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In new book, Afton author follows footsteps of history

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Afton author Diane Dettmann has already released two books, both nonfiction, so she thought it was about time to try her hand at fiction writing. 

“I thought I’d give fiction a try,” she said. “I thought it would be easier because you can make it up. 

“Well, that proved to be wrong.” 

Dettmann’s newest book, “Courageous Footsteps: A WWII Novel,” was released June 25. 

“So often when people think World War II they think military,” she said. “I want to show a different side of World War II.” 

“Courageous Footsteps” explores the lives of two Japanese American teenagers, Yasu and Haro Sakamoto, who were taken to an internment camp following the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

“It’s a piece of history that is somewhat known to readers,” Dettmann said, “but it’s also a piece of history that isn’t known to a lot of people.”

Dettmann held a 1940s-themed book release party at Selma’s Ice Cream Parlour one Saturday. 

Uncovering history 

Dettmann’s inspiration for writing “Courageous Footsteps” actually began when she was only about 8 years old, when she lived across the street from a Japanese American family in Minneapolis. 

“There were lots of racist and prejudice things that happened in our neighborhood because of them,” she said, “even though they were the most loving, caring family.” 

Both parents in the family had spent time in internment camps. 

Dettmann first began work on “Courageous Footsteps” in 2011 as a way to shed light on a piece of America’s dark past. 

“I felt it was a story worth telling,” she said. 

Dettmann said she spent considerable time researching for her novel in order to accurately portray the historical events, the internment camps and the culture of the 1940s. 

“Courageous Footsteps” spans three years, from 1942-1944. 

“Because it’s historical fiction, that put a whole different twist on it for me,” she said. “I wanted to reflect the experiences as honestly as possible, as accurately as possible.” 

Writing “Courageous Footsteps” took nearly three years for Dettmann to complete because it went through a number of reiterations. 

In the beginning the book looked at World War II from an  American family’s perspective. 

Dettmann said making the switch to two Japanese American teenagers has lent itself to a unique perspective. 

“Young readers will identify with a lot of the challenges they face,” she said. 

Dettmann’s writing process is somewhat unique in that she uses maps, sketches, tables and graphs to help her with her organization. 

“I’m a very visual writer,” she said. 

Additionally, Dettmann wrote her entire book by hand in the beginning. 

“I am a paper, pen person,” she said. “I like letting the characters carry me where they want to go.” 

Dettmann filled up five spiral notebooks for “Courageous Footsteps.” 

“Courageous Footsteps” is available at Chapter2Books in Hudson, Wis., Valley Booksellers in Stillwater, and Barnes and Noble online. 

Dettmann is already thinking about a sequel to “Courageous Footsteps” because it’s an important story to tell. 

“It’s a good thing for people to read about,” she said. “It’s really a book that I felt showed the perseverance of the Japanese families and their ability to face those hardships.”

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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