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Interview with Sarah Sundin

Sarah Sundin is an award-winning author of six novels encompassing the adventure, heartache and heartfelt journeys of “The Greatest Generation.” Her latest novel, In Perfect Time, is the finale of her second trilogy set during World War II.

So, Sarah, where did your inspiration for your latest release come from?
While researching World War II nursing for my second novel, A Memory Between Us, I kept reading about the flight nurses. These pioneering women intrigued me, and I decided to write the Wings of the Nightingale series to honor them. There was one particularly adventurous true-life story about the flight nurses that inspired In Perfect Time, but telling what it is would be a huge spoiler.

What is the future direction of your novels? Will you still continue in the WWII era? If so, could you tell us a little about your current writing project?
My next series, Waves of Freedom, is also set during World War II. This series follows three American naval officers based in Boston, fighting the Battle of the Atlantic. I just turned in the first novel, Through Waters Deep, to my editor (Revell, summer 2015). In this story, the heroine is trying to track down a saboteur at the Boston Navy Yard. It was a lot of fun to write, and I was able to do research in Boston last month!

Where does your fascination with the World War II era stem from? Was there a specific moment in your life when your attention was captured by this time period?
My grandfather served as a pharmacist’s mate (medic) in the Navy in World War II, and he was a storyteller. Also, my father always seemed to be watching WWII movies when I was a girl. Although I thought the movies were boring at the time, they must have seeped into my soul—along with all the family stories. The time period has always fascinated me. It was a time when ordinary people learned they could do extraordinary things.

What draws you to a write a particular novel – a character, a theme or historical facts, etc.?
Yes. Any of the above can spark a story idea. For In Perfect Time, it was a combination of a historical event and a character, Lt. Kay Jobson. The inspiration for her character arose from a family in our church who all sing together a cappella. Every single one of them has a gorgeous voice.

One Sunday I turned to my husband and said, “Can you imagine being born into that family and not being able to sing well?” That idea grew. What if that family (unlike the lovely family from my church!) judged her for her deficiency? Harshly judged her? Hmm. Then hard-boiled, flirtatious Kay Jobson developed in my mind. I couldn’t wait to tell her story!

With the large amount of research required for historical fiction, what is your advice to other historical fiction writers to organize their research? What method do you use?
1. Keep a numbered bibliography, just like in school, complete with URL links for websites.

2. Organize your notes and material. I have a thick binder for each series, with tabs for different topics. For example, for the Wings of the Nightingale series, I have tabs for flight nursing, C-47 cargo planes, the war in Italy, etc. My computer folders are organized the same way, using the same titles. It’s all about easy access.

3. Document carefully. Take detailed notes (using your bibliography number and the page number for reference), including from books you own. This helps you find things later. Also clip website pages into computer folders in Evernote or Scrivener—or even a Word document—also referencing the location with your bibliography number. When your editor asks a question two years after you did the research, you want to find the information fast.

As a mother, wife, pharmacist and author, how have you balanced all your responsibilities and your writing career? What has been your key to keeping the balance?
Balance? It’s a constant struggle. Since my children are older—we only have one and a half kids at home (our daughter is in college and has a job and a boyfriend, so she’s the “half”), each year the mom part of my job takes less time. I only work one day a week as a pharmacist, which hasn’t changed in 22 years. But the writing is a more-than-full-time job, which I’m still adjusting to. My only key is learning to say no, choosing the best over the good. I know God wants me to do certain things—be a wife, mom, and writer. Anything outside of those roles has to earn its position on my schedule.

What has surprised you the most about the writer’s journey—publication, representation, platform building, the writing itself? How have you adapted or coped with it?
So many surprises. Writing is a roller-coaster journey. As a pharmacist, my work was predictable, objective, and measurable. Writing is unpredictable, subjective, and erratic. My days are often upended by sudden assignments with rapid deadlines—meanwhile, I have to stay on target with my long-range writing goals. To make sure things don’t fall through the cracks, I keep goal charts and calendars to stay organized.

If you could rewind time to when you began your pursuit of publication, what would you tell yourself?
Relax. Enjoy this time of immersing yourself in story and learning about the craft. If God wants you to be published, it’ll happen—but in His time. In the meantime, relax in His love and His plan.

Finish this question…If I had lived in the WWII era, I would be probably be. . .
. . .in the United States and working as a pharmacist. Unlike my characters, I’m too squeamish to be a nurse. The same things that drew me into pharmacy when I was younger would probably have appealed to me in the 1940s too. The second novel in the Waves of Freedom follows a “girl pharmacist” on the US Home Front, which will be fun for me to write.

Any parting words?
Thank you for having me! ACFW is such a blessing on my life as a writer—and as a human being. I’ve met the most fascinating people!

Thanks for sharing with us, Sarah!

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