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Interview with Liz Tolsma

Intense. Gripping. Inspiring. All are accurate words to describe Liz Tolsma’s historical fiction series, which began last year with Snow on the Tulips and continues this month with Daisies Are Forever. Woven from actual events in Tolsma’s family history, her stories are sure to change the way you look at the generation that survived World War II.

I'm a recent fan of WWII era fiction, and your first book, Snow on the Tulips, was so captivating. I couldn't stop turning the pages! I'm happy to say that Daisies Are Forever enthralled me as well. What fascinates me about both of these books is that they are based on real events that happened in your family. How did you discover these stories and what prompted you to turn them into novels?
For Snow on the Tulips, my father visited the Netherlands when I was little and came back with this story about how his aunt had nursed a wounded resistance worker. I was captivated. The story stuck with me from that day on. I always wanted to know more about it and write about it.

For Daisies Are Forever, we stayed at my aunt and uncle's house after a family wedding. We sat around one evening and my aunt began telling this story. I couldn't believe that she had lived through those horrific last days of WWII in Berlin. Right away, I knew I wanted to write this story, too. Just something deep inside wanted to share these tales with the world.

How true do you stay to the family accounts and where do you take liberties for the sake of story?
The family accounts are really jumping off points for the books. For Daisies Are Forever, my aunt was in Berlin, she was bombed out of her house, and she didn't know where her parents were for a time. She was confronted by Russian soldiers on more than one account but never was accosted by them. A family friend really did flee East Prussia in the winter of 1945 with a group of people and cross the Frische Haff, but she didn't collect quite the cast of characters that my heroine did. I tried to stay as historically accurate as possible. Though not everything in the books was factual, it could have happened.

Have you visited the areas where your books take place?
No, not yet. I would love to go to the Netherlands and visit the family I still have there. I feel like I've been there, though, because of the pictures I've seen and the stories I've heard my entire life.

What motivates to you tell these courageous stories of survival? And what do you hope readers will glean from your novels?
The people who lived these events are passing away quickly. Soon, these stories will be forgotten. My generation and my children's generation have never experienced such hardship and deprivation. We need to understand what life was like in those days so that history will never repeat itself. I hope my readers will learn what true courage looks like and glean hope in the Lord even in the darkest of days.

The lead character, Gisela, faces some serious hardships in this book. As a reader, I felt an entirely new appreciation for what people who lived through World War II suffered. As a writer, how deeply do you feel what your characters are feeling? And how do you cope?
It sounds schizophrenic, but I “become” these characters in a sense as I write these stories. I feel everything they feel. Writing can be a very emotional process. I've written with tears streaming down my cheeks. At the end of the day, I close my computer and spend time with my family, do housework -- you know, every day, mundane things that bring me back to the real world.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I take little known events and craft stories from them. I also try to show what life was really like for these people in the midst of war without making the book too gory or gratuitous. My readers feel the characters' pain and struggles without all of the violent details.

In researching your novels, what is one surprising thing you've learned about the era?
That many, many people worked to resist the Germans (and the Japanese, too). They were ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances and because they loved their countries and their freedom, they chose to put themselves at risk to help others.

You don't categorize your books as "romance" but there is an element of romance in each one. What would you say is the difference?
The romance isn't the main focal point of the books, yet it is in there to add a sweet little touch to difficult stories.

Finish this sentence: What I most admire about the WWII generation is ______.
How strong these people were and how amazing their faith was. They put their trust and hope in him and it brought them through circumstances we can't imagine.

There's a third book in the series, correct? Can you give us a preview?
Yes, there is a third one. This one is a bit different in that it takes place in the Philippines. The Japanese rounded up the Westerners living in the country after they invaded and sent them to internment camps for the duration of the war. These camps were crowded and filthy. The people made do the best they could, but conditions deteriorated as the war went badly for the Japanese, and disease and starvation became real problems. The book is set at the Santo Tomas internment camp in Manila.

And do readers need to read them in order or do they stand alone? All three books stand on their own.
Of course, I'd love for them to read all three! Courage in very difficult times is the thread that binds them all together.

Any parting words?
Thank you, Lisa, for having me. I enjoyed sharing a little about myself and my books with your readers.

Thanks for sharing with us, Liz!

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