By Alison Buckholtz
Andria Williams' early fantasies about her career went something like this: she'd be a writer, live close a literary community, and never stray too far from the Minnesota college town that shaped her education.
One of those three things came true the way she had hoped: Williams' first novel, The Longest Night, was featured by Barnes and Noble as a “Discover Great New Writers” pick and by Amazon as a “
Best of the Month Debut.” Set in mid-century America, the 2016 release is based on the true story of the
1961 atomic accident at an experimental nuclear power reaction in Idaho Falls, which resulted in the deaths of three military technicians.
Williams' main character is an Army wife whose husband works at the reactor and is the only person to realize it has been compromised. But the real action takes place inside the couple's home, as they try to overcome the strains that the military has put on their marriage. Much of the
for The Longest Night picked up on the fresh, sensitive, and honest way Williams portrayed military families in that post-war era.
Though the technical descriptions of the reactor emerged from historical research, the insights related to military marriages were grounded in some of her own experiences as the wife of a naval intelligence officer.
“I didn't have to look too hard to try to imagine how military spouses feel and act,” Williams said, “since I was living it.”
(Courtesy of Andria Williams)
She still is. Williams' husband is stationed near Denver, and they live with their three children in Colorado Springs. These days, Williams is working on her second novel, which involves the story of a World War I veteran. Writing two books with military characters wasn't intentional - the character in the book she's working on now didn't start out as a veteran -- but it wasn't entirely an accident, either.
“My proximity to the military means that often when I have ideas for fiction, they revolve around service and war and violence,” she said. “I want my stories to have a dialogue about these ideas.”
One of the most intriguing things for Williams about researching a World War I-era servicemember for her new book has been contrasting the views of Americans toward the military then and now. “The way people thought about veterans in the first part of the 20th century was different because most families knew veterans,” she said. “They were everyone's brother or father, they were movie stars and musicians and newscasters, people like Humphrey Bogart and even Elvis. The presidents had all served.”
Williams has leaned on fellow military spouses for support throughout her writing career, including those who have contributed to
The Military Spouse Book Review (MSBR), a site she founded in 2014. (Editor's Note: This story's author is an editor with MSBR).
“It's important for me to try and promote a literary culture within the military spouse community,” Williams said, “because I think that sometimes falls by the wayside.”
Despite her achievements, Williams still doesn't think of writing as a career-because that would understate its importance to her. “It's more of a life obsession,” she says. “I've written since I was 5 years old. I process the world by writing fiction. I want to make stories, I want to make something beautiful--something that will entertain other people.”