Interview: Sarah Sundin, Author of Anchor in the Storm

Sarah-SundinMale and female stereotypes have always existed. World War II brought major changes to the status quo in America as necessity challenged traditional male/female roles and opportunities. Sarah Sundin delves into these dynamics in the second installment in her Waves of Freedom series, Anchor in the Storm.

Anchor in the Storm is the second release in your Waves of Freedom series, set in the romantic yet tumultuous World War II period. Tell us a little about this story and how the series ties together.

 For plucky Lillian Avery, America’s entry into World War II means a chance to prove herself as a pharmacist in Boston. She loves the wartime challenges of her new job but spurns the attention of society boy Ensign Archer Vandenberg. As Arch’s destroyer battles U-boats along the East Coast, Lillian uncovers a black market drug ring. Arch and Lillian work together on the investigation, but he wonders if he can ever earn her trust and affection.

Anchor in the Storm is the second book in the Waves of Freedom series. Arch is the best friend of Jim Avery, hero of Through Waters Deep, and Lillian is Jim’s sister.

Why did you decide to give your heroine, Lillian Avery, a visible physical disability? In what ways would her life have been more challenging in 1942 than today?

 My oldest son was born missing his left arm below the elbow. He’s never let it stop him; he’s a mechanical engineer and a black belt in karate. He’s faced challenges, but I’m thankful he was born in modern times when we have more enlightened views of disabilities and have protections for the disabled. So what would it be like to have a disability in the 1940s, especially for a young lady with a visible physical one? It was interesting to show Lillian’s struggles and the prejudices she faces, but also the kindnesses shown to her.

Job opportunities exploded for women in the 1940s because of the draft. What were some of the anchor-in-the-storm-sarah-sundinpositive and negative aspects of this explosion? Would Lillian have been able to find a job as a pharmacist in that day otherwise?

 World War II brought extreme changes for women. The needs of the nation brought millions of women into the workforce. The positive benefits include the immense increase in production that allowed the Allies to win the war. Also, women challenged themselves with new roles and often discovered new strengths in themselves. The negative issues are similar to what we face today, primarily with difficulties finding childcare. As for Lillian, I like to think she would have found a job during peacetime, but it would have been difficult for a woman in a man’s field — especially with a disability.

How easy is it for people to find too much security or identity in their career?

 In Anchor in the Storm, both Arch and Lillian come to question how much of their identity comes from their careers. It’s easy to define ourselves by the roles we play, but when the roles change, who are we? The man who loses his job and can’t find a new one in his profession? The stay-at-home mom facing an empty nest? Anyone facing a career change? As Christians, we know our identity is in Christ alone, but that’s easier to say than to feel. The challenge is to hold on to that intellectual knowledge of our eternal security and identity when our earthly roles change.

Your leading man, Archer Vandenberg, suffers from combat fatigue, or what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). How was PTSD viewed and treated during World War II versus today?

 Our understanding of PTSD has slowly been changing. In the traditional military, it was viewed as cowardice or weak nerves. When World War II began, physicians didn’t really know how to treat combat fatigue, and men were often discharged, labeled as “unfit for duty.” Great strides were made during the war as physicians and commanders slowly came to see it as a medical condition, but treatment remained difficult. It still is.

What are some of the life lessons you hope soak into your readers’ hearts while they’re enjoying Anchor in the Storm?

 Both Arch and Lillian learn to place their security in Christ alone, to allow God to be their anchor no matter what happens in life. The theme verse for this novel is Hebrews 6:18–19 (KJV): “We might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.”

EXTRA

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Read my review of the first installment in the series, Through Waters Deep, and be on the lookout for my thoughts on Anchor in the Storm.

Interview: Sarah Sundin, Author of Through Waters Deep

Sarah-Sundin Sarah Sundin’s Through Waters Deep hits the shelves today. A tale of romance and intrigue, the first book in her new Waves of Freedom series transports readers back to the 1940s, exploring the tension and division of pre-WWII US. I’m thrilled to have her with us to discuss her latest book.

First of all, welcome to Eli’s Novel Reviews, Sarah. Can you start by telling us a bit about what it’s like to begin a new series?

Both exciting and scary. I love getting to know a whole new cast of characters, but it takes time to get to know them. I love the challenge of a new setting, but the research can be daunting. I loved stretching myself by writing a mystery plotline for the first time, but sometimes I felt I’d gotten in over my head. And I never know what my readers will think of the new series . . . kind of like trying a completely new haircut and waiting for your friends’ reactions!

