She is a gifted writer living in Midland, Texas, but grew up in Texon, Texas, where her parents owned a grocery store. This is important in that Joyce knows the heart and soul of oil camps where her first book, A Healing Place, begins.
Amos, Molly and their three girls have to leave their farm in Oklahoma. It has turned to dust, which blows through the entire house every few days, and now the bankers are taking it because there are no crops to sell to make the payments. You first recognize the authors adept character building ability as she relates Amos’ fear and anger as famine and uncertainty comes down upon his family. He’s got to feed his wife and these three girls, But how? Where? Instead of fleeing to California like so many Okies, he has heard there is work in the oil patch of West Texas where the laborers live in oil camps. What he didn’t know was just how downtrodden and violent and dangerous these camps were. He and Molly find out in the first one they tried to settle in, but Amos soon realizes that this place would destroy his family if they stayed. — They kept hearing of a camp called Texon, about 85 miles west of San Angelo. There the prolific Santa Rita oil well had been drilled in 1923, and the camp had a school, a hospital and even a swimming pool. The family struck out for Texon.
A Healing Place tells the poignant history of a family escaping the dust bowel to life in the open spaces of West Texas and the trials and tribulations of oil exploration, living in oil camps, and yet how deep wounds can be healed.
This is the first book in a trilogy by Joyce Shaughnessy. The second book is entitled Blessed are the Merciful. While its initial setting tells of the widowed mother of young Elton escaping the bowels of the Oklahoma dust bowl to Hobbs, New Mexico, along the West Texas/New Mexico state line, it quickly moves into the trauma of WWII. As Elton grows up, he is sensitively aware of how little he and his mother have, how hard she works long hours just to provide the basics for them. At 16, he is caught stealing a necklace to give as a gift to his mother, something she would never be able to afford. The Hobbs judge gives Elton a choice — the pen or the army.
Elton takes the latter and is shipped off to the Philippines where he falls in love with a nurse, Susan. It is a beautiful love story but shot-lived. In its infancy, Pearl Harbor and the American port in the Philippines is bombed. As the Japanese attack the Philippines, the lovers lives change dramatically. Elton is subjected to the battle of Corregidor and the Bataan death march. Susan serves with hundreds of other front line women in the battles.
It turns out that Joyce Shaughnessy is quite a WWII history buff and her books not only tell deep stories of relationships but interrelated historical facts told in story form, facts that are little known but historically sound. As the characters pull us in with their lives and relationships, we learn fascinating history, whether the oil fields of West Texas or the desperate period of the Pacific war.
Joyce’s third book, The Unsurrendered, went to press today. As I understand it, the protagonist Jacob is an American spy, prewar, in japan. As war draws near, he leaves japan to return to home and work on General Macarthur’s staff. The title of the book comes from Macauther’s speech as he is leaving the defeat in the Philippines that the some 260,000 men and women left behind are filipinos and Americans who have not surrendered but will continue to fight behind Japanese lines. These are the “Unsurrendered”. The book exemplifies the writing talent and character development skills that we became use to in her first two books.
I most enjoyed my interview with Joyce Shaughnessy at the Harvest Cafe. She made sure that I knew before the end of the interview that her husband, Dr. Dennis Shaughnessy, was her historic editor and history buff partner.