Author’s book inspired by 60-year-old letters, photos
Although the leather is worn and pages are unbound, the faces of the Korean orphans pictured in the photo album are as bright and happy as they were the day they met their American heroes.
Mindy Halleck, of Mukilteo, is author of the new book “Return To Sender,” which was inspired by 60-year-old Korean War letters and photos.
In a long-forgotten box in the attic of old photo albums, Halleck found pictures of Korean orphans who stole the hearts of many American veterans, including her father’s. She was compelled by the children’s faces, many of them smiling and playful.
“When I saw the pictures, it was confirmation of my father’s stories,” she said. “It was startling to me, too. To see the images made it quite real for me.”
Her debut novel, “Return to Sender,” is a thriller about Korean War hero-turned-Catholic priest who confronts a serial killer targeting his hometown and everyone he loves.
“Return to Sender” blossomed from a short story she wrote, “The Sound of Rain,” which placed in the Writer’s Digest Literary Contest. It draws from her childhood memories and family histories.
The haunting backstory for “Return To Sender” borrows from the true war stories of her father, a Korean War Air Force vet, and her ex-father-in-law, a Korean War Army vet.
Halleck grew up hearing about the war, the Korean orphans American armed forces tried to save, and the ones left behind – and how those children broke their hearts.
“Both of them talked about the orphans in Korea and how devastating it was how orphans were dealt with – or not dealt with – in Korea and Japan,” Halleck said.
“A lot of them were slaughtered because they were mixed-race orphans. They weren’t pure blood lines, so they were slaughtered.”
She also has letters from the war, which her father saved, including one from his sister telling him about her new fan-dangled electric skillet.
“That letter from his sister always makes me laugh,” she said. “She sent him recipes, and I remember him saying, ‘Where the hell does my sister think I am?! That I’m going to make sweet potato pie with my friends.’”
Her protagonist, Theo, the Korean War vet who entered the priesthood, is Irish because her great-grandparents emigrated from Ireland in the 1800s to spread Catholicism in America.
Halleck returned to Ireland for a month-long writer’s residence, where she visited the likely port of departure of her great-grandparents.
“They say write what you know,” she said. “Well, Irish is something I know a little about.”
Theo’s mentor in the book, Solomon, the last Nahalem Indian, was based on a man she met when she was 10 years old.
Halleck and her family would go on trips to Oregon beaches in the summers. After fishing, Halleck would wait outside a cannery in Wheeler, Ore. with a popsicle, and her dad would go inside for a beer.
One summer, she sat on the cannery’s only bench with a Nahalem Indian. She saw him just three times.
“I split the popsicle with him, and he said, ‘For the popsicle, I will share my stories,” Halleck said. “He had this wonderful voice. It was very guttural, but beautiful and soothing. I gave Solomon that voice.”
Her brother, Clark Kohanek, a freelance illustrator and storyboard artist, designed the cover art for her book, which shows the silhouette of the story’s protagonist framed by the shape of a bullet and surrounded by flames.
“Our family is familiar with warriors and the shadows they bring home from war,” Kohanek said. “Some have said that the soul is memory. Some memories are hard to forget, and even more difficult to communicate.
“I believe story telling, via our family’s journey, might help reach other families with similar stories and memories.”
In addition to “Return to Sender,” Halleck has written two other novels and a memoir that have yet to be published. Her book “Romance & Money: 12 Conversations Every Couple Should Have” was published in 2011. Halleck also blogs at http://www.literaryliaisons.wordpress.com.
She is a member of Willamette Writers in Oregon, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association in Seattle, and the steering committee for the Write on the Sound Writers Conference in Edmonds.
For more information on Mindy Halleck and “Return to Sender,” go to http://www.MindyHalleck.com.
Read this artile at The Mukilteo Beacon