Aimie K. Runyan celebrates history’s unsung heroines in four historical novels, including the internationally bestselling “Daughters of the Night Sky” and “Promised to the Crown.” She is active as an educator and speaker in the writing community and beyond.
The following is an interview with Runyan.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit
What inspired you to write this book?
A friend sent me an article on the Night Witches, the brave women who flew for the Soviet Union in World War II, with a subtle “nudge” that this could be a great topic for me to explore. The more I read about them, the more I knew she was right. They were the most decorated regiment in the Red Army, and for good cause. They flew more missions, had faster turnarounds between sorties, and out-performed the male and mix-gendered regiments by basically every possible metric. They were the job, and they were good at it. Adapting the drama of World War II Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to the page was really a fascinating process.
Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?
Oh my gosh, this is a hard one. Ken Follett and Philippa Gregory were hugely important in my discover of Historical Fiction as a genre. Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” was one of those books I read as an adolescent that really became a part of my psyche. JK Rowling’s pure love of story is a marvel, and Stephen King is simply masterful to read. Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Heather Webb, and Sonja Yoerg are some newer voices that I just love.
Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?
The opening scene really shows a pivotal moment in Katya’s life: the moment she first sees an aircraft flying over her remote village in Siberia. She sees the plane as more than just a mesmerizing gadget and a wonder of technology—it’s a means for her to escape her isolated existence and to bring her mother back to the life she once knew in Moscow. It’s the birth of Katya’s dream, and I think it’s really a poignant thing to witness that.
What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?
The most fun was, without a doubt, taking a ride in an open cockpit biplane. It’s one of those experiences that an author needs to have for herself, to be able to understand how the plane really feels in midair. The pilot did some faux bombing runs and some evasive type maneuvers to give me a feel for what it would have been like to be in battle in one of these planes. They are made from light wood and linen with only a few aluminum struts. They’re simple machines, really as complicated as your average lawn mower, but they managed to be a formidable weapon of war.
What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?
Killing off a few beloved characters was hard, but in true George R.R. Martin fashion, authenticity was important. It was a horrid war, especially in terms of casualties for the Soviet Union, and I couldn’t let the main characters escape the book without experiencing loss.
What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?
There were so many fun things! The women insisted on being as feminine as possible under the circumstances to boost their morale. They curled their hair, even if it was under a helmet most of the day. They used red navigation pencils in lieu of lipstick and even fashioned ladies underwear from the silk parachutes from the flares. They were issued men’s boxers instead of ladies’ wear, so they got creative. Unfortunately, that stunt earned some of the women some time in a work camp in Siberia after the war. `
What project are you working on next?
I am working on a World War II family saga entitled “Across the Winding River,” expected from Lake Union Publishing in April of 2020. It’s the story of a Jewish-American medic, a German test pilot, and the medic’s grown daughter. Their stories arc together to solve a painful mystery from their past. It’s been a tricky, but exciting book to write!
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