Interview with “Vino in Vo” Author Chrisy Krueger
–by Kristen Tsetsi
Discover the healing powers of friendship when you meet Perry, Jonah and Kristen: Three Army wives surviving their husbands’ tour of Iraq, invites the product description on the Amazon.com page for Chrisy Krueger’s novel, Vino in Vo.
The novel, published in 2008 by Maven Books, was inspired by her husband’s 2003 deployment to Iraq when, Chrisy says, “the war was new and most military families were thrown into an intensity they hadn’t yet experienced.”
Chrisy began writing Vino in Vo in 2004, two years prior to her husband’s Afghanistan deployment, his last before separating from the military in 2008.
“When my husband redeployed to Italy in 2004, we sat down with a bottle of regional wine. ‘To surviving Iraq,’ he toasted.
“I thought for a moment and realized yes, I survived, too. I wasn’t behind enemy lines, but I still battled with worry. Bullets never flew by my head, but I feared them just the same. The emotional armor and resilience of military families is a beautiful story to tell, so I began Vino in Vo the next day.”
In LIFT’s interview with Chrisy, she discusses her husband, the inspiration for her novel, and what it’s been like since her husband left the Army.
LIFT: How did you and your husband meet?
CHRISY: I first met my husband when I was seventeen. We lived in neighboring cities but were linked by a couple of friends. A few years went by, and then I heard he had joined the Army and was on orders to Italy.
Before he left for Vicenza in 2001, his friends threw him a going away party, and I received an invitation. I wasn’t going to go since I’m a natural homebody but changed my mind at the last minute–call it fate. I saw him there and we started a conversation that never stopped until he was deployed to Iraq in March 2003.
LIFT: After eight years in the military, what was it that made you and your husband decide it was the right time for him to get out?
CHRISY: He loved being a soldier, but after his tour to Afghanistan, we saw how the deployment affected our four-year-old who couldn’t understand why R&R wasn’t permanent, why Daddy’s friend died in war, and why a year took so long. Even our one-year-old had his redeployment difficulties, unable to figure out who the “stranger” was and why he just decided to show up.
Finally, we decided that we, as parents, had no right to ask our children to sacrifice their father every other year.
LIFT: What has it been like since your husband left the military? Is there a severing, of some kind, that occurs when you’re no longer officially part of the community?
CHRISY: You can take the person out of the military, but you can’t take the military out of the person. My husband doesn’t wear the uniform anymore, but he still feels like a soldier and I still feel like an Army wife.
LIFT: What do you like about his not being in the military anymore, and what do you dislike?
CHRISY: I like that we are able to give our children the stability the military cannot offer. My oldest son attends a wonderful school and he doesn’t have to worry about leaving due to new orders. They have their grandparents near them (literally, five minutes away), and their dad gives them a hug every night. I like that.
My only dislike is that my husband had to leave a career he loved. Would he change it? No, his children are happy and he finally got to see a child grow up from birth on, but I know he misses it.
LIFT: Have the friendships you made remained intact?
CHRISY: We maintain all of our friendships with our Army friends. In fact, I’ve made more connections through Twitter and Facebook. It’s hard to break a military bond.
LIFT: That bond is one that was obviously important to you to portray in Vino in Vo, and trying to capture such a powerful connection while simultaneously immersing the reader in an experience as emotionally complex as a deployment is no easy task. Have you always been a writer, or was the deployment experience something that impacted you so strongly you just had to write about it as a sort of cathartic release?
CHRISY: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. In elementary school I wrote stories on white copier paper, drew a cover on construction paper and held it together with staples. (I even wrote the sequel to “Gone with the Wind”.)
I kept a journal as I grew older, and in high school I decided to sit down and finally write the novel hidden within me, but after five minutes I stopped, because what does a senior in high school know about life?
LIFT: You mentioned the “emotional armor and resilience of military families” you wanted to portray in your novel. Relatively few opportunities are available, in terms of learning through watching or reading about it, for people to gain insight into the military family experience, and you’ve clearly done your part to share a story you have the necessary experience to be able to tell. What do you think of the televised effort to do this in Lifetime’s “Army Wives”?