Faith and Scripture play an integral part in your stories. Which verse did you choose for Through Waters Deep?

Ironically, the verse I originally chose didn’t really play into the book after all. However, verses emerged when I wrote the story. For Mary Stirling, who struggles with a fear of attention, her theme verse is Matthew 5:15-16: “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Mary learns that using your gifts isn’t prideful when you do it to call attention to God, not to yourself.

So far, all of your novels take place during World War II. What draws you to that period?

It’s a fascinating era filled with drama, action and romance. Ordinary men learned they could do extraordinary things, and women tried new roles while still remaining ladies. When we read of how people in the 1940s prevailed in times of uncertainty and fear and danger, it gives us hope we can prevail today, no matter what we face.

Writing a book requires lots of research, especially one set in a historical time period. What fact did you find most interesting as you did research for this book?through-waters-deep

 I found something new and interesting almost every day! The novel itself was inspired by the little-known fact that six American ships, including a destroyer, were sunk by German U-boats in 1941 — before Pearl Harbor! Even those sinkings and the deaths of more than 100 sailors and merchant marines didn’t provoke the United States to enter the war.

In Through Waters Deep both Jim and Mary are affected by their past. How does our childhood shape our present character? Do you believe it’s possible to overcome past events and forge a new future?

 I find it interesting what a powerful effect childhood events can have on our characters, shaping our fears and notions — often subconsciously. To overcome the negative effects, we have to recognize them, find the source, combat lies with truth and choose to live in the truth. Often it needs to be a daily choice. I’m thankful God gives us the wisdom, comfort, truth and power to do this!

What message do you hope readers take away from reading Through Waters Deep?

 Hoist your sails! Jim Avery is an easygoing, “float with the current” man who learns the hard way that floating can carry him onto the rocks. And Mary Stirling keeps her sails bound tight in false humility, fearful of becoming prideful, fearful of falling. Jim and Mary learn, “We have to hoist our sails. We have to let the Lord fill them. Then we have to resist the current if necessary to stay the course. . . . Then we can fly with the wind.”

However, I’ve learned readers often take away a completely different message than what’s written, and that’s wonderful! I’m in awe of how God can take a simple story and use one element to touch a reader’s heart in a personal and unique way. So I hope readers take away what the Lord wants them to take away.

Personally, I love mystery. This book contains an element of it. Is it hard to create that kind of suspense?

What challenged me most was the complexity of a mystery plot. About a dozen suspects and investigators, acting, reacting to each other, implicating others, telling the truth, telling lies, planting clues. My head swam. So I made a chart. That’s what I do when I get confused. I had a column for each character and described what they were doing or thinking in each scene and between scenes. It helped me so much.

To close, I’d like to ask a question I know we are all eager to have answered. What can readers anticipate from the Waves of Freedom series?

In the second book, Anchor in the Storm (Revell, summer 2016), plucky pharmacist Lillian Avery and high-society naval officer Arch Vandenberg find danger from U-boats, black market drug rings — and love. I’m currently writing the third novel (Revell, winter 2017). In it, the last thing no-nonsense naval officer Dan Avery wants to see on his radar is fun-loving glamour girl Quintessa Beaumont — even if she has joined the WAVES.

Thank you for stopping by, Sarah. I, for one, can’t wait to get my hands on book two. I loved Jim and Mary’s story and am looking forward to learning more of the next leading couple.

Friends, my review of Through Waters Deep will follow shortly so be on the lookout!

EXTRA

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Interview: Sarah Sundin, Author of In Perfect Time

sarah-sundinWhen you can’t get over the mistakes of your past, it’s nearly impossible to accept the gifts of the present. In her final installment in the Wings of the Nightingale series, In Perfect Time, Sarah Sundin introduces readers to two characters entrenched in the perils of World War II who are forced to confront their inability to receive the love and grace of God.

All of your books are set during World War II – what is it about that era that draws you in?

 It was a time of such intensity, of great upheaval and of great unity, a time that showed humanity at its most cruel and depraved – and at its most noble and heroic. Ordinary men stepped out of their ordinary lives and discovered they could do extraordinary things. Women tried on exciting new roles, learned new things about themselves – and yet remained ladies. It was a time of drama, daring and romance.

 What is the overall spiritual theme or message in this new book, In Perfect Time?

