Tell us a bit about you and your background
I’ve loved libraries since I was a little girl and we visited the North Branch of the Green Bay library. My favorite books included the Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka stories. I earned a Master of Library Science degree and worked for a few years in libraries before joining the family business full time. We publish Classic Boating magazine.
What’s the logline that describes your writing?
History that entertains and enlightens. And that’s what I hope my stories do.
Do you start a new story with the plot or characters first?
A little of both. For my first story, I had the characters. For the next two stories in the series, the plots were obvious, but not until I had the characters did the plots get fully developed.
If you use music while writing, name your favorite types.
Since I write World War II stories, I listen to World War II music. My favorite songs include “Comin’ In On a Wing and a Prayer” and “The White Cliffs of Dover.” I also listen the soundtracks like “Pearl Harbor” and instrumentals by Jonn Serrie.
Have you traveled to any locations that appear in your books?
Yes, but before I knew I would be writing about those locations. I’ve spent a little time in Germany and Sweden. Now I wish I’d taken more pictures, or could go back.
Do you write in a genre other than the one of this release?
After writing Friends and Enemies, which released in January, I started writing a contemporary, but an editor at an ACFW conference suggested I would need a series to be offered a contract. The story was set aside and I’ve been doing historical ever since.
Do you use visual aids (storyboards, Pinterest, collages) when plotting or writing?
I didn’t get into Pinterest until after I’d written this series. Now I have Pinterest boards for each book. As I get ideas for my work in progress or future projects, I’ve been collecting pins in private boards. I tend to spend way too much time looking at pretty pictures!
What resources do you use for picking character names?
From my first book, I needed lots of German names, so I used my family tree. For my next books, I used names I liked and could live with during the year-long writing process. I have changed names or spellings. For No Neutral Ground, I noticed in cemeteries that “Jenny” was often spelled “Jennie” on older tombstones, so I made that change.
After his father divorces his mother because of her Jewish ancestry, Rafe and the rest of his family flee Germany. As a B-17 navigator, he returns to Europe. Flying missions against his former homeland arouses emotions that surprise Rafe. Despite being rejected, he is troubled by the destruction of Germany and his heart still cries for his father’s love.
Sweden may be neutral, but it’s full of intrigue. Jennie assists the OSS at the American legation in Sweden. She thought she’d be doing passive, behind-the-scenes work. Instead, she’s pushed into an active role to gain intelligence and frustrate the Germans.
How can Rafe and Jennie succeed in their dangerous roles when they are so conflicted?
The wind sliced right through Jennie Lindquist’s coat. So warm in Illinois, it now felt as thin as a pillowcase. Late winter was the wrong time of year to cross the North Atlantic. The temperature hovered around ten degrees, but with the wind and the ship’s speed, it seemed far below zero.
Her gloved fingers had grown stiff from the cold. She had to keep sketching, though, or she would lose her model.
The soldier continued to stare at the spot where the Statue of Liberty had long since faded from view in their wake. The quivering of his chin was his only movement.
Jennie perched on a stowage bin. After adding several pencil strokes to shade the edge of his arm, she held up her drawing and studied it through narrowed eyes. Had she captured his forlornness?
It would have to do. She shoved her sketch pad and pencil into her tote bag. Plenty of time remained aboard the ocean liner-turned-troopship to accomplish her goal of sketching a series capturing life aboard ship.
Overhead, the last escorting U.S. Navy patrol plane dipped its wings and turned back to New York. The Queen Mary was on her own to cross the North Atlantic and elude any skulking German submarines eager to hurtle a torpedo into her. Jennie scanned the horizon. Nothing but endless waves.
Ice crystals sprinkled down, luring her gaze upward. Lifeboats hung suspended overhead. A flexing chain caused more ice to break loose. Dismal gray camouflage paint hid the Cunard Line’s signature colors of red, white, and black. Behind her, one of the ship’s funnels belched smoke as the ocean liner charged full speed ahead at thirty knots. At least the frigid wind prevented soot from drifting down on the military personnel crowding the deck.
An officer standing ten feet away didn’t seem to mind the arctic blast as he raised his face to it. Jennie avoided contact with the military men. Her father had warned her to be wary of their intentions.
This one, however, tempted her. His profile presented classic lines an artist would love to paint. Portraits weren’t her specialty, but, my, oh my, his handsome features practically begged her to try her hand at capturing his likeness. Below the edge of his cap gleamed close-cropped blond hair; his eyes, when he turned his head, shone a startling blue. His heavy coat failed to hide broad shoulders tapering to a slim waist. To her eye, he presented the epitome of male perfection. Did the inner man match the gorgeous outer appearance?
Stray snowflakes swirled about him, and he brushed them away. She set aside Dad’s advice and invaded the solitude surrounding him. “You must be a northerner to be enjoying this glacial wind.”
He straightened to his full height, at least six feet tall, and settled his gaze on her. A quick grin lit his face, and her numb fingers itched to start sketching. “With a choice between enjoying the invigorating sea air or the warm, uh, unventilated air inside the ship, the cold air won.”
“Unventilated air?” Jennie laughed. “How polite.”
His smile came easily, as though he was used to wearing it.
“Someone on the last voyage must have been quite seasick in the room I’m assigned to. The smell was bad enough to drive me into this gale.” Looking back out to sea, he hunched his shoulders and tilted his head to the right, then the left. Weak sunlight glinted off white-caps as the morning overcast broke up, but the restless waves continued to batter themselves against the ship’s hull. He maintained his grip on the railing. “The way the ocean’s churning, we may have a lot more gastronomic upheavals. And to think, I used to enjoy being in a sailing club.”