CHRISY: Oh, geez. Well, I do applaud Lifetime’s attempt to bring the military community into the spotlight. Civilians can get a glimpse of a lifestyle that is otherwise foreign to them, but that’s not necessarily a good thing, either.
“Army Wives” is a TV show–a drama–and I fear that civilians forget that fact. It is not customary that soldiers get jealous and blow up buildings on post. Not every spouse cheats on their deployed soldier and life-changing wounds do not heal in a week. It’s a TV show intended to entertain but it misses the mark when comparing it to realty. (And berets aren’t worn like that!)
LIFT: “Army Wives” seems to appeal equally to the civilian and military communities – the plot lines are universal enough to attract to all viewers, and the costume designers are usually (berets excluded) very good about making sure the uniforms are worn correctly – and this includes pins and bars (my husband made this observation). Who was your intended audience when you wrote Vino in Vo, military spouses or the civilian community?
CHRISY: Both. There are so many thoughts and feelings special to the military, so I wanted a military spouse to read the chapters and say, “Oh, good. I’m not the only one.”
But, all women should know how to love like a military spouse, so I wanted to illustrate the times you miss your husband so much you wish he was there to leave his dirty clothes on the floor. Or the times you’re so desperate for his life, you make unexpected deals with God. For me, those moments have always stayed with me and ultimately made me a better wife.
LIFT: Novels – like yours – will do a lot to introduce those fairly unique and intensely passionate feelings to those who might not otherwise have an opportunity (for lack of a better word) to feel them. What impression do you have of what civilians with no connection to the military think of the military family, in general? That is, how do you feel military families/the military community is perceived based on what you see in the media and hear from others?
CHRISY: I’ve heard a few oddball comments, but in my experience, most people have shown an appreciation toward the military. During the last deployment, I had a “Half My Heart’s in Afghanistan” sticker on my car. Strangers came up to me many times as I was strapping my son into his car seat to thank me and my husband for our service.
I also thought it kind that they recognized me, as well.
Even as a civilian family, we are continuously thanked for our previous service.
LIFT: How, if at all, do you think the military family has influenced the culture and/or media, or what, if anything, do you think the military family has taught us about ourselves as we enter our tenth year of war in the Middle East?
CHRISY:The last few years have been hard for America. High unemployment and economic instability have tested our strength. Some Americans are struggling for the basics, worrying about how they’re going to feed their kids, while some work but fear the future will find them jobless. So much to worry about during an uncertain time and for that reason the military family personifies American resilience.
During deployments, the military family lives with fear, troubled about what the future may hold for their soldier, yet they wake up in the morning with their chins raised high, knowing that a better day will come. Fortitude at its finest.
LIFT: Will you share a favorite passage from your novel and explain why you chose it?
CHRISY: From page 273, it’s from a letter Jonah writes her husband toward the end of the deployment. I love it because it illustrates how deployments, or any other hardship, can be a time of growth and self-discovery. It’s that old, time-tested adage: What doesn’t kill makes you stronger.
I also like it because Jonah, the pessimist with a quick tongue, has finally found the rights words, and I hear Perry in her voice, which shows how much we can influence one another.
Before the deployment, Kristen lived inside a fairy tale bubble, thinking that was the only way someone could love her, through perfection, but now, she’s thrown out her how-to-be-perfect books and doesn’t even wear lipstick anymore. But I still want to throw darts at her when she wears an old, worn, ripped pair of jeans and still looks like a magazine cover. And Perry—can you imagine this? She never lived alone before Iraq. She went straight from her parents’ barn yard to military housing in Italy, but now, she’s come into her own skin, living alone between our get-togethers and working on the economy in an Italian bakery. It’s as if, through the deployment, Kristen’s become the tin man with a real sense of self-heart, while Perry’s the courageous lion. That doesn’t make me the scarecrow, does it? Well, I’m the first to admit that this deployment has changed me….