 Both Kay and Roger feel they don’t deserve God’s gifts. Kay feels unworthy of God’s love and His mercy. While Roger has accepted God’s forgiveness, deep inside he doesn’t believe he deserves God’s grace, His blessings, His gifts. Both Kay and Roger learn that God doesn’t give to us because we’re good, but because He’s good. They can’t earn His gifts – and they should wholeheartedly embrace the gifts He gives.

 Was there a particular Scripture verse that inspired you as you wrote this book?

 Although I never quoted it in the novel, a verse that underlies so much of this story is James 1:17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.” Another important theme verse that is quoted in the novel and is crucial for both Kay and Roger is Romans 5:8: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

 Your main character, Kay, is actually a bit of a flirt, so much so that it’s impacting her career as a nurse. What drives her to seek out so much male attention? in-perfect-time

 A bit? She’s an extreme flirt! Throughout the course of the novel, Kay reveals exactly what makes her tick. For Kay, collecting men’s hearts gives her a sense of control and also serves as a form of rebellion against her overbearing father.

 Readers will get a sense she is also very wary of making any sort of commitment to a man. What is the basis for this fear? Do you think single women in our culture today will be able to identify with her feelings?

 Women – and men – can have many reasons for avoiding commitment, such as deep hurts from past relationships or a history of abuse. For Kay, it boils down to a fear of losing control, of not being in charge. I see this more and more frequently nowadays. Women value their independence and strength, and sometimes men and relationships are seen as a threat or a hindrance to what they’ve built. I think a lot of women will relate to Kay.

In the book we see a tension between those who have faith and those do not; why are people sometimes so sensitive when their friends try to talk about their faith?

 Many people have been hurt by bad experiences at churches or with believing friends or family members, but for many people it once again comes down to the issue of control. Christianity requires surrender to God-to His teachings, His ways, and His will. That’s unacceptable to a lot of people.

 The two main characters connect over difficult pasts. How would you encourage readers to allow God to use their pasts to minister to others?

 This is one of my favorite parts of the story. Roger is ashamed of his past and is terrified history could repeat itself. He’s built walls to protect himself from temptation, and he guards his secret past closely. Although he tries to avoid Kay, he slowly sees her hurt and realizes his story might be just what she needs to hear. Revealing his past to her is painful, but it benefits Kay – and ultimately benefits Roger too as he wrestles with the truths he still needs to learn.

Bad things have happened to all of us, and we’ve all done bad things. Rather than live in regret, I choose to use those negative experiences to help others. Only through my hurts can I comfort the hurting. Only through my shame can I help someone burdened by shame. Only through my sins can I point the sinner to forgiveness. As King David says in Psalm 51:11-12, in his confession after his sin with Bathsheba, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.”

 This is the final book in the Wings of the Nightingale series. Is it sad for you when you complete a series as it is for some readers?

Absolutely! The initial story ideas came to me in 2006, so I’ve been hanging around with my Nightingales for many years, getting to know them and developing their stories. Now those stories are told, and yes, I’m sad. Writing the final chapter of In Perfect Time was an act of bittersweet mourning for me. I still miss my character friends from Wings of Glory, my first series – even as I’m making new friends with the characters from Waves of Freedom, my upcoming series.

EXTRA

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Read my reviews of the first two books here: With Every Letter and On Distant Shores, as well as be on the lookout for my thoughts about In Perfect Time.

 

Interview: Lisa Wingate, Author of The Story Keeper

Days have passed since I closed Lisa Wingate’s novel, The Story Keeper, but my heart and brain are still lost deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s one of those tales that latches on and refuses to let go. As a reviewer and avid reader, I come across a lot of stories, but this one is hands down one of, if not my favorite of 2014. So I’m thrilled to have Lisa here with us today. I hope you enjoy getting to know a bit about her and her latest book.

lisa-wingate

Lisa Wingate

“The Story Keeper” tells such a powerful tale. What would you like readers to learn from this book?

The Story Keeper is in many ways an examination of identity. It’s about the masks we wear, where they come from, and whether we can leave behind the masks and become authentic. So often, in rejecting the roles our childhood experiences may have forced upon us, we only put on other masks. In the story, Jen believes she has left behind the girl who was raised in poverty in Appalachia and forced to comply with the brutal and cultish faith of the tiny Church Of The Brethren Saints. But in reality, even hundreds of miles away in New York city working her dream job as an editor, Jen’s in hiding from her past and all the painful questions of her childhood.the-story-keeper

When she discovers the partial manuscript of The Story Keeper on her desk, she comes face-to-face with the tale of a young girl living a similar life over 100 years ago. That discovery breaches the mask. What Jen really finds in that manuscript isn’t the story of a 16-year-old Melungeon girl trapped in Appalachia at the turn of the century; it’s her own story. That’s why Jen is compelled to go back to the Blue Ridge Mountains in search of the rest of the story. She’s looking for her own truth, for the self she abandoned due to the wounds of her childhood.

