Greetings from Sarah Sundin! Today I have the joy of interviewing a dear friend, Liz Tolsma. Liz’s popular novels include historical suspense, novellas, and something near and dear to my heart—World War II fiction. She’s also the host of the excellent Christian Historical Fiction Talk podcast.
Welcome, Liz! Please tell us about your book A Picture of Hope.
A female American photojournalist and a French maquisard race across France to rescue a little girl with Down syndrome from Nazi clutches and get her to Switzerland. Along the way, they discover the preciousness of every human life.
I’m so excited to read this story! What inspired you to write this book?
This is a book I’ve wanted to write for a while. I was inspired by the many female journalists who covered WWII and the incredible lives they led. Martha Gellhorn, the estranged wife of Ernest Hemingway, snuck into France just after D-day and managed to scoop many male journalists, including Hemingway. Their courage and their passion to share the story of the war for those back home who hung onto every shred of information they could was inspirational. They wanted the women waiting for their husbands, their fathers, their brothers, their sons to come home to know as much about the war as possible. They brought a unique viewpoint to reporting.
Martha Gellhorn’s story is amazing and it made me laugh out loud—what chutzpah those female correspondents had! Other than her story, shat surprised you the most during the research or writing of your book?
Originally, this was the story of getting Jewish children across the French border into Switzerland. When it came time to write the scene where Nellie and Jean-Paul come across the first child, I was surprised to look into her eyes and find her to have Down syndrome. (Other authors will understand what I’m saying and not consider me crazy.) The story took off from there.
Oh yes, all novelists understand. What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope that readers will see the beauty and importance of each and every life that God creates, no matter that person’s ability or disability. Every life is precious in His sight, and each of these lives has worth. Each person has something to contribute to the Kingdom. This is my passion because my daughter has an intellectual disability, yet she has so much to offer to the world.
I’m so glad your daughter found you for a mom. Do you have certain themes you return to again and again in your writing?
It’s fitting that this book is titled A Picture of Hope because that’s the theme that continues to crop up when I write. As a WWII author, it’s easy for my stories to become dark and heavy. Only the hope we have in God can pierce through such darkness and shed any light in our lives, no matter what is going on.
What would be your ideal writing place? And…what’s your actual writing place like?
My ideal writing place would be a large building all my own with lots of big windows to let the light and view in and where I can be alone without interruption. My actual writing place is in my basement. It’s partially finished. My husband has built me a beautiful, custom desk that takes up a good bit of my office. He also made me a 6-foot by 4-foot white board. It’s a construction zone. We still have to finish my ceiling, build bookshelves, add two walls, put in a new floor, and French doors. Hopefully it will be done in about a year. When it’s finished, it will be wonderful.
That sounds wonderful! So, why do you write World War II fiction?
WWII has touched my heart. The bravery displayed by soldiers and ordinary men and women alike moves me. There are so many stories that need to be told so that we don’t forget those dark days and so we don’t repeat them. Our children and our children’s children need to understand what those days were like. None of us truly understand fear and deprivation. Unfortunately, those who lived those stories are passing away. Soon, there won’t be any of them left. That gives me a sense of urgency to get these books written.
That completely resonates with me. Now have you had any funny moments as a writer?
I had my then 16-year-old niece with me at an ACFW conference several years ago. She’s an aspiring writer. As the conference was getting underway, an attendee came up to me. “Liz, Liz, I’m so excited to meet you. I just love you. Can I get a picture with you?” I obliged her. Once my fan left, my niece, in that way teenagers have, turned to me and said, “That was weird.”
Teenagers certainly keep us humble. Despite what your niece might think, you’ve accomplished a lot—but do you have an unfulfilled dream?
I’m starting to work on this dream, but I’d love to do more traveling. My husband and I have a sponsor daughter in Vietnam who is now 21. We love her dearly and, since she has neither a mother or father, she is part of us. If I could go there to meet her and get to know her even better, I would love that. I’ve been to Vietnam before, and it’s a fabulous place to visit.
Do you have pets and do they inspire your writing or hinder it?
We are the caregivers for our son’s 16-year-old cat. We aren’t cat people (no offense to those of you who are), but here he is. He is quite loving, and he’ll insist on sitting on my lap while I work. When I have to get up or if the phone rings, he gets rather put out. He’s my writing buddy and keeps me warm in the winter, and I enjoy having him around.
He sounds lovely! Other than having a lap-cat to keep you in your chair, how do you stay disciplined and meet your deadlines?
It’s just a matter of doing it. I have a routine that I like. I write in the morning or edit my own writing. I can stop when I have one chapter written. After lunch, I work on editing for others, on my podcast, and on marketing. Since my family likes to eat, I stop at 5:30 to get dinner.
Tell us about your favorite library memory.
They all blur together into one big memory. When I was a child, my parents took us to the library once a week. The children’s library was downstairs. I would spend all kinds of time down there picking out my books for the week. I always had a stack. There may have been a limit to how many I could check out – I can’t remember. If there was, I’m sure I always met that limit. And I read every single one of those books every week.
Children’s librarians are unsung heroes! Now, what’s next for you? Please tell us about your next project.
In February, Slashed Canvas is set to release. It’s part of Celebrate Lit’s series Ever After mysteries. Each of these stand-alone books takes a fairy tale and turns it into a 1920s mystery. Slashed Canvas takes place in Paris and is the story of a Russian princess whose spoiled twin daughters are kidnapped. Can a wounded veteran help her find them before it’s too late?