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Why do you write the kind of books you do?
I ended up writing historical fiction almost on a whim. I wrote a few contemporary novels (badly), when I had an idea for a story that would only work in a historical setting. I had no idea how much research the story would require, so I dove in. And then the World War II time period grabbed me. Such a fascinating era.
Besides when you came to know the Lord, what is the happiest day in your life? Goodness, I have so many! My wedding day, the birth of each of our three children, my first day of college, getting the e-mail that my first book would be published, touring England with my husband, watching my husband carry all three kids piggy-back at the beach (he can’t do that anymore!), moving into our first house, whole days spent at the library as a girl—how do I choose?
How has being published changed your life?The nicest part is that people take my writing more seriously. It used to be, “Oh, isn’t it cute that Sarah’s writing a book?” Now they see it as a career. I’ve had to make the same mental transition—it’s no longer a hobby. Before publication, I spent long luxurious hours playing with my stories and chasing research rabbit trails. Now I have to be more efficient and focused to take care of research, writing, and publicity.
What are you reading right now?
For fun, I’m reading Heartless by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, a fabulous fantasy. For research, I’m reading And If I Perish: Frontline U.S. Army Nurses in World War II by Evelyn M. Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee, which is incredibly interesting and touching and inspiring.
What is your current work in progress?I’m polishing the first book in my next series. The Wings of the Nightingale series (working title) follows three World War II flight nurses in the Mediterranean Theater. The first book, tentatively titled In Every Letter, comes out Fall 2012. Loner Lt. Mellie Blake longs for adventure as a flight nurse, while Army engineer Lt. Tom MacGilliver tries to overcome the legacy of his infamous father. In North Africa and Sicily, Mellie pioneers air evacuation while Tom builds airfields under fire. Will their anonymous correspondence unlock their true identities?
What would be your dream vacation?
England with my husband. I don’t think I could go there often enough. London is one of the few large cities in the world I actually like, much less love. And I’d really love to explore the English countryside, away from the tourist spots.
How do you choose your settings for each book?For the Wings of Glory series, I chose my hometown for the California Home Front setting because it made research so much easier. And the English setting is what made me choose the Eighth Air Force as my backdrop for the combat scenes. I come from a long line of Anglophiles. Plus I jumped at the chance to do a research trip.
If you could spend an evening with one person who is currently alive, who would it be and why?That was a tough question. I’d love to meet Kay Arthur. I’ve taken lots of her Precepts Bible studies, and I love her passion for God and His Word, and her transparency and sense of humor.
What three things about you would surprise readers?1) I wrote the rough drafts for all three of these books longhand, curled up on my couch. I’ve skipped that step with my next series.
2) During summer breaks in college, I worked as a ride operator at Knott’s Berry Farm. I knew how to jump on and off of a moving merry-go-round. Don’t ask to see it now.
3) My least favorite subject in school? Creative writing. Go figure.
What are your hobbies, besides writing and reading?Can you hear me laughing? My kids are in middle and high school, so I live in my car. Thank goodness I find writing so relaxing and enjoyable.
What is your most difficult writing obstacle, and how do you overcome it?My biggest distraction is a yellow Labrador retriever named Daisy, Satan’s emissary to keep me from writing. When the kids are at school and my husband’s at work, I assume it’s writing time. Daisy tells me it’s play time! Always play time! And if I don’t play, she eats random household objects. As for overcoming, I’ve learned to exercise her like crazy in the morning, and then she sleeps pretty well. She’s three years old now and starting to settle down. Starting.
What advice would you give to a beginning author?Be teachable and learn as much as you can about the craft of writing and the publishing process. Join a writers’ group, attend conferences, read books on writing, and join American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). Keep writing, keep submitting, and keep praying.
Tell us about the book.Blue Skies Tomorrow is the third book in the Wings of Glory series, which follows the three Novak brothers, B-17 bomber pilots with the US Eighth Air Force stationed in England during World War II. Each book stands alone.
Lt. Raymond Novak prefers the pulpit to the cockpit, but at least his stateside job training B-17 pilots allows him the luxury of a personal life. As he courts Helen Carlisle, a young war widow and mother who conceals her pain under a frenzy of volunteer work, the sparks of their romance set a fire that flings them both into peril. After Ray leaves to fly a combat mission at the peak of the air war over Europe, Helen takes a job in a dangerous munitions yard and confronts an even graver menace in her own home. Will they find the courage to face their challenges? And can their young love survive until blue skies return?
