN THE FLAME was released in 2012. She is represented by Jennifer Mishler and Frances Black of Literary Counsel.
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