Last year I had the blessing of getting to meet Liz Tolsma when I was on her podcast Christian Historical Fiction Talk, and it was so wonderful to get to know her through an actual conversation instead of just email or Facebook conversations. Today, it is my pleasure to get to introduce you to her and her newest release, What I Would Tell You.
Long-time Wisconsin resident Liz Tolsma is the author of several WWII novels, romantic suspense novels, prairie romance novellas, and an Amish romance and has been an award finalist on several occasions. She is a popular podcaster, speaker, and editor. Together, she and her husband adopted three children internationally. They reside next to a farm field with their youngest daughter. Their son is a U.S. Marine, and their oldest daughter is a recent college graduate. Liz enjoys reading, walking, working in her large perennial garden, kayaking, and camping.
You can connect with her through:
Now for the fun stuff! I have to admit I am partial to my Fast Five. 🙂 So settle in as I hit Liz with rapid-fire.
CC: Sweet or Salty?
LT: Both! I LOVE chocolate-covered pretzels!
CC: Print, E-book, or Audiobook?
LT: Ebook. I mostly read at bedtime, and my husband wouldn’t appreciate me leaving the light on or listening to an audiobook.
CC: Coffee, Tea, or Other?
LT: Coffee but only if it doesn’t taste like coffee; otherwise, tea.
Morning Person or Night Owl?
LT: Morning person
CC: Favorite Holiday?
LT: Christmas! I was married on December 23, my husband was born on December 25, and my daughter on December 17.
Oh wow! That is a lot of really important events in December! No wonder Christmas is your favorite. Let’s move into some of the more in-depth questions.
What does your writing process look like from beginning to end?
LT: A big, old, sloppy mess. I start with an idea or a character or a historical event. I do a good bit of research, learn a little bit about my characters, and then I’m off to the races. The characters reveal more of themselves and their stories as I write, which often means I have to go back and change things. Sometimes plot lines will hit me in the middle of the book, which means more rewriting. I spend more time actually reworking a book than I do writing it. That’s why I’m thankful for a good editing team. They really help me clean my mess up and make it presentable to the world.
CC: That honestly makes me feel better as I’m really struggling to wrangle this story into some semblance of an order for a synopsis.
What has been the biggest challenge for you on your writing journey?
LT: Juggling writing, marketing, editing, podcasting, and a family life. I wear a lot of hats, and it can get to be too much at times. I need to stay focused and disciplined, and it’s amazing how much I can accomplish if I do that. I also have to be sure to carve out the time that my husband and children need and deserve. My husband has been known to come by me on a Saturday afternoon, firmly close my laptop, and tell me that’s enough for the week. He helps me to stay balanced, so he’s good for me and my mental health!
That is so important to have a family that helps you stay balanced. I’m struggling with doing it all as well, and last year was pretty brutal. I don’t know how you podcast on top of everything. I feel like I’m drowning with much less on my plate.
How have you seen God working through your writing journey?
LT: He has really used this process to grow my patience. I’ve had to trust his timing to be perfect for my first contract. I’d been writing for almost ten years when that first came along. I’ve had to place myself in his hands with each subsequent contract and not allow my fear of never getting a contract again to take over if I don’t have a deadline. I’ve also learned so much from my characters’ story arcs. As they learn things about the Lord and about the Christian life, there are lessons in there for me as well.
CC: Amen and amen. What a blessing it is to see how you lean into Him for the whole writing life.
Do you have any advice for those who want to write their own stories?
LT: This sounds so simple, but my advice is to write. You can’t be a writer if you don’t have words down on paper. If I had a nickel for everyone over the years who has told me they want to be a writer but never wrote a word, I’d be able to write from my private Caribbean island! Even if it’s only a couple of hundred words a day, it’s amazing how fast they add up and become a book. Once you have them down, then you have something to work with and to improve on.
Now I’m really excited to talk about your newest release, What I Would Tell You.
1941—The pounding of Nazi boots on the streets of Salonika, Greece, reverberates in Mathilda Nissim’s ears, shaking her large community of Sephardic Jews to its core and altering her life forever. If only her people would rise up and resist their captors. At great risk to herself and those around her, she uses the small newspaper she publishes to call them to action, all to no avail. Her husband encourages her to trust God to watch over them, but God has once again deserted His people. Amid the chaos, Mathilda discovers she’s expecting a longed-for child. Still, nothing stops the occupiers’ noose from tightening around their necks, and she may have to resort to desperate measures to ensure her daughter’s survival.
2019—College student Tessa Payton and her cousin take a popular DNA heritage test only to discover they don’t share any common ancestors. In fact, the test reveals Tessa is a Greek Sephardic Jew. This revelation threatens her tenuous faith. Always the overlooked child in her family, she empties her savings account and jets off on a journey to Greece to discover where she belongs and which God demands her allegiance. The enchanting curator at the Jewish museum guides her as she navigates life in Thessaloniki, helps with her genealogical research, and loans her a fascinating journal written by a Jewish woman during WWII. Tessa’s search, however, may open old wounds and uncover long-hidden secrets that could fracture her family forever and leave her with more questions than when she started. Based in part on true accounts of Jews in Salonika, Greece, What I Would Tell You traces two women’s journeys, delving into what faith looks like and where it leads us as they navigate difficult circumstances and impossible choices that have ripple effects across the years.
Split time fiction: WWII and 2019
Approximate book length: 91,000 words
Includes author’s notes
CC: Where did you get the idea for What I Would Tell You?
LT: So much of what we saw and did on the trip made it into the book. I mention many of them in the author’s notes at the end. It was very sobering to visit the Jewish sites in Thessaloniki knowing that less than 2000 of the city’s 50,000 Jews survived the Holocaust. The Jewish museum brought me to tears, as did the train station where they were transported to Auschwitz. I did end up falling in love with Greek food, and a good bit of that made it into the contemporary storyline. If you look at my pictures from that trip, there are more of the food than there are of my daughter. Of course, my favorite part had to be when we did some research in a nearby beach town. It was tough, be we did it so the story could be the best possible story LOL!