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:
Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Pinterest | BookBub | GoodReads
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.
Determined to resist the invading Nazis, a Greek Jewish woman’s greatest dream has become her worst nightmare, and now she faces an impossible choice whose consequences echo across the generations.
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
Purchase your copy at Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Christianbook
CC: Where did you get the idea for What I Would Tell You?
LT: I can’t prove this because I can no longer find the source anywhere, but I read an article about a Greek Jewish woman faced with an impossible choice during WWII. I know I didn’t make it up because I knew nothing about WWII in Greece before I read that article. I didn’t keep the source anywhere, but the kernel of an idea that became this book never left me. It’s been so wonderful to finally get a chance to write it and to see it out in the world.
CC: I hate when I lose my sources, but what a neat thing. I love how the real-world inspires fiction.
What about this story drew you to it? Does this story have any special meaning to you?
LT: The compelling nature of the story drew me to it. I just couldn’t imagine what I would do if I ever found myself in my heroine’s position. I can’t say too much more without spoilers, and I wouldn’t want to do that! The story really took on flesh when I was able to travel to Greece to research it. It was 2021, Covid was still raging, and my daughter was waiting to hear about a missions trip she hoped to take to Greece that summer. Just about the time Greece reopened to US citizens and she knew she’d be going, I got the contract for What I Would Tell You. I knew I needed to go. Alyssa and I had a fabulous two weeks together researching the book. She traipsed all over the city of Thessaloniki without complaining, took notes for me, and was a fabulous navigator. It helped that she’d been in the country for almost three months at that point, so she was familiar with the culture.
CC: Wow! I love how God aligns things so beautifully! And what a special time with your daughter that was. I can’t imagine all the special memories you two have stored up.
What was some of your favorite research you discovered while preparing 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!
CC: LOL more pictures of food than your daughter! I can relate. I love eating foods unique to the culture I’m visiting. I love how so much of your research made it into your story.
What do you hope readers will take away from your story?
LT: This is a story about where we belong and who we belong to. I hope that readers will take away that our identity and belonging ultimately lie in Christ. Even if the entire world should forsake us, He never will. He will be with us to the end of the age. If they come away from the story with nothing other that, I hope that will be what stays with them long after they finish the last page.
That is such an important and powerful message. As my final question, I have my usual “Fun Question”.
What animal is most like you?
LT: I’ve always said that if I believed in reincarnation, I would want to come back as the cat of an old woman who has no grandchildren. I know that’s super specific, but that way I could just curl up and sleep without anyone interrupting or bothering me.
CC: LOL, that would definitely be the life. As a previous author once said, I tend to live as a sleep-deprived pigeon, so a life of napping sounds amazing.
Readers, I hope you’ll check out What I Would Tell You, and come back next Friday to learn more about what stories Liz has written, what she has to say about my upcoming release Counterfeit Hope, and for a chance to win an e-book of Slashed Canvas from Liz Tolsma.
Reader, what do you know about Greece’s experience during the World Wars?
It is my great pleasure and honor to introduce to you Amanda Wen, one of the 2021 Christian fiction debut authors.
Amanda Wen is an award-winning writer of inspirational romance and split-time women’s fiction. She has placed first in multiple contests, including the 2017 Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest, the 2017 Phoenix Rattler Contest, and the 2016 ACFW First Impressions Contest. She was also a 2018 ACFW Genesis Contest finalist. A lifelong denizen of the flatlands, Amanda currently lives in Kansas with her husband, their three Wenlets, and one snuggly Siamese cat.
You can connect with her at www.amandawen.com, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Now for the fun stuff! I have to admit I am partial to my Fast Five. 🙂 So settle in as I hit Amanda with rapid-fire.
CC: Milk or Dark Chocolate?
AW: While I love any chocolate, I do have a slight preference for The Dark Side.
CC: Who can resist the dark side. Soooo delicious.
CC: Print or E-book?
