While Centennial writer Nancy Peterson says “Not to Be Forgiven” is not really her personal story, she did grow up in Scottsbluff, Neb. (a first grader when Pearl Harbor was attacked), and wanted to create a picture of a small town and its response to the war. “I wanted readers to know how people sacrificed and worked together,” she said. “I wanted to recreate that time — the small town, with soldiers on the street.”
Although she had moved away, she and her husband, also a native, moved back to Scottsbluff when their three sons were teens and “got to talking.” Gradually the idea formed for this book.
She said she saw the title phrase for her book “out in the country” on a fence and it stayed with her.
After majoring in English and journalism at the University of Nebraska, as a young mother she began freelancing. “I wanted something to do at home,” she recalls. Her first published piece was a short story in a church magazine in 1968. The family lived near Arapahoe Road and she wrote for the Englewood Herald and Aurora Sentinel, the Empire magazine and other regional and national magazines. “I did a lot of traveling on the Great Plains.”
Her previous historic book titles include “Walking in Two Worlds,” “People of the Moonshell” (a history of the South Platte River and people who lived near it), “People of the Troubled Water” and “People of the Old Missury.”
The novel centers on a family. A young girl, Sis, is the narrator, and the story unfolds through her eyes. Her father is editor of the local newspaper, always trying to stay on top of developing local stories in a time before cell phones and computers. Peterson talked with editors of the Englewood Herald and Littleton Independent about how they produced the news in the period.
Sis’ adored older brother enlists and writes from the war front, recalling the horrors he witnesses. Her mother adds reporting duties to her role as a homemaker.
Peterson said some details are from her childhood, such as growing a Victory Garden, joining a community effort to harvest the potato crop, recycling cans, 25-cent savings stamps. She spoke of prejudice against a Japanese-American family who ran a café and a German family’s grocery, where a window was broken. And there was a German prisoner of war camp at Scottsbluff, which also plays a part in her story.
The narrative is well crafted and details incidents such as the blackout drill, held in many locations across the U.S., in preparation for possible bombing attacks, dilemmas over rationing — could the family get enough gas to drive to Denver for a reunion with the brother before he shipped out? How could Sis make her worn-out shoes last until she had a ration coupon for another pair?
In conclusion, the book sends out a strong message about what happens when people learn to hate. “It’s real,” Peterson said.
Her book is available at her website, nancympeterson.com and through Amazon and Barnes and Noble, she said. Libraries are ordering it.
On Nov. 10, she and author Barbara Wright will speak at the Denver Women’s Press Club, 1325 S. Logan, about writing historical novels.