Monday, September 21, 2020

Interview with Douglas Wellman Co-Author SURVIVING HIROSHIMA

Douglas Wellman
was a television producer-director for 35 years, as well as dean of the film school at the University of Southern California. He currently lives in Southern Utah with his wife, Deborah, where he works as a chaplain at a local hospital when he isn’t busy writing books.

For more information on Doug and the books he has written, visit his website at


Thank you for this interview!  I’d like to know more about you as a person first.  What do you do when you’re not writing?

I was a television producer director in Hollywood for many years, so I’ve always been interested in TV and films, but these days I spend much more time reading history books. I also earned a degree in theology, so my retirement job is working a few days a week as a hospital chaplain. My hobby is motorsports, particularly sports cars, but my wife took my motorcycle away from me.

When did you start writing?

From the time I began school I was a voracious reader. My parents encouraged that and provided all the books I wanted. In the World War Two housing boom, we lived at the fringe of suburbia for a while, and a trip to the library was a big deal, but my parents and my bicycle always got me there. My fascination with books translated into a very early desire to be a writer. When I was fifteen years old, my parents gave me a portable typewriter to get started. At my first college I was the editor of the literary magazine and wrote bad comedy. But I didn’t stop. I think that’s the key to being successful at anything.

As a published author, what would you say was the most pivotal point of your writing life?

When I was young, I was always intimidated staring at the blank piece of paper. Then I became intimidated staring at the blank screen. The pivotal point for me as a writer was when I learned not to wait for inspiration, or to be obsessed with writing a good first draft. The important thing is feeling free to just go ahead and write, good or bad, and fix it later.

If you could go anywhere in the world to start writing your next book, where would that be and why?

In my television career I travelled to a lot of different places, which I enjoyed. Right now, I live in southern Utah were I’m quite happy. My office looks out over a mountain, the skies are usually sunny, and I have no desire to be anywhere but here.

If you had 4 hours of extra time today, what would you do?

Whenever I have extra time I read. I’ve always been an obsessive book buyer, and I have a stack of books I’m working my way through. I have a backlog of unread books in my Kindle. There are also books that I love to reread. Basically, if I’m not doing anything else, I read.

Where would you like to set a story that you haven’t done yet?

I have a few notes for comedic novel set in Las Vegas that I would like to write; however, I also have two nonfiction books that I would like to get to. I’ve been offered archive material that belonged to it Polish Jewish woman who survived four concentration camps during World War II. Much as I would like to do a novel, that one will probably come first.


Back to your present book, “Surviving Hiroshima, a Young Woman’s Story.” How did you publish it?

I wrote my first book, “Boxes, the Secret Life of Howard Hughes,” from information provided by Major General Mark Musick. Writelife Publishing, which was under different ownership at the time, heard about the book and approached Mark, so we went with them. By the time I wrote the second edition of “Boxes,” Writelife had been sold to its current owner. I have an excellent relationship with publisher, Terri Leidich, as well as the editorial staff, so I would have stayed with Writelife under any circumstances; however, Terri was actually pivotal in my writing “Surviving Hiroshima, a Young Woman’s Story.” Anthony Drago, whose mother, Kaleria, is the center of the story, approached Writelife looking for both an author and a publisher. Terri was immediately fascinated by the story, and knowing my interest in history, particularly in World War II, she had me on the phone about ten minutes after she got the pitch. Ten minutes after that I was on the phone with Anthony. This turned out to be a wonderful combination for all involved.

In writing your book, did you travel anywhere for research?

I have been to many locations in the United States and England that were sites of World War II activity, but “Surviving Hiroshima, a Young Woman’s Story,” was written primarily from the diaries of Kaleria. The family were Russian nobility, and barely escaped being killed by the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War by escaping to Japan. After the atomic bombing, Kaleria was interviewed at length by the United States Army Air Force and we used the transcripts of those interviews. In both cases, we quote Kaleria’s words verbatim, giving the book a first-person feel. This story has remained untold for seventy-five years, so it is very much a fresh look at the first use of an atomic weapon on a city. Prior to her death, Kaleria was invited to a remembrance ceremony in Hiroshima, accompanied by Anthony. On that trip Kaleria was reunited with surviving friends of her youth. In an emotional moment, a woman she did not know approached her to tell her that she was one of the bomb victims that Kaleria pulled from burning wreckage. Anthony provided a great deal of information he learned from other survivors as well as his own observations of the city.

Why was writing “Surviving Hiroshima, a Young Woman’s Story” so important to you?

This book is nonfiction, but I have to say that from a storytelling perspective I couldn’t possibly make anything up that’s as fascinating as this real-life experience. There are many twists and turns, and I would have to say that Anthony’s family lived a series of miracles that allowed them to survive the most horrifying military event of the twentieth century. I immediately accepted the offer to write this book because I saw it not just an exciting and fascinating personal story, but an important historical work. I’m very proud to have been associated with this project.

Where do you get your best ideas and why do you think that is?

There is an old saying, “If you want to get something done, find a busy person to do it.” That’s the way my life has worked. People see the body of work I have created in television and print, and bring me their stories to write. I’m currently writing the story of a woman Christian missionary I met and her harrowing experiences in Burma.

Any final words?

I love writing, but once upon a time it was a love-hate relationship. I feared the blank page. I feared I wasn’t good enough. One day I lost the fear. Now the love-hate relationship is only love.


From Russian nobility, the Palchikoffs barely escaped death at the hands of Bolshevik revolutionaries until Kaleria’s father, a White Russian officer, hijacked a ship to take them to safety in Hiroshima. Safety was short lived. Her father, a talented musician, established a new life for the family, but the outbreak of World War II created a cloud of suspicion that led to his imprisonment and years of deprivation for his family.

Then, on August 6, 1945, 22-year-old Kaleria was doing pre-breakfast chores when a blinding flash lit the sky over Hiroshima, Japan. A moment later, everything went black as the house collapsed on her and her family. Their world, and everyone else’s changed as the first atomic bomb was detonated over a city.

After the bombing, trapped in the center of previously unimagined devastation, Kaleria summoned her strength to come to the aid of bomb victims, treating the never-before seen effects of radiation. Fluent in English, Kaleria was soon recruited to work with General Douglas MacArthur’s occupation forces.


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