What do you want readers to take away from the book?I never write a novel with a message in mind, but I do hope my readers will learn from my characters’ experiences. Fear can cripple you and keep you from the life God intends for you. I hope readers will see how they can find courage in the Lord and the strength to face whatever life throws at them.
Is there anything interesting about this book that you want us to know?The theater in the background on the book cover is the actual El Campanil Theatre in downtown Antioch, California, which is the setting for several scenes in the novel. The theater’s been beautifully restored. The movie on the marquee, Cover Girl, is one Ray and Helen see in the book. The orchestration for Cover Girl was done by Carmen Dragon, an Antioch native—and he won the 1944 Oscar for his work.
What is the story behind Blue Skies Tomorrow?Blue Skies Tomorrow arose from my need for happy endings. In my first novel, A Distant Melody, one of the side characters, Helen Carlisle, is widowed at only twenty-one, and the hero’s oldest brother, Ray Novak, is dumped by his fiancée. I mentally introduced them to each other, the mutual attraction was strong, and I just had to write their story. This novel also allows me to complete the story of the US Eighth Air Force to victory in Europe.
What draws you to write about the World War II era?Besides the cute clothes and men in uniform? First of all, there are so many dramatic stories and settings—a novelist’s dream. This was a time when ordinary men had to do extraordinary things, and when women first explored non-traditional roles—while remaining ladies. Plus, I’ve always been fond of that generation, my grandparents’ generation. As a pharmacy resident at a VA hospital, I had the honor of caring for many of these men. As a rule, they were cheerful, kind, and chivalrous, with the solid strength of someone who has been tested—and passed. What more could you want in a hero?
What makes your books stand out from other WWII fiction?Reviewers and readers often comment that the stories drop them right into the action of World War II through gripping story, intriguing characters, and well-researched historical detail. The books tend to appeal to women who don’t mind a little grit in their romance and to men who don’t mind a love story messing up their combat scenes. I had a male friend inspect my bookmark and say, “There’s a woman on the cover! It’s a war story. How could you do that?” He he. That guy is not my target audience.
What was the most interesting research you had to do for this novel/series?
I had already done the background research on B-17s and the US Eighth Air Force for the first two books in the series, but for Blue Skies Tomorrow, I also researched the Port Chicago Explosion. In the largest US Home Front disaster in the war, 320 sailors were killed, most of whom were black. I thought I understood the explosion and the mutiny trial that followed (it happened in my home county), but my research changed my mind. I knew there was a great deal of racism and discrimination at the time, but the details of this disaster really brought it home to me.
How did writing this novel differ from the other two in the Wings of Glory series?This was the first novel I wrote as a contracted author. I had to learn to juggle publisher’s edits on the first two books, marketing and publicity, writing a proposal for another series—while writing this novel. It was a new and unsettling experience, but I’m adapting.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book? What did you dislike most?
What I enjoy most? Almost everything! I really enjoyed the historical research, to the point of getting ecstatic when I found copies of the pilot’s manual for the B-17 bomber and the Army Air Force B-17 training film. But I also love the pre-writing stage, the actual writing, even the editing.
I didn’t dislike it necessarily, but plotting this story required a lot of wrestling. The timing of the story—especially near the end—was very difficult. The two main storylines needed to finish in parallel, and I had to work around real historical events. I did a lot of charts and outlines and scribbling on scrap paper. And grumbling to my dog.
Which of your characters particularly resonates with you and why?Both Ray and Helen resonated with me, but perhaps Ray more so. He takes on a role he feels ill-equipped for, and he has to find the courage to forge forward and to turn to God to find the purpose in his adventure. I pushed Ray harder than I did any of the Novak brothers, at a time in my life the Lord was really pushing me. We both had to find courage in the Lord.
What one question would you like us to ask your readers? Tell me about a family member’s (or your own) World War II experience—abroad or at home. Childhood memories count.
Tell us about the giveaway you’re offering. I’m giving away one signed copy of my latest release, Blue Skies Tomorrow.