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.”
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.
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.
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
The Amish Widow’s New Love, coming May 2018
What the Heart Sings, coming October 2018
As well as other, previous works:
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!