That’s what stories can do for us. They can break us open in ways we could never have imagined. I hope that people take away two things away from The Story Keeper. First, on a basic level, I hope that the historical thread in the novel is a reminder of the value of stories and their truly life-changing potential. Our stories shouldn’t go untold. They shouldn’t be lost.

On a deeper level, I hope Jen’s experience resonates with readers who have in some way surrendered to the wounds of a painful childhood. Life behind the mask amounts to slow suffocation. It’s another form of allowing other people to dictate who you are and what you believe. Letting go is a risk, but on the other side of that process lays light, freedom and the glory hour Jen finally senses in the end of the book. I hope that’s what people take away from The Story Keeper. Our lives have purpose, but to fulfill that purpose we must first claim ourselves.

How did your experience as a published author help you to write a character who works in the publishing industry? That must have been a fun aspect of Jen Gibbs’ story to create.

For me, writing about New York publishing from an insider’s point of view was the most fun part of the novel! Over the years, I’ve written for publishers based in New York and several other cities. Every house is different, but there are certainly commonalities in any kind of publishing. It’s an interesting world – a mix of glamor and achingly hard work, of mundane tasks and the Eureka of discovering occasional gold nuggets.

While I had fun dreaming up the uniquely powerful, yet family-owned publishing company that is Vida House in the novel, I’ll admit, it was also a little intimidating to write about the secret inner workings of editors’ lives, all the while knowing that when I was finished, I’d have to turn the manuscript over to… gulp… an editor!

Fortunately, the manuscript passed the agent-and-editor test. Not only that, but friends in publishing loved the idea of tripping over a mysteriously wonderful submission that’s been languishing on a slush pile for 20 years. A fascinating manuscript written by a mysterious author who lives somewhere in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains is the ultimate literary gold nugget.

The Appalachian setting is a character of its own in the book. Why did you set the book there?

Appalachia is a place where the air fairly whispers with stories. So much of the world has grown too fast paced these days, too busy for sitting and listening, too preoccupied with the future to devote effort to retelling the past. But in Appalachian culture, there’s still a reverence for it. There are still storytellers who can entertain a crowd at a ramshackle café, on a back porch or at the kitchen table over coffee. That tradition of the passing down of stories is part of The Story Keeper.

Appalachia is filled with mist and mystery. It lends mood to a story. The mountains are dotted with isolated communities where people can live differently, undisturbed by outsiders. It’s also the place where mysterious “little races” like the Melungeons lived historically, and in some cases still do. I knew that the historical tale of Sarra would have to do with her Melungeon blood and the myths, legends and prejudices that sort of heritage would bring. Even today, the heritage of “blue-eyed Indians” discovered in the Appalachians by the first English and French explorers remains a mystery. What were the origins of their Caucasian blood? Were they descendants of shipwrecked sailors? Journeying Norsemen or Turks? The progeny of the Lost Colonists who vanished from Roanoke Island without a trace, decades before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock? The mystery fascinated me, and it pulled the story from me, and yes, the place became a character in itself in the book.

Your latest release tells a story within a story. Was this a challenge to write?

It’s always a challenge to balance dual time frames and a story within a story. It falls in the category of double-the-work and double-the-risk, but also double-the-fascination and double-the-reward. There’s twice as much research, but in doubling the research, you also discover twice as many interesting historical facts, unanswered questions, and nearly-forgotten bits of history. Those things weave new threads into the story loom. For me, the biggest challenge was balancing the two stories, ensuring that both would be fully satisfying, and that the historical story would serve a purpose in modern-day characters’ lives.

What’s on your nightstand?

Endorsement books, usually! One of the best things about being an author is having the chance to read and discover new books before they travel out into the world. Aside from early read copies, there’s usually some research material on my nightstand for other books I’m planning. Also on the stack is a journal given to me by a reader, where I write down quotes and story ideas I don’t want to forget.

Right now, I’m spending time with several nonfiction books about the Melungeons, the mystery of the Lost Colonists on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and Appalachia during the depression years, as I create the third novel in the Carolina chronicles, which ties together a historical mystery interwoven in The Prayer Box, The Story Keeper, and this third book.

