World War II Author Johnnie Alexander

Welcome, Johnnie, to my blog and  question city.

image001Years ago, did you see yourself where you are today, celebrating the print copy of a World War II novel? 

The turning point for me came in 2003 when I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the first time. For the next decade I dreamed of being a published author. Like many writers, it was a two steps forward/one step back journey. And sometimes it was a one step forward/many steps back journey.

Other milestones came from winning awards at a writers conference, having an editor show interest in my writing, and then winning the ACFW Genesis historical category in 2011.

I am thrilled that Tyndale released the print copy of Where Treasure Hides. It’s not the first print edition—that one was in Dutch—but it’s the first one I can actually read!

The World War II era intrigues me. There’s no end to the incredible stories, and writing projects produce change in us (at least, they do in me). How did you grow through writing Where Treasure Hides

I’m intrigued by the World War II era also. The tragedies are horrendous, and yet we find amazing stories of courage and heroism. I asked myself what I would have done in different situations I read about. People risked their lives to save others, and they risked their lives to protect artistic treasures. The novel explores the theme of what we value most and it also encourages us to rejoice in the future God has planned for us. I try to remember that every day.

How did your heroine’s character develop, and what prompted the translation into Dutch? I mean, why not French, Italian, or Spanish? 

Alison Schuyler, my heroine, was created especially for the hero with a touch of practicality and a few pages of free writing in a journal.

Now to explain that!

Ian Devlin, the hero, plays a major role in an unpublished novel I wrote before Treasure. His relationship with the woman he loves is mentioned in that story (but I can’t say much more than that without getting into Treasure spoilers).

The practicality came about because I once heard an editor advise new writers to stick to American characters. Alison needed to live in Europe if she was going to meet Ian, so I decided her father was Dutch and her mother was an American.

Alison was born in Chicago and lived there until she was twelve years old. This would also explain any Americanisms that popped up. However, as I got into the story, I learned a secret about Alison’s mom. Those details are still a bit of a mystery.

To become better acquainted with my heroine, I opened a journal and wrote: My name is Alison Schuyler . . .

After writing several pages, I knew more about Alison’s family heritage. From there, she grew into her own person as the story itself developed.

The translation happened because a freelance editor with a Dutch publishing company read the story, loved it, and recommended it to her client. And they published it!

Alison lives in Rotterdam, Holland, and her family has owned an art gallery there for generations. Except for a few scenes that take place in England, most of the opening chapters are set in Rotterdam.

 I’d like to learn more about Where She Belongs, as well. How would you compare the writing process with Where Treasure Hides

Both novels were NaNoWriMo projects before they were polished manuscripts. Exuberant, messy drafts that needed a lot of revision—Where She Belongs in 2005 and Where Treasure Hides in 2009.

WSB is a contemporary so it didn’t require nearly the research that Treasure did. It’s also a more personal story since I once lived in the house that is at the center of the novel and often dreamed of someday living there again.

Both stories are “heart” stories. Treasure because of my fascination with the themes it explores and WSB because of my cherished memories of a beautiful brick home that was abandoned for a time.

The turning point for me came in 2003 when I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the first time. For the next decade I dreamed of being a published author. Like many writers, it was a two steps forward/one step back journey. And sometimes it was a one step forward/many steps back journey

Other milestones came from winning awards at a writers conference, having an editor show interest in my writing, and then winning the ACFW Genesis historical category in 2011.

I am thrilled that Tyndale released the print copy of Where Treasure Hides. It’s not the first print edition—that one was in Dutch—but it’s the first one I can actually read!

  1. Johnnie AlexanderAlison Schuyler, my heroine, was created especially for the hero with a touch of practicality and a few pages of free writing in a journal.

    Now to explain that!

    Ian Devlin, the hero, plays a major role in an unpublished novel I wrote before Treasure. His relationship with the woman he loves is mentioned in that story (but I can’t say much more than that without getting into Treasure spoilers).

    The practicality came about because I once heard an editor advise new writers to stick to American characters. Alison needed to live in Europe if she was going to meet Ian, so I decided her father was Dutch and her mother was an American.

    Alison was born in Chicago and lived there until she was twelve years old. This would also explain any Americanisms that popped up. However, as I got into the story, I learned a secret about Alison’s mom. Those details are still a bit of a mystery.

