Author Q&A with Ernie Sadashige
November 17, 2022
When we, TGLR, set out on a mission to publish stories and poems that “reveal the complexities hidden in the heartland and beyond” what we were talking about are pieces like the one from Ernie Sadashige. His story, Ersatz Coffee, shines a light on a part of Nebraska (and US) history that is not widely known: During World War II, thousands of Axis prisoners of war were held throughout Nebraska in base camps that included Fort Robinson, Camp Scottsbluff and Camp Atlanta. In this week’s Q&A we had the opportunity to do a deeper dive with Ernie about this topic, his story, and his writing life.
We began by asking him to share a little more about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of his story.
Many people are unaware the U.S. hosted World War 2 prison camps. The prisoners eased the labor shortage caused by Americans fighting overseas. Apparently, the German POWs were quite happy. In some ways they lived better than U.S. citizens who endured food and fuel rationing.
Sadly, POWs were treated better than Black soldiers. In Robert McLaughlin’s short story “A Short Wait Between Trains,” published in 1944 by the New Yorker, prisoners and guards dine together while segregated Black soldiers went to the back kitchen to get food.
We asked Ernie what else he learned through writing this piece.
The honor of the Greatest Generation. German prisoners lived under minimal security. One prisoner even walked back to camp after being left on a farm. Many POWs befriended Americans even as both sides fought gruesome battles in Europe. Some Germans returned after the war and married local women. It’s an attitude lost these days in our politically divisive society and amid the war crimes in Ukraine.
We then asked Ernie a few questions about his writing life, beginning with what the most difficult part of the writing process is for him.
Recently it’s finding something worth writing about. Sometimes it’s finding the right way to tell a story. I’m working on a prose poem now that’s already lived seven story lives in the first, second and third persons.
And what is the most satisfying? What fuels the desire to write?
That rush when a story finally feels “right” after weeks or months of revision and editing. It means I’ve given my characters my best.
I love telling stories. It’s so much fun watching my experiences or those of people I know become the characters I love. When that happens, I want to share those stories, like a proud parent or friend, even when my characters mess up.
We then asked Ernie to share his biggest fear as a writer and his one word answer sums up what most of us probably fear on some level:
We asked him to share what advice he would give to his younger writing self.
Live your life to the fullest. Any experiences that become source material are a bonus.
We asked Ernie what author(s) or other persons have been the biggest influence on his writing?
I am so grateful to my first writing teacher, Michael Deagler, who introduced many marvellous authors, including Gillian Flynn, whose dense prose I admire. Meg Files and Natalie Serber are both wonderful authors and excellent, supportive teachers. “Ersatz Coffee” came from an assignment in Natalie’s class.
Finally, as we always do, we asked what he thinks of when he hears the phrase “The Good Life.”
A life well lived for yourself and others. In the 1998 movie “Saving Private Ryan,” Matt Damon’s character asks whether he lived a life worthy of the sacrifices others made on his behalf. That’s “The Good Life.”
This is wonderful, Ernie! Thank you for sharing your work with us and taking extra time to participate in this Q&A. We hope you continue to find things worth writing about and we wish you the best!!
~The Good Life Review Team