Camille Di Maio’s latest release, Until We Meet, is a  beautifully crafted WWII novel centered around three women whose lives are irrevocably impacted by war. Themes of love, loss, friendship, and the changing role of women in society are woven into the fabric of this heart-rending, emotional, and ultimately satisfying read. I’m so pleased to feature Camille Di Maio today on Book Club Babble.

Tabitha Lord: Welcome, Camille! Why did you choose this moment in history to set your story?

Camille Di Maio: Most of my books are set between the 1930s and the 1950s. I love this era for several reasons. First, it was such a pivotal one for women – one that brought remarkable opportunities. So I love the plethora of stories that can come from women emerging into this new world. One of the biggest catalysts of this was WWII and Until We Meet perfectly illustrates why – the men were going off to war and the women had to replace them in many jobs. And once that door was opened, we didn’t want to close it again!

WWII also offers such tremendous material for themes that I care about – love and sacrifice. There was a lot of bravery required and it really allows the characters to push themselves in extreme circumstances.

I also enjoy writing in this era because I find it very relatable to the modern reader. They had telephones. They had cars. So it’s familiar – and yet different.

TL: Can you talk a little about the research needed for this book?

CD: I thoroughly enjoyed the research for Until We Meet. New York is my favorite city, so researching Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Navy Yard was very much about immersing myself in a place I already dearly love. In February 2020, I was in Honolulu visiting Pearl Harbor, so discovering that the USS Missouri was built at the Navy Yard was a great bookend for the story – the women work on that ship and it ends up becoming the place where the end of the Pacific war happened.

And for the parts of the story involving the men, I am fortunate enough to be married to a Marine. He helped me with some of the more technical side of things. He pushed me to write more graphic war scenes, but that is not the story I wanted to write. So I hope I struck the right tone of just enough grit to really let the reader experience the battlefield but without overdoing the goriness of it. A good deal of my research for that came from rewatching Band of Brothers!

TL: Is there a character with whom you identify most? Or maybe a favorite?

CD: Great question! I see the women – Margaret, Dottie, and Gladys – as embodiments of the three choices for women at that time. Gladys is the full-on feminist who is eager to step into the world of the working woman. Dottie finds her joy in domesticity. And Margaret is seeking a way to blend her pull toward both. I see all avenues of that as having great merit and wanted to allow each to fully explore and be fulfilled in their different choices. So with that in mind, I mostly identify with Margaret. I am a mother of four and I have homeschooled them for nineteen years. I love being a stay-at-home mom. And yet, I know that there are other parts of myself that were eager to be fleshed out. In San Antonio, I was one of the top fifty Realtors for several years out of ten thousand agents in the city. And then I switched to having a career in writing with seven books under my belt. For me – and this is not the answer for everyone – I found value in having a foot in both camps and showing my kids (three of which are girls) that they can successfully have a robust family life and a career. I didn’t do it all perfectly, but I did it authentically and with heart.

TL: It sounds like writing is your second career. I can relate! Can you talk about your previous work experience and when and why you took the plunge into fiction writing?

CD: Yes! So, as mentioned above, I was a Realtor for ten years and have been in real estate for twenty-two years. (Property management and investment.) I kind of fell into it and found that I was good at it, but it’s not what I dreamed of doing as a little girl. I knew as early as twelve that I wanted to be a writer. I was bullied in school, so I spent as many recesses as I could in the school library. I got through all the Nancy Drews and Trixie Beldens and Bobbsey Twins books and wanted to be one of those authors who helped me escape. So that I could do it for other people.

But I lacked the confidence, finding fulfillment instead through a now-defunct blog called My Hidden San Antonio. It satisfied my love of writing – especially description – and it also served my real estate business by illuminating parts of the city that I was selling.

When I was writing my second book, it required a great deal of editing. It was my breaking point to make me realize that three careers at once was too many – homeschooling, real estate, and writing. Something had to go. My massage therapist of ten years told me that I was a candidate for a heart attack or stroke – she could feel it in my body. And I was only forty! I was not going to give up homeschooling – it was a lifestyle we all loved. The real estate was very lucrative, but I ultimately had to ask myself – what did I dream of being at age twelve? There was no hesitation – a writer. With the support of my husband, I gave up real estate. Taking a giant pay cut and actually requiring a downsize of many parts of our life. But it made me so so happy. Life became simple and small and after living big for so long, it was such a joy to re-prioritize in this way.