    To become better acquainted with my heroine, I opened a journal and wrote: My name is Alison Schuyler . . .

    After writing several pages, I knew more about Alison’s family heritage. From there, she grew into her own person as the story itself developed.

    The translation happened because a freelance editor with a Dutch publishing company read the story, loved it, and recommended it to her client. And they published it!

    Alison lives in Rotterdam, Holland, and her family has owned an art gallery there for generations. Except for a few scenes that take place in England, most of the opening chapters are set in Rotterdam.

    Both novels were NaNoWriMo projects before they were polished manuscripts. Exuberant, messy drafts that needed a lot of revision—Where She Belongs in 2005 and Where Treasure Hides in 2009.

    WSB is a contemporary so it didn’t require nearly the research that Treasure did. It’s also a more personal story since I once lived in the house that is at the center of the novel and often dreamed of someday living there again.

    Both stories are “heart” stories. Treasure because of my fascination with the themes it explores and WSB because of my cherished memories of a beautiful brick home that was abandoned for a time.

     Why do both titles begin with the same word? 

    I’m a little tickled by that, but it’s not on purpose. Where Treasure Hides has been the only title I’ve ever used for that story.

    But that’s NOT the case with Where She Belongs.

    I’ve actually lost count of how many titles it has had. Though I can tell you it was Bronze Medal finalist in the My Book Therapy Frazier Contest under the title Where the Whippoorwill Calls.

    When I submitted the proposal to my agent, it was titled Into a Spacious Place. I love this phrase because it’s a promise I believe God made to me when I was at a writers conference several years ago.

    When I read Psalm 31:8 as part of my morning devotion, this jumped out at me: You “have set my feet in a spacious place.”

    I believed it was an assurance that God held my dreams in his hands; not necessarily, that I’d be published someday, but that whatever happened, I could trust in him.

    Psalm 18:19, is used as the story’s epigraph: He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

    I just love that.

    However . . . the marketing team at Revell thought Where She Belongs was a more apt title for a contemporary romance. And I agree.

    Thank you so much for honoring us with a visit, Johnnie, and for offering your giveaway to a commenter–either a print or e-copy. And for those interested in purchasing:

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Things Hidden in our roots

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Last week I enjoyed a different perspective on  the Arizona Pine Trailhead trail.

Although a kazillion views of trees surrounded me, this one warranted a picture, an uprooted specimen with large rocks imbedded in its roots.

Wow, the parallels we could draw! But one simple fact intrigues us–the roots still cling to these rocks. Even though the tree’s been pulled from its moorings, its moorings stuck to it.

Ain’t that the truth about us? We may try to outrun our history, but no matter what, there it is. For example, we’ve known a man for over thirty years, and his choices have baffled, disappointed, and sometimes infuriated us. But just today, I heard about his mistreatment at the hands of a severe father. Life-threatening abuse.

This doesn’t excuse our friend’s decisions, of course, but realizing the rocks imbedded in his roots reminds us there are reasons for his behavior. Those physical, emotional, and verbal beatings he suffered as a kid still resonate in his inner being, though his father died long ago and he’s now a grandfather himself.

Later on the day of my hike, I was wandering in our yard and came upon this sprightly bit of cheer. Nothing as yellow and encouraging as a daffodil.

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There it was, blooming its little heart out, right in the treacherous path of elk and deer and javelina.

But somehow, it survived and testifies to the other side of things–one can grow up in nasty danger and yet thrive.

Patricia Evans, a pioneer in the field of verbal abuse, has something to say about this.

“Although people subjected to verbal abuse can recover, the confusion, pain and loss are beyond counting. Childhood anguish can, however, count for something: It can be transformed into the passion and determination needed to take a stand against verbal abuse and for awareness and life. This stance can be put to good use, to bring awareness, to save countless others from the relentless erosion of their self-perception, their personal reality, their minds.”

Patricia says, “This is an excerpt from my next book, readers will discover how to protect their children from verbal abuse. It will be announced this year, on www.verbalabuse.com.”

Our characters may have a backstory of abuse that figures into their present behavior. A couple of my women’s fiction novels feature heroines facing such after-effects. Whether it’s in 1870 Arizona Territory or at the eve of World War II, healing takes time–sometimes a great deal of time. But these women conquer and I can’t wait until you all can meet them.

