Jun 27, 2012

Author Interview: Kathleen Jabs, Black Wings

Title: Black Wings by Kathleen Jabs
Paperback; Fuze Publishing, LLC (December 15, 2011)
Genre: mystery

LT Bridget Donovan suspects the worst when her former Naval Academy roommate, Audrey Richards, perishes in a botched take-off from an aircraft carrier. The Navy says it's an accident, but facts don't add up. Could it be suicide, or murder? Donovan's unofficial investigation into what really happened, both during their past Academy days and in Richards' final hours, forces her to examine the concepts of honor, justice and the role of loyalty in pursuit of those ideals.

Kathleen Toomey Jabs is a 1988 graduate of the United States Naval Academy and is currently a Captain in the Navy Reserve. She holds an MA from the University of New Hampshire and an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. Her stories have been published in a number of literary journals and received several prizes, including selection in the National Public Radio Selected Shorts program. She lives with her family in Virginia.

Based on your personal experience in the Navy, why write a mystery?
Kathleen: "I certainly didn’t start out to write a mystery! For that matter, I didn’t start out to write about the Navy at all.

In 1999, I enrolled in the MA program at the University of New Hampshire. I had two small children, a Navy spouse, and a fierce desire to write. I snatched every free minute and began to write short stories.

My first characters were: a Japanese woman living with her in-laws in a strict marriage, a teenage boy visiting the Paris catacombs with his mom and new stepdad, and a 17th century noblewomen leaving the “new world” to return to Spain. I had been stationed in Japan, visited France, and accompanied my military spouse to Panama so the choices weren’t as far-fetched and random as they might’ve seemed, but in many respects the stories were about places not people. The characters never really came alive. None of the stories were even close to submission ready. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be thesis-ready.

One day, my creative writing professor challenged me: “Why don’t you ever write about the military?” I had no quick, glib response. My own military background was something I tended to hide or downplay. As a 1988 Naval Academy graduate, my experiences of school and the military, in general, were complicated. How was I going to dissect that or peel back the careful veneer of spit and polish without revealing something raw or embarrassing? Exposing some part of myself? Yet I couldn’t face the idea of getting another round of lackluster comments in workshop. I took the challenge.

For the next 18 months I wrote about women in the military, and as I did, I faced down old ghosts—the constant scrutiny, the sweat, the discomfort with self, body, choices, the loneliness and longing. Along the way, I found characters that were human, likeable, charting their way through a strange and hostile land. I kept writing. Once I started writing fiction in a military setting, I found I wanted to understand the women and tell their stories.

Bridget Donovan, the main character in Black Wings, grew from one of my early story drafts. I watched her emerge from self-conscious plebe to assured midshipman. I’d been writing a series of stories around her and various roommates when one day the sentence, “Audrey Richards wanted to fly” popped into my head. I was hooked.

At one point in my Navy career, I’d considered switching to aviation. The whole aviation world was cool and mysterious, but it was also competitive and fraught with danger. My imagination wandered. Could the intensity of competition drive someone to consider murdering a rival or maybe arranging an accident? What if rivalry and bad blood between two pilots went all the way back to the Naval Academy? What leads to obsessiveness? To murder?

These kinds of questions began to haunt me. Once I knew Audrey Richards crashed I found I had a mystery. I needed people to understand Audrey, but I also needed a cast of characters around her who might have a motive. That led me to thinking about honor scandals and what honor means. At the US Naval Academy, there is a very prescribed honor code. While it seems black and white, I saw firsthand during my time at the Academy that the issues are often complicated, the choices are really hard. Why not put Bridget and Audrey in that situation and let them explore the choices and their consequences?

The story grew on its own in many ways, becoming more of a “mystery” with each twist. My personal experience gave me the insight into the Academy world and also fueled the questions I couldn’t answer but couldn’t help but ask."

Thanks, Kathleen for visiting and discussing Black Wings. 

For more interviews/reviews visit the Black Wings Blog Tour Site:


  1. That's a good jump for an author - from short stories to a full novel.

  2. This book sounds brilliant and the fact that the author has knowledge with the Navy background will add to the authenticity of the story!

  3. Harvee, thank you for featuring Kathleen today on your delightful blog :)

  4. Terrific interview/guest post! How interesting how the book evolved! :)

  5. It's always good to write what you know. I think it makes for a much more tangible story. Great post.

  6. Hats off to Kathleen for her service to our country. It's just too bad she picked the lesser of the service academies! (USMA-rah-rah!) Sorry, my father-in-law is a West Point grad of '79, so I'm duty bound to make that dig.

    Anyhow, the novel sounds great. There's a lot of fertile ground for a writer when dealing with the military, especially women in the military. It will be exciting to see what Kathleen has come up with.


  7. Harvee, thank you very much for showcasing Black Wings. Great commens and discussion. Cheers, Kathleen

  8. Great post. My husband is a Navy guy and I'd love to read about the woman's perspective. Well, with a little mystery thrown in since I might be bored otherwise ;)


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