Today on the blog, we have author Johnnie Alexander Donley. Her upcoming WWII romance, Where Treasure Hides, highlights the strain on love and relationships during the war.
This story begins with a young woman, torn between her heart, her head, and the impending danger of a world war. How did the idea for Where Treasure Hides come to you?
Two things came together at the right time. First, friends who read my first WWII story wanted a sequel which wasn’t possible given the storyline. But in a lightbulb-over-my-head moment, I realized I could tell the story of one of the secondary characters. Second, as I researched my first book, I became intrigued with the massive looting of art by the Nazis and the sad plight of the “hidden children,” kids who spent the war in cupboards and attics to save their lives. I decided to write a story that would juxtapose both the loss of priceless art and the courage of those who saved children. The story doesn’t address the hidden children as much as I first thought it would, but several children are saved by characters in this book.
With this story set with the break out of WWII, did you find yourself doing much research on the topic? How do you incorporate real facts into a fiction story? Can you give us examples of where the lines of fiction are blurred within this story?
I love reading about different aspects of WWII, and I stick as close to historical events as possible. For instance, I watched a documentary that told of a young Kindertransport boy who played a British anthem on his violin in a train station so that an official wouldn’t take the instrument away from him. As soon as I heard that story, I knew it was the perfect opening for my novel.
It’s also true that the Dutch hid paintings in abandoned air raid shelters and, as the war was winding down, Hitler ordered the destruction of his hidden caches of looted art rather than let the Allies recover the treasures. I also researched events at Dunkirk, where even small fishing boats helped to evacuate soldiers, and the layout of Colditz Castle, an infamous POW prison, to make those scenes as realistic as possible.
Blurring the lines occurred when I let Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering, an evil degenerate, into my story. At first, I kept imagining a Goering-like character. Then that lightbulb appeared again – Goering himself was better than any substitute. We know from history that he truly fancied himself an art connoisseur, and he acquired an obviously fake Vermeer.
If your book was made into a movie, what actors would you cast?
For classic movie lovers like me, Joseph Cotten plays Ian, Ingrid Bergman plays Alison, and Van Johnson, sporting a dueling scar, plays Theodor.
For a more contemporary audience, Ian is played by Dan Stevens (Matthew in Downton Abbey), Alison is played by Gwyneth Paltrow, and Theodor is played by a blond Jim Caviezel.
For someone debating reading your story, what would you say makes it worth the read? What sets it apart from other WWII novels out there?
Where Treasure Hides is an engaging story of how two people choose to love one another while trying to live out their faith in the midst of chaos, brutality, and loss. Set against the realities of a world war, the novel is both romantic suspense and suspenseful romance.
Do you find it difficult to write a novel, start to finish? Do you have any techniques you follow to ensure you finish?
I’ve written four NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) novels. In other words, four very rough 50,000-word drafts. Two of those, including Where Treasure Hides, I revised into polished manuscripts. Treasure’s opening pages were revised several times primarily to enter the 2011 ACFW Genesis contest historical fiction category – which I won. Those opening pages and my second draft bear little resemblance to the original NaNoWriMo story. I did a third major revision which, after critiques and editing, became the final story.
It’s very hard, but immensely satisfying, to write a novel. I was afraid my first polished manuscript would be my last – that I’d used up all my ideas for characters and plot – but then I completed Where Treasure Hides.
One method that helps me is to come up with three heart-stoppers and an ending. Others may use the terms disasters or turning points. The idea is to divide your targeted word count into fourths. The first turning point occurs at the ¼ point, the second at the ½ way point, the third at the ¾ point. Though my heart-stopping events always change as I write the story, these markers give me something to write toward.
In the larger sense, what do you hope readers learn from Where Treasure Hides?
Since I was a young woman, I have held onto Proverbs 31:25 which reads, “Strength and dignity are her clothing and she smiles at the future” (NASB). It’s not a coincidence that this is Alison’s go-to Scripture though she recites the King James Version: “Strength and honour are her clothing, and she shall rejoice in time to come.”
Alison faced an unlikely trial and a difficult loss. But by holding onto this promise, she could rejoice in the blessings God had given her even as she mourned what she had lost. As daughters of the King of Kings, we can clothe ourselves in strength and dignity/honour no matter what trials we are going through or what difficulties we are facing. Even in sorrow, joy can be ours as we claim the promise of an eternal future with our Savior.
This novel takes place in a few different places, both state side and internationally. What research, if any, went into giving these authentic characters a believable backdrop? Also, what influenced your choice of setting?
Here’s a silly story about how a mistake can lead to plotting ideas: I had written my opening scene with Alison and Ian brought together at Waterloo Station in London, England by a violin-playing Kindertransport boy. Alison told Ian she was on her way home, to Rotterdam, after a visit to Paris.
Then I looked at a map. No way would anyone travel from Paris to Rotterdam via London. So I had to give Alison a reason to be in London if the violin-playing boy was going to be my opening scene. That led to Alison’s clandestine visit to Wales to obtain blueprints for preparing a safe hiding place for valuable works of art. As a bonus, her secret mission propelled the story into the next scene where she gives the blueprints to her grandfather.
I already knew Ian’s basic character and background because of his appearance in another manuscript. But his family, particularly his sister Trish, plays a larger role in Treasure.
What’s next for you? Do you plan to continue writing historical novels?
My priority right now is the proposed sequel to Where Treasure Hides. I’m also working on a WWII story about an American socialite, serving in the Women’s Army Corps, who is captured by the Germans for helping downed Allied airmen find their way back to England.
I have a vague idea for a post-World War I story that takes place in Florida, and I have a draft for a contemporary romance which needs another major revision. However, even it is rooted in past secrets and ancestral legacies.
Interested in Johnnie’s ebook Where Treasure Hides?
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Interested in learning how historical fiction writers integrate the facts into an engaging story? Come back tomorrow (Dec. 13th) when Johnnie will go through a few scenes from Where Treasure Hides, breaking down how historical events work together with fiction to create an unbelievable tale.
(Where Treasure Hides, ebook-only available Jan. 2013).