And if you have questions for Patricia, please feel free to ask and/or visit her site, which has many helpful resources. Thanks for stopping by.

GUEST World War II Writer LIZ TOLSMA

My guest today is Liz Tolsma, author of Remember the Lilies and the other works listed at the end of this interview.

IMG_5947-5x7-smLiz, how did you start writing and what has kept you writing?

I’ve always loved to make up little stories. My fifth grade teacher had us do a lot of creative writing. I remember how much fun it was to write a tall tale because I could be as creative as I wanted. She told me that she hoped to see me as a published authoress one day. That sparked the dream in me. I veered off on other paths for a while, but one day I decided that I didn’t want to get to the end of my life and wish I would have at least tried to follow my dream.

Tell us a little bit about Remember the Lilies.

Interred by the Japanese, missionary Irene Reynolds comes across a mysterious note while working at the censor’s office. She memorizes the parts she must black out and delivers it to wealthy nightclub owner Rand Sterling. Before she knows what’s happening, she’s drawn into a web of secrets and danger.

Rand Sterling wants nothing more than to reopen his nightclubs once the war ends. But slimy Frank Covey wants his hand in the till—and has news that could threaten Rand’s reputation if it became public. More importantly, beautiful and intriguing Irene Reynolds cannot discover this information if he expects to persuade her to become his wife.

When Irene is attacked by a sinister Japanese guard and their secrets are exposed, they must learn the true meaning of forgiveness—if they can stave off starvation until the American troops bring freedom.LiliesHairA (2)

What inspired you to write this particular novel? When I was putting together the proposal for this series, my son noticed they were all set in the European theater. As a big Pacific theater buff himself, he suggested I set one there. I had heard about Westerners being interned at Santo Tomas a few years before that, and it was a perfect fit.

What do you like most about the area where you live and/or grew up?

I love that we live in the country, near farm fields and hiking areas and that I have room for a large flower garden and a vegetable garden. But it’s only 20 minutes to town, and so when I need something or want to shop, I can be there quickly.

 How does your faith play into your writing?

Either my characters are wresting with their need for God or else their faith is being put to the test. God is stretching and growing them.

The not so obvious way is how it affects me. As I struggle along with these characters, I find myself growing. I spend time in the Word as I develop them and find my faith strengthened.

Any upcoming projects you can share with us?

Nothing set in stone yet, but I do have a publisher interested in another series, this one following three American women journalists during WWII. The first one is set in England during the London Blitz. Where can readers engage with you?

They can find me at:  www.liztolsma.com/

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

 Thanks so much for joining us, Liz. Readers, Liz welcomes your comments! 

Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives
Snow on the Tulips August 2013, 2014 Selah Award finalist, 2014 Carol Award
finalist
Daisies Are Forever May 2014
Remember the Lilies winter 2015
A Log Cabin Christmas now available

 

 

World War II Interview

Yesterday I was privileged to meet an eighty-nine year-old Swiss American. Ruth clearly remembers World War II, when she was a teenager. Eyes bright with recollection, she smiles while relating Switzerland’s “don’t mess with me” attitude. Though completely surrounded by Axis powers, Switzerland bucked the oppressors.

Being a member of the Girl Scouts back then, with girls tramping through the woods, learning primitive cooking, first-aid, and getting actively involved in the war effort, led Ruth to some prime adventures. In the process, she developed her community’s self-sufficient attitude.

Here’s a photo I took yesterday of some self-sufficient Arizona mountain flowers, but back to Switzerland. 100_0778

Having the Alps as sentinels helped, but the Nazis drew up invasion plans. However, they  never occupied Ruth’s country. Resisting them was quite a feat, especially considering all the countries they did occupy.

The Swiss immediately shored up their defenses at the beginning of the war, and all Swiss men served as soldiers from twenty to forty years of age. Ruth’s father kept his rifle handy, like the Minute Men during the Revolutionary War.

Brings to mind something American speed skater Apolo Ohno quipped:

Don’t get mad. Don’t get even. Get stronger, faster and more powerful. Fill yourself with knowledge and empathy and an indomitable spirit, because no one else can do that for you. In the end, it’s your life, your choice and your world. Give 110%, always.”

