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Interview with Terri Wangard

Introducing the author

She’s ridden in a WWII B-17 Flying Fortress bomber for story research and the first Girl Scout badge she earned was the “Writer.” Who could this adventurous and talented person be? We are talking about none other than Terri Wangard! She’s a historical romance author with a love for entertaining through her storytelling while also uplifting the spirits of people who read her books. Today, she’s here to talk about her new novel, Friends and Enemies.

What was it was like to grow up in Green Bay, WI, during the Lombardi years?

We’d have glorious fall Sunday afternoons and nobody wanted to come out and play. They were all inside watching the Pack on TV. I couldn’t compete.

Bart Starr attended the same church as my family. He encouraged his fellow players to come to church. Several did, and I remember one had a daughter my age.

Your first Girl Scout badge was “The Writer.” How did you receive that honor. Did you consider it foreshadowing that you would grow up to be a great author?

I loved earning Girl Scout badges and went after them with a vengeance in my first year as a Junior Girl Scout. At a meeting attended by our mothers, the scout leader presented me with one badge, which happened to be the Writer, in acknowledgement of how hard I was working to earn badges.

I enjoyed writing little stories. I had a notebook filled with them. Fortunately, it hasn’t survived. Being an author wasn’t my ambition. Working in a library and reading books held more appeal.

Is historical fiction your niche?

I started writing contemporary fiction in the early 2000s. A publisher had a manuscript for a year before rejecting it. My interest waned until reading Debbie Macomber’s Twenty Wishes in 2008. That’s when I got serious about writing and decided to base a story on a batch of post World War II letters.

I’ve always loved history. In fact, I majored in history. One book I remember especially is The Hornet’s Nest by Sally Watson. It fired my imagination.

B-17 Flying Fortress

What book did you write that required you to go for a ride in a WWII B-17 Flying Fortress bomber as research?

B-17 navigators are featured in all three books of my Promise For Tomorrow series. The bomber Aluminum Overcast is based here in Wisconsin and regularly attends the local air show. I had done the bomber interior tour one year (if you lack agility, don’t go) and decided in 2012 to go for broke and fly. My biggest impression? The noise. I could not hear someone standing right in front of me. I went home and made changes in all my manuscripts. (Read more on the Flying Fortress.)

What was the inspiration for your latest release, Friends and Enemies?

When my dad cleaned out my grandmother’s house, he found a bunch of letters written by distant cousins in Germany in 1947-48. He gave them to me, the family genealogist. The letters describe life and hardships in a devastated Germany, but make no mention of the war years. Did the relatives support Hitler? Approve of Nazi schemes? How did they feel about the Jews? Using the basic facts I did know, I created a family to be proud of.

Tell us about your heroine for Friends and Enemies. What role does her heritage play in the story?

Heidi Wetzel lives in Hagen (near Düsseldorf), but she spent three years in Milwaukee in the mid-30s. Her family is anti-Nazi and she’s open to passive resistance. She’s lost her husband in a U-boat and wishes she’d stayed in America with her best friend, Rachel.

Describe your hero. What is his character flaw?

Paul Braedel, as described by Heidi, is a lot like her husband. “Self-assured, but not arrogant. Good-humored, but with a serious side. The two men even resembled each other with their blue eyes, firm chins, and sandy brown hair.” Paul’s wife died while he was in training and he doesn’t care if he’s killed in the war because that would reunite him with Rachel. He’s also sore at God for his loss.

What brings your hero and heroine together?

Paul is shot down over Germany. He speaks German, thanks to his grandparents, but needs help. He knows his late wife’s best friend lives in the general vicinity of his location, and sets out to find her. Heidi is shocked to see him—and horrified to learn Rachel is dead. She remembers him, of course, and agrees to help.

Heidi Wetzel finds meaning to her life in her work caring for children. What is it about working with kids that gives Heidi hope?

If not for the war, she’d be a mother now. The evacuated children bring meaning into her life.

Heidi seems like a strong and brave woman. Did you think of anyone in real-life when you created her?

I created Heidi the way I hope I would have been in Nazi Germany. Most people were intimidated into silence and inaction. The consequences for the smallest perceived infraction were steep. Who could be trusted? How would I have reacted?

What research did you do to portray “war-torn western Germany” as it says on your book’s blurb?

I’ve acquired a sizable library of my own. Unfortunately, I totally lack an ear for languages and my college German is abysmal. I did find several books in English, like Under the Bombs, which paint a heartrending picture of German civilian life.

Who was your real-life inspiration in creating your hero Paul Braedel’s character?

No one, really. Paul’s an astronomer because I have an interest in astronomy. He lives in Wisconsin, of course. In the original story, he came from Green Bay, but in the rewrite, he relocated to Milwaukee.

Paul lost his “zest for life,” so he headed to England. Why England?

The only Americans in Germany in the spring of 1944 were shot down airmen, so Paul had to be in the Air Force in order to get together with Heidi. (I wrote the original as a historical romance, but the rewrite is a historical with just a touch of romance.) Airmen were based in England or Italy. Northwest Germany was targeted by air groups in England. I chose the base at Ridgewell because it’s one word and easy to pronounce.

The voice of God speaks to Paul, telling him to “Find Heidi.” Describe how you wrote that scene.

Paul’s alone, deep in enemy territory, possibly hunted, definitely shaky. He needs help and, even though he’s been ignoring God, the best help was only a prayer away. As he sits on a log, he finally prays, Help me, Lord. Then the thought, Find Heidi, fills his mind.

I didn’t want anything flashy. Just a still, small voice in Paul’s head, assuring him he’s not alone.

As a woman of faith, how does your relationship with God affect your storytelling?

I want my stories to be entertaining, enlightening, and uplifting. If God read my book, I hope He would finish it and say, “Well done.”

What is the theme or moral of your book?

Second chances. Both main characters begin the story with awful losses in their lives. They pick themselves up and learn to embrace life again. The moral is, “No matter how bad life gets, God is still with us.”

After writing this novel, what can you advise people about “friends and enemies” in the real world?

I was the victim of bullies for several years while growing up. My walls are high. It’s hard for me to open up. But first impressions aren’t always correct.

I worked at a library where another librarian seemed gruff and unfriendly. I tended to stay out of her way. When I left and the librarians gave me a luncheon, I discovered she was really a nice lady. I missed a friendship there.


Alexis A. Goring is a writer at heart and a journalist by profession. She loves the art of storytelling and has released her first book, an inspirational romance novella called Hope in My Heart: A Collection of Heartwarming Stories, in Sept. 2013. When Alexis is not working on her next book or chasing the next big story, she can be found listening to music, enjoying food, shopping at her favorite malls, and spending quality time with loved ones. Connect with Alexis online.

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