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Interview with Peggy Wirgau

Peggy Wirgau loves true stories from the past and writes through the eyes of ordinary people in history who faced extraordinary challenges and became heroes. Like Ruth's family in The Stars in April, Peggy’s debut novel, coming out this April through our shared publisher, IlluminateYA Fiction.

I had the joy of previewing Peggy’s novel, and if you are in need of a change in time and place, this story is sure to transport you into an intimate and vivid portrayal of Ruth Becker’s journey from India, across the Arabian and Mediterranean seas to the ill-fated voyage aboard the RMS Titanic across the Atlantic.

Peggy, can we start with your passion for the lives and history surrounding the RMS Titanic? What first drew you to learn about this moment in history?
I had a mild curiosity about the Titanic for years, but my interest really began in 2012, which is the 100th anniversary year of the sinking, when I first read about Ruth Becker. As I learned her story and began researching in order to write the novel, my enthusiasm grew. I began a blog about various passengers and crew members, and that led me to correspond with a few of their relatives and others that were connected to the ship in some way. I was amazed to learn there is a huge network of Titanic fans, of all ages and nationalities, that share a love for the ship and the people who were onboard. It’s been a fascinating and rewarding journey.

At what point did this knowledge transform into a retelling within a fictional story?
When I read about Ruth and her family, I was first intrigued because her parents came from my home state of Michigan and were traveling there from India. But when I learned that Ruth was separated from her family during the sinking of the Titanic, yet managed to help other passengers in her lifeboat, it raised so many questions! What twelve-year-old girl, in a boat full of strangers, would be able to act so heroically? What was she like? How did she feel about leaving her home in India? And what may have happened on her journey that gave her that kind of courage? That’s when I began to envision a story that might answer some of those questions yet remain true to what we do know about her and the Titanic.

Have you always wanted to write fiction, or was this a new discovery for you?
I wrote quite a bit of non-fiction before I began writing fiction, and some of my articles were published in children’s magazines. My favorite one to write was about Michelangelo, published in Learning Through History, a magazine primarily for homeschooled teens. I think that was when I started to like delving into historical events and researching what people used to eat and wear, how they lived, etc.

At what point in your journey did you decide to seek representation, and why?
Too soon! I went to the ACFW conference and met an agent who asked to see the full manuscript. I thought it was ready and I sent her a pretty good draft, but I didn’t realize until later that it needed a lot of revision. She sent me a very encouraging rejection letter, and I made some changes, submitted more queries and proposals, then finally contacted a professional editor for help. That editor eventually became my agent, but not before we made a bunch of revisions and vastly improved the story.

For those interesting in writing historical fiction, what are some important steps that new authors should consider before embarking on writing a novel drenched with such vivid and necessary historical details?
Readers of historical fiction want to immerse themselves in the time period and they love details that are accurate. But getting it right—the culture of the time, current events, dress, daily living, language, etc.—takes a lot of work. Researching a variety of sources and reading other novels set during the time period helped me get a feel for some of it. Plus, I listened to music from 1912, studied old issues of Vogue, read headlines from the newspapers, and so on. Unless an author really likes doing those things, writing HF might not be their best fit. Research is very time-consuming and can be frustrating when you can’t find what you’re looking for, but very rewarding as well. I was blessed to meet several people who were happy to help me, including a man who knew Ruth Becker in her later years. He told me some wonderful tidbits about her that I was able to weave into the novel. That kind of first-hand knowledge is priceless.

Within the story, we are provided with beautiful “Sky Reports” throughout the narrative. Was astronomy a noted interest for Ruth, or was this something you added to the story? Did this influence your choice of title, The Stars in April?
As far as I know, the real Ruth was not particularly interested in astronomy. In my early versions of the novel, she made references to the stars during the voyage, and so many Titanic survivors mentioned the clear skies and stars overhead in their later accounts, so the title came from that. Gradually, I gave Ruth a more developed interest in the stars and constellations as a connection to her father who would be watching them back in India. That led to the writing of her “Sky Reports” in her journal (and more research!).

Was there a real Sajni left back in India? Why did you decide to create this character? What themes were you hoping to explore with this relationship?
Sajni grew from imagining the losses Ruth would have experienced as she left the only home she knew. Because her father ran an orphanage, it was entirely possible that Ruth made friends with some of the orphans, and that’s when Sajni stepped into the story. As their relationship developed and Sajni gave Ruth the beautiful handmade quilt, the theme of not being afraid to give of oneself was coming together in other ways. Eventually, Sajni has an indirect role in Ruth’s decisions in the lifeboat, even though she remained in India. It was a long process—not something I knew I would do right away.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing The Stars in April?
It’s hard to pick only one, but even with all the research and a good story line, the constant challenge was how to infuse it with life. I wanted to make readers feel what Ruth felt—not only what was in her heart, but the physical things like the stifling train ride and the rocking, creaking voyage across the Arabian Sea. I wanted them to smell the food, see the stars, hear the music, and explore the Titanic with Ruth. I read many accounts of the sinking, hoping to grasp the enormity and horror of it so I could give a sense of what it really was like. I hope and pray I came close.

How did your faith come to life on the pages of The Stars in April?
That came gradually, as the story developed. I put a lot of thought into Ruth’s faith and how it may have taken a beating as she lost so much and faced the unknown, and I considered the times when I’ve gone through similar upheavals. God always lets me know He’s there, often in subtle ways, and sometimes in miraculous ways. As the story unfolds, I wanted to show how Ruth discovers that as well.

What message do you hope readers take away from this book?
I hope that readers will get a true sense of what the Titanic passengers and crew experienced onboard and following the sinking. More importantly, I hope it portrays Ruth Becker’s bravery and her fighting spirit as she faced major life changes and an incredible voyage she would never forget. And most of all, it’s my hope that readers will be encouraged to face challenges with trust in God and peace in their hearts.

What books have inspired you in your own writing journey and what books are on your nightstand to be read next?
My favorite books have fully developed characters that draw me into their world. Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner, and Band of Sisters by Cathy Gohlke all helped to enrich my writing and my love for historical fiction.

As for my nightstand, I’ll be honest—currently, there are no books. I do have a list of ones I want to read, but with having recently moved to Florida and a great many marketing tasks to keep up with, I’m not very good about fitting in much reading time. However, I did just finish The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron, a beautiful, dual timeline story.

On your website, there is a preview of your next novel in the works. Can you tell us a little bit about 355 and when we might see it enter into the world?
The setting is New York City during the American Revolution. The story revolves around George Washington’s citizen spies known as the Culper Ring, and focuses on the one female in the group. She was never identified by name but was known only by the number 355. I have a theory who she was, though! The story is still in first draft stage and I would love to pick it up again soon, but I don’t know when it will be ready for the next steps.

How exciting! I’m sure that readers will wait patiently for its release, and in the meantime, fall in love with Ruth through a reimagined portrayal of her experiences aboard the Titanic.


As a teen, Tara Ross first discovered how hope-filled prose can change the entire trajectory of a person's life. Case in point: her life. She now has the joy of sharing this truth with youth every day - as a Speech-Language Pathologist, youth ministry worker and YA author.

Her soon to be released debut novel and blog, were created to ignite sparks of faith for Generation Z. You can follow Tara on instagram (tara.k.ross) or twitter (tara_k_ross) for more book reviews, tattoo worthy quotes and updates on her publishing journey.

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