 Boy, did the Swiss ever follow this mantra—their Press openly criticized the Third Reich, often infuriating its leadership. Berlin denounced Switzerland as medieval and called its citizens renegade Germans.

Attempts by the Nazi party to effect an Anschluss, or connection between Germany and Switzerland failed due to a strong sense of national identity. The country’s belief in democracy and civil liberties stood it in good stead.

Case in point: Ruth remembers a German bookstore that sold only Mein Kampf and boasted a huge poster of Adolph Hitler at the entrance. She and her girlfriend decided to investigate (spurred by curiosity and possibly their Girl Scout exploits). The owner pushed them out and slammed the door to his regret. The Swiss home guard instantly absconded him to the authorities and closed down his so-called bookstore.

We’ll never come to the end of all the stories, and writing about these strong survivors strengthens me. Ah . . . to have lived in that time, though I would be far less bold.

But seeing the light in her eyes as she tells the tale makes me feel I was there, a silent onlooker cheering her on.

 

Any writers out there, has meeting with actual participants in your historical plot events instructed you? And readers, how does an author make you feel as though you yourself witnessed what just happened—on the Swiss border or elsewhere?

 

 

Donn Taylor and Lightning

UnknownPlease join me in welcoming author Donn Taylor.

Today we’ll focus on his novel Lightning on a Quiet Night. He’s graciously giving away a copy to one fortunate commenter.

 

Donn Taylor portraits 12/7/07

Donn, your hero Jack, who impressed me from the get-go, is a recently returned WWII vet.  How did your war experiences affect you and influence your writing?

I don’t remember too much about my return from Korea except the true bliss of being back with Mildred. She says I was on edge for several weeks, but I don’t remember that. I hadn’t driven a vehicle for over a year, so I had her drive me out onto a country road for my re-initiation. But I was ready for city traffic before the end of the day. I learned quickly that my experiences would not be understood either by civilians or by veterans of other wars, so I mostly just fitted back into their worlds and let it go at that. Mildred had brothers in WW II, so a retuning vet was nothing new to her.

Return from Vietnam was easier because we had an established family. Mildred and the children had stayed in the military community of Columbus, GA, and fortunately received none of the hate phone calls or other peaceful harassments practiced by the peaceniks. We had 30 days to sell a car and a house and ship out to Germany, so we were busy working together.

Aside from having my heroes use routines of night vision without goggles and practicing details like covering phosphorescent watch dials, I think the influence is chiefly in attitudes. “The commander is responsible for everything that happens or fails to happen in his command.” That’s the rule both Mildred and I adopted for our lives, and it’s the way my heroes and heroines live. My second life rule is from aviation: “It’s what you don’t see that kills you.” Thus the quest for pertinent information is constant.

I’m reluctant to lean heavily on any of this because so many vets have seen much more and tougher combat than I have, so my role should be to remain in the shadows and give them the spotlight they deserve.

What motivated you to study Renaissance Literature? And how has that study and your teaching evolve into novel writing? Does anything specific about your teaching career lead you to write about murder and mystery?

My undergraduate major was English, so during my military decades I always planned to get a doctorate in English or history and teach. I entered grad school intending to specialize in modern American novel, but that field had moved into philosophies I could not share—not merely naturalistic, but often into nihilism and absurd-universe theories. To use Mao’s description, I was a fish “swimming in a hostile sea.” But a course in Edmund Spenser brought me into a philosophically compatible area. I became fascinated by the remarkably coherent Renaissance body of knowledge and the ways poets, dramatists, and painters expressed those ideas in their work. Those relationships eventually became my dissertation. And today’s Christian worldview, though different in scientific fact and theory, shares the kind of coherence found in the Renaissance worldview.

That has profoundly influenced my poetry. My poem “Married Love,” for instance, is structured in the Renaissance manner, trying to get in all the variations necessary to construct a veritable universe of the subject.

That study has not much affected my suspense novels, but my mysteries (published and pre-published) are affected by it and my college teaching. My mysteries are set on college campuses, and the protagonist (Preston Barclay) is a history professor with a specialty in Renaissance history of ideas. So I manage to work in a few details of his classes. From my teaching years, I also satirize the college environment, with special attention to the shibboleths of political correctness.