How did you write 20 books in 12 years with kids at home?

I’ve always loved to write, but I didn’t get serious about freelance writing and selling until after I’d graduated college, married, and started a family. I wrote and sold various smaller projects in between naps, diapers, and playgroups. And when the boys were older, during soccer practices, in carpool lines, while helping with homework, and in all sorts of other situations.

People often ask me if I need quiet in order to write. With boys in the house, if I’d waited for quiet, the writing would never have happened. I learned to lose myself in a story amid the noise of life and I loved it that way.

I asked myself what makes a story last, what really makes a story worth telling and worth reading? I wanted to write books that meant something, that explore the human soul.

One day, I came across a notebook in which I’d written some of my grandmother’s stories. I’d never known quite what to do with those stories, but I knew they were significant in my life. When I rediscovered the notebook, I had the idea of combining my grandmother’s real stories with a fictional family who is like and unlike my own family. That little germ of an idea became my first women’s fiction novel, Tending Roses.

Now that the boys are grown and the house is quiet, I’m redefining the writing routine again. Just as in books, life is a series of scenes and sequels, beginnings and endings, and new discoveries.

Thanks for sharing, Lisa! It’s always fun learning more about the stories and characters that capture our hearts.

My review will follow shortly so keep your eyes open!

Interview: Kate Breslin, Author of For Such a Time

Kate-BreslinI love the Biblical story of Esther. It’s one of my favorites. So, I’m especially thrilled to have author Kate Breslin with us today. I am currently reading (and loving!) her debut novel, For Such a Time, which makes sharing a bit of its background with you that much more exciting!

What is For Such a Time about?

For Such a Time is my first novel. It’s a historical romance, a retelling of the biblical Book of Esther in a more modern venue. In fact, the story takes place in Theresienstadt, a transit camp for prisoners bound for Auschwitz during WWII.

What inspired you to write this story?

The idea actually came to me as I was reading Queen Esther’s story. I knew the Jewish people
had suffered at the hands of one society or another throughout history, and as I observed
similarities between the wicked Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews and Hitler’s Holocaust of
WWII, I wondered if I could overlay this biblical work onto that more modern setting.

The holocaust is a difficult subject to write about. Please share with us a bit about your journey. Was it what you expected?

I had no idea how emotional, or spiritual, writing this novel would be for me. I knew little about
WWII when I began researching, and so the stories I read of Nazi brutality versus the courage
and faith-keeping of those who faced death moved me as nothing else could. As I wrote, I was
also compelled to seek my own answers to the big question of “Why?” I knew I had to write this
book by treating the issue of the Holocaust with the solemnity it deserved, while crafting my
fictional storyline.

What do you hope readers take away from this book?For-Such-A-Time-Kate-Breslin

I’m so glad you asked! I hope they will gain better insight into the events that took place during
this time in WWII history. And that love combined with faith in God is the most powerful force
on earth; having both makes anything possible.

This is your debut novel. How long have you been writing?

A very long time! I started my writing career composing poems as a child. I made cards,
scribbled my prose on stationery, notebook paper, etc., anything I could get my hands on when
inspiration struck. And if I misbehaved, I’d apologize by writing a poem to my mom and
tucking it beneath her pillow so she’d find it when she awoke in the morning. Believe it or not,
that usually worked! I went on after that to write a few short stories and song lyrics before I
began tackling novel writing.

Can you give us a snapshot of your writing life? Do you have a special nook or retreat you escape to while writing?

I have a lovely office upstairs in our home that faces the bay and is accessible by a spiral staircase.
Perfect for inspiration! I have tons of books in my library and all things historical on my walls—
ancient Scottish weaponry, old maps, even a framed Celtic cross. It’s here in my little sanctuary
that I surf the internet or read to gather my research, and then write a working synopsis. Once I
sit down and begin typing, I usually write several hours a day, six days a week. My cat Coco lends
a hand when she thinks I need a break by standing in front of my computer screen until I gradually
surface from my fictional fog.

What is next for you? Do you have any other stories in the works?

Ah, yes, I’m very excited about my next novel. It’s another inspirational romance, one which
takes place in Britain during WWI. The release date is April 2015. Most of my research is
finished, and I’m happily typing away!

Thank you for stopping by, Kate! I’m looking forward to learning more about your next novel as the release date approaches.

Friends, keep your eyes open for my review of For Such a Time. In the meantime, don’t miss this video to learn more about her and this great story!