I was born at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where my father was a professor.
As an active-duty Army family, we moved 8 times in 18 years. But in 1997, the Army sent my father back to West Point to teach again. At the time, I was ten years old.
I tell people that growing up at West Point was like growing up at Hogwarts. All around, there were stone buildings that looked like castles. Attractive, athletic college students ran the place, jumping out of airplanes and blowing things up. Every morning, I woke up at five a.m. to the sound of cadets singing cadence outside my window. Every night, I heard Taps putting post to sleep. To this day, waking up after six-thirty a.m. makes me feel like a little bit of a failure.
A few years after I graduated college, I was busy freelance writing for newspapers and magazines. I knew in my heart that I wanted to write a novel set at West Point, but I couldn’t see how. Unlike so many of the cadets we knew and loved while living there, I wasn’t a graduate.
How could I write about barracks I’d never slept in? How could I write about wars I’d never deployed to? How could someone with no class ring touch the Long Gray Line?
Then in 2013, I got a phone call that changed everything.
Out of the blue, a friend called to ask if I’d be interested in listening to her stories from West Point and beyond. After talking for hours, she offered to connect me with her friends—other West Point women who’d experienced more in their twenties than most survive in a lifetime. She suggested options for what those conversations might turn into—a story for a magazine? a book? something else? But I knew immediately—this was the novel I’d been waiting all my life to write.
In April of 2013, I started conducting phone and in-person interviews with anyone who would open up about their time at West Point. One interview turned into two, which turned into six. Soon, I’d amassed hours of recorded conversations, dozens of stories, and countless anecdotes. Using their experiences as inspiration, I started writing.