AW: Print. There’s just something about holding a book and turning real pages that makes for a much more immersive reading experience.
CC: Cat or Dog Person?
AW: 100% cat. I have a Siamese named Jasmine who is the sweetest kitty ever (she’s snuggling with me right now, in fact, which makes typing a little awkward, but totally worth it).
CC: That sounds sweet. All I ever had was a barn cat, and he was not a snuggler.
CC: Morning Person or Night Owl?
AW: Morning, as long as I’ve had my coffee.
CC: Caffeine is a must in the morning, for sure!
CC: Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter?
AW: Fall is my absolute favorite.
CC: It really is a beautiful time of the year.
Thanks for sharing those fun things. Let’s dive right into talking about your debut novel, Roots of Wood and Stone!
Abandoned at birth, her family roots a mystery, historical museum curator Sloane Kelley has dedicated her life to making sure others know theirs. When a donor drops off a dusty old satchel, she doesn’t expect much from the common artifact . . .until she finds real treasure inside: a nineteenth-century diary. Now she’s on the hunt to find out more.
Garrett Anderson just wanted to clean out his grandmother’s historic but tumbledown farmhouse before selling it to fund her medical care. With her advancing Alzheimer’s, he can’t afford to be sentimental about the family home. But his carefully ordered plan runs up against two formidable obstacles: Sloane, who’s fallen in love with both the diaries and the house, and his own heart, which is irresistibly drawn to Sloane.
A century and a half earlier, motherless Annabelle Collins embarks with her aunt and uncle on the adventure of a lifetime: settling the prairies of Sedgwick County, Kansas. The diaries she left behind paint a portrait of life, loss, and love–and a God who faithfully carries her through it all. Paging through the diaries together takes Sloane and Garrett on a journey they never could have planned, which will change them in ways they never imagined.
This warm, beautifully written split-time novel will resonate with readers looking for stories that reveal the beauty of God’s plan for our lives, and how our actions ripple for generations.
CC: Who was the most challenging character to create? What made them so difficult?
AW: I’d say Sloane, my contemporary heroine, was probably the most difficult nut to crack. As a pantser, the only way I get to know my characters is to just start writing them, but Sloane doesn’t trust easily and wasn’t about to open up to me right away. I honestly felt like I was spinning my wheels with her trying to get her to talk until I found two of her passions: local history and jazz. (Conveniently, that latter bit helped her open up to Garrett, my contemporary hero, as well. 😉 )
CC: Oh, that is so sweet! I think I will get along with Sloane just perfectly. History and jazz are two of my favorite things.
Which character was the most fun to create? What makes them fun?
AW: In total contrast to Sloane, my past hero, Jack, showed up fully formed and ready to take over any scene he was in. A native of Ireland (and thus possessor of a fabulous accent), he came to the United States as a child and, along with many other Civil War veterans, became an early settler of Sedgwick County, Kansas. Jack has suffered some deep wounds just prior to the start of the story, but he is a man of big dreams, fierce determination, and passionate devotion to those he loves (along with a touch of impulsiveness, which you’ll see in his very first scene). He was an absolute joy to write.
CC: He sounds like a joy! I can’t wait to get to know him!
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
AW: This book is inspired by aspects of my own family history. My mom is a genealogist and has been tracing our family—and sharing their stories—my whole life. As an homage to her and all the rest of my ancestors, many of the people and places in the book are named for my ancestors. There are also several shout-outs to Wichita, Kansas, my home for most of my life, which people who’ve been around these parts might recognize.
CC: That is so cool, and what a personal touch!
Speaking of personal…let’s get to know YOU a little better. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
AW: I’ve written stories for fun off and on ever since I was a kid, but the writing bug hit me big-time in January 2008, when I wrote stories and actually let other people read them. Then came the Wenlets—all three within four years—so that gobbled up my time until 2014, when story ideas came out of nowhere and refused to let go. Around that time I started letting a lifelong friend, herself a multi-published author in the general market, read my work. She took me under her wing and gently corrected all my newbie writing errors, but told me I had publishable talent and ideas. I decided that if God had given me that gift, I should probably pursue it through whatever avenue he chose.
