Author Liz Tolsma: Story Worlds steeped in WWII history

Unlike my friend Cathy, I cannot read and cook at the same time without drastic consequences. Spaghetti boiling over. Overcooked Chicken Divan. Burned biscuits.

Have you ever been so engrossed in a novel that you forgot you were reading? Or didn’t hear the oven timer? And your smoke alarm went off?

If you ended up being late somewhere or ignored a whistling tea kettle, it’s because you were plunged into the Story World.

This is a common occurrence for me. A few years ago this happened with author Liz Tolsma’s Snow on the Tulips. The powerful catapulting into World War II Netherlands began on the first page.

It wasn’t just the setting, but the well-developed characters who lived there, who worked, laughed, suffered, and loved. Though I already felt an affinity to the land because of my own Dutch connection, the characters’ situations in the tragedy of 1940s wartime were just as gripping.

Liz Tolsma is the author of several WWII novels and prairie romance novellas. She is also a popular speaker and editor. A few years ago, I saw her presentation of Snow on the Tulips, the first of three books in the Women of Courage series.

A glimpse into Liz Tolsma’s Story Worlds and Characters . . . 

Liz loves to create stories about little known places and events during WWII. Often, her ideas come from reading something that happened during the war.

“I’ll dig to find out something most people don’t know.
Some of my stories are family tales
passed through the generations.”
–Liz Tolsma

Where do you get the ideas for your story characters?

Liz: I’ve been so thankful that for most of my books I’ve been able to interview the people who lived these events. For Snow on the Tulips, I sat down with three men who were in the Netherlands during the war. Two of them spent time in hiding from the Germans. They shared with me their harrowing experiences. A couple of times, they both thought they were going to be arrested.

One thing that stood out as I spoke with each man was their tremendous faith in these difficult circumstances. This faith has translated itself into each of the characters I’ve created in my books. Without that kind of faith, it’s impossible to come out from such trials unscathed.

“The story those three men told me
more than seven years ago still resonate with me,
and many of the characteristics they displayed
become part of the heroes and heroines
I create in my stories.”

The Melody of the Soul, with another WWII setting, this time in Prague, was released in January.

Where did you get your idea for this book and its heroine?

Liz: For The Melody of the Soul, I wasn’t able to speak to anyone who was in Czechoslovakia during the war. I read a book about Alice Herz Sommer, a Jewish pianist in Prague. She was not a Christian and didn’t possess much faith in anything except for music. She called it her savior. At that point, I knew I had a story about a woman who needed to come to realize that the Lord was even more important to her survival than her music.

“When writing a book, I usually start
with getting to know the characters.
I interview them, dig deep into their pasts,
explore their dreams
and what is standing in their way.”

What else helps you to know your character well?

Liz: I have a character chart in which I include a photo of my character, a detailed description of them, what their spiritual life is like, the home they live in, their family, their friends, their interests, their likes and dislikes, their work situation, their dreams and aspirations, their disappointments and fears, their pet peeves, quirks, and flaws, and the redeeming qualities. As you can see, it’s quite detailed, and I spend several days getting to know my characters before I start writing the book.

After you know your characters, then what?

Liz: Then I’ll put these characters into situations. Strange as it sounds, I sit back and write what is happening in my mind’s eye, much as if I was describing a movie.

Of course, sometimes the characters change on me. As I read the story, I learn more about them, and some of the things that I thought I knew about them before I started shift. As the book progresses, I get to know them even better. The most fun part is when they surprise me by doing something completely unexpected. It’s what I love most about writing.

In Liz’s Story Behind the Story blog, she shares about her inspiration for the new hero and heroine, Horst Engl and Anna Zadok. Watch the trailer there, too.

Want to experience a different kind of story world? How about a bit of the old American West? Liz had another book released in February: The Mail-Order Brides, a collection of nine stories from a handful of authors.

Any tips for others who want to write?

Liz: Set aside time each day or week to work on your craft. You can’t learn and grow and do without sitting down and working at it.  

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See the list of 2018 releases below. If you like inspirational historical fiction or can’t resist a heartfelt romance, there are plenty to choose from here:

The Melody of the Soul, available January 2018 – Romantic Times 4 ½ stars top pick

Mail Order Brides, Second Chance Brides, Matchmaker Brides, Rails to Love now available

The Amish Widow’s New Love, coming May 2018

What the Heart Sings, coming October 2018

As well as other, previous works:

A Log Cabin Christmas Collection

******************************

Liz Tolsma resides next to a Wisconsin farm field with her husband and their two daughters. Her son is a U.S. Marine. She enjoys reading, walking, working in her large perennial garden, kayaking, and camping.

Please visit her blog, The Story behind the Story, at www.liztolsma.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter (@LizTolsma), and Pinterest. She is also a regular contributor to the Pencildancer blog and the Midwest Almanac blog.

What inspiring stories have been passed down through the years in your family?
Or what novel characters have you felt a connection to?

Please add your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,

Laura


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7 thoughts on “Author Liz Tolsma: Story Worlds steeped in WWII history

  1. I’m looking forward to reading Liz Tolsma’s work. I totally get her description of writing as she sees the story unfold like she’s watching a movie.
    Of course, as she says, that DOES mean the characters sometimes do things you don’t expect. In fact, sometimes they are down-right rebellious, and no amount of cajoling will make them fit into the story you planned to write. That’s when you know you’re now a guest in your own story world.
    So I’m curious. How many out there have found themselves searching for a blanket, fuzzy socks, and hot chocolate in the middle of a heatwave because you were reading about a snowstorm in February?

    1. I can definitely relate to feeling like I’m a guest in my own story world! Also, I’ve been involved with a book to the point where I had to take it everywhere to continue reading, such as when waiting in the car after soccer practice, or waiting at the DMV, or stuck waiting for a long train. Can’t bear to miss even 5 minutes of the story! While I haven’t gone as far as wearing fuzzy socks in summer, I’ve been so entranced by a book that I’m oblivious to my surroundings. That’s why I never let myself read novels during the day while my kids were little. That would have been disaster!

  2. I am a huge fan of historical fiction. One of my favorite authors is Jennifer L. Holm, who writes some of her novels based on her own family history. Her characters are endearing and reckless and seem as real as life, possibly because they contain so much of real life in them. My mom grew up in Oakwood, OH, only a stone’s throw from the Wright brothers’ mansion. She told me lots of stories about Oakwood growing up, and I’ve wanted to write a novel set there for a long time. A novel about a child and the excitement that came when people first started to fly. Maybe one day I’ll get to that novel. So, Liz, you are an inspiration!! I’m excited to check out your novels.

    1. The early 1900s is a fascinating time period. I hope you get a chance to tackle that historical novel someday! And many thanks to Liz for sharing about her character development in the WW II setting.

  3. My mother’s side of the family tells a fascinating story about one ancestor who owned a barge along a river in Germany. He wanted to come to America, for various reasons, so when he had his plan in place, he sailed the barge down the river, sold it and used the money to pay for his passage. When he arrived in America, he went west to Chicago, then walked to the Green Bay area, finding work along the way. He worked in lumber towns and entertained the workers with his Cornet. The musical instrument was recently passed to my son who knows how to play trumpet.
    When I think of this story, it amazes me how much faith, strength, and courage it would have taken to begin and keep going. Some day I plan to write a story about it.

    1. What an amazing family story! And how great that your son has this trumpet now. Do you want to write the story as non-fiction or historical fiction? I suppose that depends on how many details have been passed down. You may have to use artistic license to create your own. Either way, you’ve got the premise of a fascinating tale.

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