So many blogs for women over 50 post about fashion accessories, new hair products, anti-aging products, and diets. While I’m not against any of those topics, I am so happy to post one of my favorite things on oops50.com – new books, especially books by new authors. Today, I not only want to introduce you to a new book I’ve just read, The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman,
but share an interview I had with the author last week.
The story takes place in a small German town in WWII where a “young, working-class Christian German woman struggles to survive poverty, Allied bombs, and the wrath of the Gestapo while trying to save the love of her life, a Jewish man.” That story line alone was enough for me to buy the book. In fact, I devour anything that hints of the Holocaust which means I’m becoming more and more like my father who consumed mass quantities of books (fiction and non-fiction) that had anything to do with WWII and Hitler. So many in our family perished in concentration camps, and those that survived were full of stories, and their stories definitely left a lasting impression on me as a child.
Very quickly into the book, I was aware that this story was different, and for the first time, I was reading about the War, and not measuring who suffered more, Christians or Jews? Moved by the power of the story, I searched for the author on FaceBook, friended her, and asked for an interview. Graciously, Ellen accepted, and this is how it went:
Oops50: Why did you decide to write this story and is any of it biographical?
Ellen: I grew up visiting Germany because my mother’s family is there. I grew up listening to stories of my mother’s childhood and my grandparent’s struggle to survive the war. My grandfather was captured by the Russians, and even though he eventually escaped, my grandmother didn’t know for two years whether he was dead or alive, until he showed up on their doorstep one day. And, like Christine’s grandfather in the book who was killed during an air raid, that happened to my great grandfather. On one trip to Germany, I visited the bomb shelter where my family hid. Also, like Christine’s mother, my grandmother put food out for the passing Jewish prisoners and listened to foreign radio broadcasts, both crimes punishable by death.
Oops50: At the center of your book is a love story between Christine, an average Christian girl who falls in love with Isaac, a young Jewish man from a wealthy family. Is any of that part of your mother’s story?
Ellen: No. While my mother and grandmother experienced lots of things, this was not their story. I added a love story because I wanted to tell the Jewish story, too. The story had been brewing in me for a long time. In school, where I grew up in Three Mile Bay, NY, everyone knew I was German. Kids even called me a Nazi. At a certain point, I knew I wanted to tell the story of poor German families like my mother’s because I knew they suffered, but didn’t’ know how much. There is a lot of collective guilt, and the Germans feel they can’t talk about how they suffered. They feel they aren’t allowed to speak about what happened to them. So, I wanted to be that voice and tell that story.
Oops50: How did your mother feel about you writing a book so close to her experiences?
Ellen: My mother is amazing. She’s always had a lot going on in her personal life. My sister was in a car accident and remained in a vegetative state for 23 years just like Terry Schiavo, if you remember that case. My mother took care of my sister at home all those years until she passed away in 2010. She sees darkness and lightness in life, and she is more grateful for the life she has now. So, over the years, I had heard pieces about her life, and when I got serious about writing the book, I gave my mother a questionnaire. One memory would trigger another, then another, and it wasn’t until she’d read the whole book that she said, “holy cow – I survived that.” At the time, she just didn’t think about her suffering. Again, it goes back to the collective guilt. I think Germany is still sorting all that out.
Oops50: Your mother does sound amazing. Was it depressing at times to do that kind of research? Did it affect your psyche?
Ellen: Not really. If anything, it made me even more grateful for the many blessing I have in my life.
Oops50: Has there been any backlash from Jews for telling a story from the German experience?
Ellen: Not at all. All the feedback has been positive. It’s been very encouraging.
Oops50: I’d like to talk a little about the process of writing the book. How long did it take and did you do a lot of research?
Ellen: As I said, the idea had been brewing for a long time. I actually started writing the book in 2006, after my daughter graduated from High School. It took me about four years to write.
Oops50: With the publishing industry in such turmoil, what was your publishing experience like? Was it hard to find an agent? Did you think about self-publishing?
Ellen: I thought about self-publishing but I really wanted to try the traditional route first. I got 72 rejections from agents, but I just believed in my story and didn’t want to give up. Then, after I sent out one more letter, I got picked up, and it didn’t take long for my agent to sell it. And now, I’m working on my second book with the same publisher.
Oops50: So is your next book historical fiction, too?
Ellen: No. My second book is more contemporary. I like historical fiction, and I was passionate about my story, but my publisher didn’t want me to be pigeonholed with another WWII book.
Oops50: Has the book been sold in Germany?
Ellen: No. We’ve sold foreign rights in Italy, Spain and Sweden, but not yet in Germany.
Oops50: So now that you’ve published the book, are you enjoying the aftermath, any book tours?
Ellen: Yes. The publishers do a lot of behind the scenes promotions such as the blog tour on-line, sending out the book to lots of different places for review, but unless you’re a well known author, they don’t do more than that, and they don’t pay for book tours.
Oops50: Interesting. And what about readings in your local book store?
Ellen: I live in a town with no book store. I have to drive an hour to get to one. But, I did have a signing at Sam’s and several of the local libraries.
Oops50: Sam’s Club? That’s amazing. I love that Sam’s has book signings in your town. Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Ellen: Yes, please spread the word about “The Plum Tree”, and if you don’t mind writing reviews on Amazon, that would be wonderful!
Oops50: Ellen, thank you so much for spending time with me and agreeing to an interview. And, I’m looking forward to your next book.
Ellen:Thank you so much for having me!