CC: Amen! I am so glad you chose to follow this path with your gifting so that we may all enjoy.
What has been the biggest challenge for you on your writing journey?
AW: Trusting God’s timing, which is I think a common one for us writers. So many of us finish our first novel and then we think we’ve Arrived somehow, and we want to run out and get it published. I was absolutely no exception. And though my first novel won a few contests and landed me my wonderful agent, it did not sell to publishers. I was pretty disappointed, as anyone would be, but while that book was on submission, I’d started to write another book in a slightly different genre—one I truly loved writing and felt at home in. My agent wasn’t as excited about it as she had been my first book, but she believed in my writing and said she’d pitch anything I wrote. That second book didn’t do as well in contests and was on submission for over a year…but the folks at Kregel fell in love with it, and that book is the one that became Roots of Wood and Stone.
One postscript illustrating God’s perfect timing: Roots of Wood and Stone was inspired by my mom’s research into our family history, and I dreamed of the day when I’d get to tell her that the book was under contract. The day that dream came true and I finally got to call her with the news, I got to call Ireland, where she and my dad were celebrating their 50th anniversary. At the time of the call, they were eating lunch in a little café in the hometown of the ancestor whose life inspired the book. It doesn’t get much more perfect than that.
CC: Wow! God’s perfect timing is so astounding. What a blessing to be able to have that publishing announcement story to share. I’m sure your parents were thrilled to get the call.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
AW: Plotting. I envy those who can plot out an entire novel and then just sit down and have the whole thing written in a matter of a few weeks. I cannot do that. I’ve tried. My process, which involves pantsing and revising as I go, is annoyingly slow, but it’s what works for me, so I’ve tried to make peace with it.
CC: I understand that whole-heartedly! So frustrating, but totally worth the journey.
Before we slip off to our last fun question, I have one more serious one for you. How can we pray for you?
AW: I would love prayer for the launch of Roots of Wood and Stone. It’s a dream come true, and while I’d love to say I’m excited and joyful and soaking up every minute, I’m actually very anxious about it. I have no idea how to ensure a book’s success once the writing is done, and I’m a little confused as to why God would choose to have me release this book in the midst of a global pandemic when many things are shut down, in-person launch events can’t happen, and the economy is less than amazing. Every aspect of writing this book, though, has been an exercise in trust, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that releasing it is any different. But if you could pray that a) those who God wants to read this book will read it and be brought closer to Him, and b) that I’d be able to relax and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience without worrying that I’m somehow doing it wrong, that’d be amazing.
CC: You are being covered in prayer, Amanda. We are so blessed to have this sneak peek into your world.
Thank you so much for joining me today and providing all of us with a wonderful distraction. The final question is always a fun favorite of mine:
What are the top three things on your bucket list?
- Travel to all 50 US states (I’m sitting at 39 right now) and Europe (specifically the British Isles since that’s where my family’s from and Germany/Austria to visit the birthplaces of my favorite composers)
- Attend a New England Patriots home game (I’ve seen them play on the road a few times, but never in Foxboro).
- Perform Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony and Handel’s Messiah with orchestras. (I’ve played snippets of Messiah, but never the whole thing, and Beethoven’s Seventh is the only symphony on my list of favorites that I’ve never performed).
CC: Can I just be in the audience for either of those concerts? I’ve been blessed to hear Handel’s Messiah once, but I’d love love love to hear it again, especially with someone I know playing on stage!
Join me in celebrating Amanda’s debut releasing February 2nd from Kregel publishing, by wishing her congratulations below and sharing one thing on YOUR bucket list!
You can purchase Amanda’s book at any of the following retailers or your favorite bookseller.
Amazon Barnes and Noble Christianbook.com