With her debut novel Eleven Days, Lea Carpenter explores military family life in the Post-9/11 world. A former editor of the literary magazine Zoetrope, her novel has been widely praised by reviewers and veterans alike, including Toni Morrison ("elegant prose") and former senator and Navy Seal Bob Kerrey ("shows us how 9/11 has changed our lives forever.")
The book is the story of a single mother and her son, who, after 9/11, decides not to apply to Harvard but the Naval Academy. A decade later, he's reported missing from a Special Operations Forces mission the same night as the Osama bin Laden raid.
"My character shares a lot with my father — a different time, different guns, but the same ethos," she says in an interview with USA Today. Lea had always known her father was involved in the military, but didn’t learn about his service until after he had passed away. She later found he had been part of a special operations unit during WWII.Although Carpenter’s story is not a memoir, it is loosely based on her discovering the particulars of her father’s service. Carpenter calls "the loss of my father," her inspiration for the book. Her dad served in Army Intelligence in China and Burma in World War II. He died at 89 in 2008.
“I wanted to see if a boy becoming a warrior was a story that could be told by tracking the emotional histories of his parents, and also the history of how we’ve fought wars. I wanted to try and write about something that has been written about by others far more experienced than I am, but make it about emotions, not politics,” she tells Vogue. Eleven Days appeals to a wide audience - people who have “fallen in love with something, and had to learn how to let it go. Or anyone interested in special operations, a more specific demographic.”
This is not the first time Lea has approached the topic of war. In an article she wrote for Big Think, “This is Our Greatest Generation: Reflections From A Retired Special Forces Officer,” she talks about the challenge of “how best to respect, and understand, those who’ve given their lives” in the war on terror. “Their reflections will one day prove as powerful as those collected from other wars,” she adds.
Currently employed at the New York Public library, Carpenter founded the Young Lions, a group for young adults in New York who want to contribute to the library. Since 1999, the Young Lions has raised $5 million for the library. The Young Lions Fiction Award is conferred annually to a talented writer under the age of 35.