These five months have been the most grueling of Quinton’s life. The trenches are never not wet, his toes always cold and stinging. He is hungry, tired, and beyond scared. Not of the Germans across from them, oh no. He is scared that the war will never be over. That he will never get to go home to his siblings, see his youngest sister before she grows into a woman and loses her childish innocence.

He knows the others have it worse, with wives and babies left behind. Quinn is lucky in this way, that he has yet to marry, but that doesn’t soothe the ache he feels for the family he did have. He isn’t stupid or naïve. He knows that chances are, even when the war has ended, he might not be going home.

He supposes he could be in a worse position. Their spot in the trenches is surprisingly nonviolent. He can hear the near constant, thrumming pop of machine guns on either side of him, but there are rarely any in his area.

Emma Caton

Emma Caton is a high school senior from Brunswick, Ohio. She’s loved reading since she was a child and has come to love writing even more. When she has free time, she enjoys playing piano and spending time outdoors.

Patrick Ryan on “And the War Stopped”

Two young soldiers from opposite sides of a battlefield meet in No Man’s Land with their hands raised. Others from both sides join them. So begins the Christmas Truce of WWI.

When I asked Emma Caton, author of the latest issue of One Teen Story, what drew her to the subject matter, she talked in our Q&A about the amount of hatred that “has to be present in order to go to war,” and yet the soldiers involved in the event were able to suspend their hatred for a few hours of peace and comradery. That fascinated her. And then she took it a step further and gave her young soldiers—one German, one British—a spark of romantic interest.

I was impressed by how swiftly this story moves, how deeply it cuts, and how sparsely it’s told. Emma had the idea from the get-go to write a love story, and she’s done just that. At the same time, she hasn’t shied away from the challenges these two young men face. The result is “And the War Stopped”—a powerful story of connection and longing in the most unlikely of circumstances, and one of the winners of our Teen Writing Contest. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Q&A by Patrick Ryan

PR: “And the War Stopped” is based on an actual event. What made you decide to turn that into fiction? What moved you about the Christmas Day Truce?
EC: Historical fiction has always been a fascinating topic to me, the way fact and fiction can be blended in just the right way to create a new story based on an existing event. The Christmas Truce was special to me because there’s so much hatred that has to be present in order to go to war. Yet, the soldiers during that Christmas Truce must’ve felt that preserving the peace of the Christmas holiday was more important than the war they were fighting. That was amazing to me, that pause in order to let everyone enjoy a day of happiness and fun before the fighting resumed.
PR: Did it occur to you right away to make it a love story, or was that something that came to you after you started writing?
EC: I always wanted this to be a love story. There wasn’t a question in my mind that I wanted to make it something important, not only to me but to others. Reading YA, I have the option of a book whose characters make me feel represented, or I have genres I want to read. There’s a very small overlap in those two (an overlap that is, luckily, steadily growing). I was writing something I would actually be interested in reading and that was this love story.
PR: How long did it take you to complete this story?
EC: The amount of research that went into planning this was unreal. Surprisingly enough, the trenches of WWI are not my forte and I felt as though I was researching every word I wrote, trying to make sure every single detail was historically accurate. Overall, it probably took me a week to write, including all that Googling.
PR: At the end of the story, your narrator steps forward in time, so to speak, and zooms in on just one of your two main characters. How did you decide which one to zoom in on? How did you decide the fate of each of those characters?
EC: I wrote from Quinn’s perspective for the majority of the story so it was only fair that Kurt got his closure as well, which he wouldn’t have gotten if I’d continued focusing on Quinn’s story. As for their fates, figuring out what would happen to them both was the hardest part. I went back and forth between jumping in time and just leaving it open-ended. I actually fully wrote several endings but none seemed to fit quite right. I ultimately decided it felt best to give them the closure these characters deserved but wasn’t able to make it feel authentic without an ending that pained me to write.
PR: Finish this sentence in just one word—the word you think best captures it: “This story is about __________.”?
EC: Trust.
PR: What are you working on now?
EC: I’m trying to not let myself start any new writing while I’m preparing to move into my college dorm, but I already know I’m going to break my own rule soon. I’m currently rewriting a love story I wrote in middle school about a girl on a high school hockey team and the new girl. It was self-indulgent when I first started to try and write it and I’m trying to polish it a bit more so I can reread it in a few years without wincing.
PR: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
EC: To brainstorm and outline anything you write. I’m someone who hates planning or even brainstorming anything I write. I took a class this past year where I was forced to outline the characters and the setting as well as the plot. It made everything so much easier since I was very familiar with the characters and where I wanted the story to go before I even started to write. For me, it’s tedious since I always come into writing with a half-baked idea and no sense of direction, but it’s really forced me to take a step back and look at a story as a whole.