Nothing in my studies or teaching points toward mystery or murder. But those things happen in life and thus are good subjects for fiction. The trick is to adjust them logically into the often-quirky campus environment.

Mildred has helped with your research. Is there any resemblance between her and Lisa in Lightning?

            Mildred was always a great help. We talked extensively about my novels, and she came up with some of “my” best lines. (“Two legs, four legs, or boxes. Cargo is cargo.”) She and I did background research for Lightning in the city library in Tupelo, MS, in the state archives in Jackson, and in the MS State University library. And much of the farming information she got by phone from her farming relatives in the state. I’d never have gotten that novel written without her.

She was torn between foreign missions and marrying me. In the end, she got both. She says she became a missionary to some group or other wherever we were assigned. She wrote beautiful letters, but never felt moved to publish, made a special study and practice of prayer, and taught much about it to our family.

Lisa, in Lightning, has some of Mildred’s characteristics—her soft strength, for example. And the love attitudes of Jack and Lisa are the same as ours. There is a lot of her in the heroine Sol Agueda de Roca in The Lazarus File. The more brittle heroines of Deadly Additive and Rhapsody in Red share only her intellectual integrity and determination to settle for nothing less than the truth.

Do you follow a certain process in choosing titles or do they just “pop”?

Titles are one of my weaknesses. I came up with Deadly Additive (worked out logically from the villain’s ingredients for a new chemical weapon) and Lightning on a Quiet Night, which popped into my head way back in undergraduate days. But my writing friend Wanda Dionne named The Lazarus File and named my untitled ms Melodies for Murder, which the publisher changed to Rhapsody in Red. I name my poems according to content.

Donn says, “Lightning is just commercial fiction that partakes of several genres without remaining within the limits of any of them. I’m not a literary novelist. I’m just a commercial fiction writer who tries to inhabit the “genre-plus” region, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.”

Thank you for writing, Donn—literary fiction or not! If anyone has read Lightning On A Quiet Night, feel free to ask questions or leave a comment. And if you haven’t read Donn’s work yet, now is a great time to start. Leave your contact info with your comment to qualify for a free paperback of Lightning. (anywhere in the U.S.)

Links for purchasing Lightning: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Donn+Taylor

http://www.lighthousepublishingofthecarolinas.com/product/lightning-on-a-quiet-night/

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lightning-on-a-quiet-night-donn-taylor/1120683140?ean=9781941103319

Thanks so much for stopping by.

Setting and Scenarios

Our neighbor Roy, 93 and a World War II veteran, feeds the elk regularly. One of them even allows him to stroke her muzzle. What a great hobby for someone who sacrificed so much building airstrips on Pacific Islands seventy-some years ago.

IMG_1255_2Yesterday I heard him croon to an elk, “You back again? Getting a little selfish, aren’t you? You know I like to feed the deer, too.”

Roy writes his story one day at a time and the elk act it out. He just supplies the grain, or shall we say, fodder?

There’s so much novel fodder here under the Mogollon Rim. One of my novels (hopefully publishable at some point), tells the story of a young woman desperate to belong. After losing her family in freak accidents, she’ll pay any price, and does. Every day, she watches the sun climb DOWN the Rim, since it first has to peak over the other side to reach this valley.

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Ah, how life twists things around! Dottie, the World War II heroine I’ve mentioned before, experiences the topsy-turvy effects of a horrendous war.

But both of these characters, and all of us, find courage and tenacity during these tough times. The question is, will our characters make changes necessary to their well-being?

Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “All change is preceded by crisis.” And for fiction writers, crisis is integral to the plot. And as Tracy Groot shared with us the past two weeks, so is the setting: feeding Arizona elk  or working at a 1947 small-town Iowa boarding house demand different mindsets. In both Dottie and Abby’s lives (and our own), character and setting meld with plot as crises arise.

I’d like to hear your favorite fiction crisis . . . Scarlet O’Hara’s dilemma, the harried chase in True Grit,  or some other difficult situation? Or share how you blend setting and scenario in your own writing.

Sara Goff won the giveaway of Tracy Groot’s The Sentinels of Andersonville–congratulations! Thanks for stopping by, and have a great, creative week!