TL: Until We Meet is your sixth novel. How has your writing evolved from project to project? What have you learned about your own habits and about writing craft along the way?

CD: The biggest change in my writing happened between my first and second book. I never took a writing class. I didn’t even graduate from college. But I have been a voracious reader my whole life. Which I personally think is the best education for being a writer. The Memory of Us was a story that sprang from my heart. It was inspired by the classic Beatles song Eleanor Rigby. I wrote it while drinking Dr Pepper (like a good Texan!) to keep myself up after dishes and diapers were done. I had not ever considered writing a second book – somehow writing “a” book had always seemed like such a singular one. But on the day of the release, my agent asked me, “So what do you have next?” It was the first time it dawned on me that writing novels could be a career. I came up with my idea for Before the Rain Falls, which is about a nonagenarian who is released from a Texas women’s prison after serving time for the alleged murder of her sister. Still not truly knowing much after the actual craft of writing, I was overly ambitious in my structure – it was dual timeline with three points of view. The editing of that book was excruciating. The idea was good, but the execution needed a lot of work to make it right. In the end, I did the work and I’m more proud of that book than of any I’ve written. Because I’m so so happy with the end result. But I also know how very difficult it was to write.

So I learned between the two of those – so different in story and structure – where my voice was. And finding my voice made it easier to have fun with writing the subsequent ones.

As far as habits go, I am definitely a pantser – writing by the seat of my pants instead of plotting in advance. And I also write in spurts. I would absolutely love to have both the circumstances and the discipline to write a consistent number of words every day, but when I’ve done that, it tends to feel more like a job. A have-to. When I write in spurts, I’m able to take advantage of that creative momentum and write a whole bunch of words at once.

TL: What’s on your to-be-read list?

CD: I’m actually quite excited about my to-be-read list for a very funny reason. We’ve been building a house for a year and a half and it experienced significant delays during Covid. We were supposed to move much earlier than this. As such, I decided to prioritize reading what I call my “B-list” books. The ones I picked up at the library sale, thrift stores, used book stores, etc. The ones that cost a dollar or two and look interesting. I figured that it made sense to get through those since they were unlikely to be ones I planned on keeping on my shelves forever. And so I packed up my “A-list” books – the ones from my favorite authors, the ones I was confident that I’d want to keep. Well – as the build went on, and on, and on, it left me with all of the former kind.

So – in two months when we finally, finally move, I am ecstatic to pull out my A-list books at last!! I have books boxed by Kate Morton, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, Louise Penny, Leila Meacham, and more. And I cannot wait to read them!

TL: Are you working on something new?

CD: Yes! I am working on a true passion project. It’s called Come Fly With Me. I come from a family of hobby and military pilots. Weirdly, I hate to fly. But I love, love, love airplanes. And I love the jet set era, especially all things Frank Sinatra. So Come Fly With Me is the story of two Pan Am stewardesses from 1962-1964. I spent much of Covid interviewing many former Pan Am stewardesses – ladies who are now in their eighties and even nineties – and discovering some fascinating tales! I’m at the halfway part right now and am clearing my calendar to finish it by the end of May. It’s ambitious, but I’m eager to get this one out in the world. My readers are asking me about it all the time because I’ve put out several teasers. And World Wings International – a philanthropic organization of Pan Am stewardesses – is having me speak at their convention in 2023. So it’s good motivation to have the book done and published!

Camille Di Maio left an award-winning real estate career to become a full-time writer. Along with her husband of twenty-four years, she enjoys raising their four children. She has a bucket list that is never-ending, and uses her adventures to inspire her writing. She’s lived in Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California, and spends enough time in Hawai’i and Maine to feel like a local. She’s traveled to four continents (so far), and met Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. She just about fainted when she had a chance to meet her musical idol, Paul McCartney, too. Camille studied political science in college, but found working on actual campaigns much more fun. She loves to spend Saturdays at farmers’ markets and belts out Broadway tunes whenever the moment strikes. There’s almost nothing she wouldn’t try, so long as it doesn’t involve heights, roller skates, or anything illegal.

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