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Interview With Sarah Sundin

Sarah Sundin writes historical romances set in the US during the 1940’s. Specifically, her new release is part of the three-book Wings of Glory series which follows three B-17 bomber pilots—all brothers—who are part of the US Eighth Air Force in World War II.

Your website states you began writing after experiencing a dream which led to the creation of a contemporary romance. How did you end up writing about this particular group of bomber pilots?

While writing contemporaries (badly), I had a “what if” question—what if a man and woman met at an event, truly clicked, and parted before exchanging contact info? Wouldn’t it be romantic if he went through great effort to track her down? It wouldn’t work in a contemporary setting—he’d “Google” her—but it made a sweet premise for a historical. My husband and I watched a History Channel special on the US Eighth Air Force based in England which flew over Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II, and I was hooked. My great-uncle was a B-17 pilot with the Eighth, so I had access to his stories and letters.

A Distant Melody was meant to be a standalone, but while doing research, I became enamored with the Eighth Air Force and wanted to tell the full story to V-E Day. Since my hero had two pilot brothers, I decided to write a series, with each book focusing on one brother.

Do you feel the 1940s setting was a hindrance to getting published?
From 2003-2007, absolutely. I accumulated a pile of “good” rejection letters—editors and agents liked the story, characters, and writing, but historicals weren’t selling. Especially World War II. But the Lord kept telling me to finish the trilogy, so I obeyed. In 2008, Vicki Crumpton from Revell was scheduled to be at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. Revell had published several debut authors and featured settings other than the late 1800s prairie, so I submitted. But even that year at Mount Hermon, although publishers were looking for historicals, few were interested in World War II. I’m so thankful Revell was willing to try something different.

You use a lot of historically accurate towns and details in your books. How do you balance research and writing with your other responsibilities?
As a reader, historical inaccuracies throw me out of the story, so I wanted my novels to be as accurate as possible. I have to confess, I have over two hundred books and websites in my bibliography. Yes, that’s sick. Since the heroes in this series are B-17 bomber pilots—but I’ve never flown a plane—I read a “How to Fly a Plane” book to get the basics, purchased copies of the actual B-17 pilot’s manual and the training film (pure gold!), and ran the flying scenes past a pilot friend. For home front information, I use everything from Top Ten lists, to fashion style guides, to the Time Capsule series with extracts from Time Magazine. I also pored over microfilm of my local newspaper for everything from the price of a dress, to rationing updates, to the weather. Plus fun little trivia, like how the PTA met at Mrs. So-and-So’s house on D Street where they knit socks for soldiers.

Balance? Still working on that, especially this past year as I’m making the transition from hobby writer to professional. It’s a struggle to convince others that I’m a work-at-home mom now, and I don’t have as much time for lunches out, long phone calls, and volunteering. I do want—and need—time with my friends and time to volunteer, but I try to plan it out. Schedules, goals, and voice mail are my favorite tools right now.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture of your storytelling?
Because of my strange start in writing, I’m well aware that He is my only inspiration. When I was younger and I tried to write on my own—nothing. After He called me, ideas flowed. I know He could turn off the flow of ideas as easily as He turned it on. Faith also plays into my characters and plots. I see God at work in the world and in people all around me, and I can’t imagine not including that in my stories. My characters tend to be Christians who have areas where their faith needs to grow, like obedience, honesty, pride, trust, or fear. Then the characters learn through the story situations.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
I’m still new at this! I’ve had many high points—the first time an author told me my work was publishable, the contract offer, my first endorsement, and letters and e-mails from readers who tell me the stories have touched their hearts.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
All my life I’ve never quite fit a mold. I was a chemistry major and a sorority girl at the same time—weird, huh? My stories don’t quite fit a mold either, which made it difficult to write the “comparable titles” section of my proposals. Readers and reviewers say they like the blend of action and romance, the careful (okay, obsessive) research, and deep character development. But I bribe them with chocolate.

Finish this sentence... If I could be a woman living in the 1940’s, I would want to be a:
Could I still be a pharmacist? In 2010, pharmacy is dominated by women (it’s a very female-friendly profession with lots of opportunities for part-time work), but in 1940, women were an extreme minority. I love the idea of being a pioneer, and during the war, the draft created a serious pharmacist shortage—a real opportunity for women to break into the field. I’d say I’d like to be a nurse like my heroine, Ruth, but I’m a wimp around blood.

Any parting words?
I owe deepest thanks to ACFW. I joined in 2007, about a year and a half before I got my contract, and I wish I’d joined years before. ACFW has taught me so much about writing craft and the publishing industry, and I’ve met—either in person or on-line—so many people I consider great friends. If you write Christian fiction and you don’t belong to ACFW, join now. No, they did not bribe me with chocolate.

Thanks for sharing with us, Sarah.

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