“Did you sail on the ocean?”
“Sail, no, although I’ve been on a previous ocean voyage. Rivers or the North Sea was where I mostly sailed, but” ― he glanced back at the milling crowd of servicemen ― “we weren’t packed in tight like this.”
The North Sea? Wasn’t that in Europe? Jennie grabbed the railing as the Queen Mary veered to port. Every eight minutes, the ship zigzagged to avoid a potential submarine’s crosshairs. She’d timed the turns.
His voice held an unfamiliar accent. It wasn’t English. He’d been on an ocean voyage, singular, and he’d sailed on the North Sea. He must be from Europe, maybe from a country overrun by Hitler’s army. He should have some stories to tell.
The cold and the pressing crowd of soldiers faded into the background. “Where are you from?”
She leaned forward for his reply.
“Milwaukee?” She stepped back. So much for hearing about foreign lands. “Really? I’m from Chicago.”
His gaze roved over her. “You’re not in uniform. What’s a civilian doing on a troopship?”
Jennie straightened to her five-foot, six-inch height. “I’m joining my parents in Sweden. My dad’s a military air attaché based at the American legation, where he works with interned American airmen. He came home on leave for the holidays and took my mom back with him in January. Now I’m going, too, to help out.”
“My grandparents came from Sweden. Do you speak the language?”
“Enough to ask for help if I get lost.” She laughed at his widened eyes. “Yes, I speak Swedish. Maybe not as fluently as a native, but I have Swedish grandparents, too. My mom’s been pen pals all her life with a cousin whom we hope to meet.” She tugged her hat down more securely and retied her scarf before the wind pulled it free. “Do you have relatives there?”
“Opa’s brother, my grandfather’s brother, lives on the west coast of Sweden.”
“The west coast. Highly unlikely I’ll be able to pay him a call and tell him I met you.” As a group of rowdy soldiers brushed past them and eyed her, Jennie stepped closer to her new acquaintance and pulled her coat’s collar tighter.
She turned back to face his puzzled perusal.
“There are twelve thousand troops onboard.” He looked around the deck. “Are civilian quarters still available?”
“Well, I heard about the accommodations used by Prime Minister Churchill when he sails, but somebody already claimed those.” She could get used to his grin. “Did you know there’s a hospital unit onboard? I’m billeted with the nurses.”
A soldier stumbled hard into the officer, who muttered something under his breath that didn’t sound like English.
She stared at him. “You said something in neither English nor Swedish.”
He looked at her for a long moment, and his relaxed posture stiffened. “I am Rafe Martell, second lieutenant and navigator in the United States Army Air Force. In a more peaceful time, I had another name and lived in Germany. But then Germany decided I wasn’t good enough to be a German, and America offered me a new home.”
A hint of challenge gleamed in his eyes.
Why would Germany not want him?
“I’m Jennie Lindquist.”
“Jennie Lindquist? Good Swedish name. Do you sing?”
“Sing. Have you not heard of Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale? My great-grandparents heard her sing and my grandfather says they insisted they heard an angel.”
The ship lurched to starboard, causing Rafe to stagger against the rail and inhale sharply.
Jennie grinned. So he wanted to know if she could sing? Now was the time to demonstrate her ability. “Rock a bye airman, on the ship’s deck. When the ship rolls, the airman gets sick.”
A startled laugh burst from Rafe. Tears welled in his eyes ― from the wind? ― and he used both hands to whisk them away. The childlike gesture was endearing.
“May I ask why Germany didn’t want you?”
He stared out to sea as though he wouldn’t answer. Why should he? His experiences were none of her business. Then his gaze probed her soul, and she resisted the urge to squirm.
“I’m half Jewish.”
His clipped answer was totally unexpected. Jennie had read newspaper reports about the Night of Broken Glass a few years ago, when the German people destroyed Jewish property. The pictures in the newsreels had been stunning. Hard to imagine such crime could be committed by civilized people in this modern era. Editorials speculated the destruction was inflicted by members of the Nazi Party and most Germans hadn’t approved. However it happened, Jewish lives and livelihoods had been ruined. That’s what he’d faced? She hugged herself to stop a shiver.
His look dared her to say something. What could she say? He didn’t resemble the people shown in the pictures.
“You don’t look Jewish.” She cringed at her rude reply, but a smile stretched across Rafe’s face.
“I agree. I should have been pictured on Aryan propaganda posters instead of being forced to run for my life.” He bounced his fist on the rail. “I had no idea my mother was Jewish until I was expelled from the Hitler Youth. That’s a Nazi version of the Boy Scouts. To suddenly be lumped with a social group I had no relationship to or understanding of…” He paused for a moment as he searched the horizon. He shook his head. “It was a shock.”
“How did you get away?” She might be probing an unhealed wound, but she might never have the chance to talk to someone from Germany again.
“My grandfather is a partner in a Dutch flower bulb business. I arrived in Amsterdam within two weeks of my disgrace, supposedly as an apprentice. The next week my grandparents, mother, sister, and brother arrived. The following summer, in 1937, we boarded the Statendam and never looked back.” His grin returned. “And as of last summer, I am a citizen of a country where the nationalities are mixed up and melted together.”
“What about your father?”
“He divorced us to keep his job.”
Jennie opened her mouth to ask him to repeat that, but Rafe’s flat tone hadn’t invited questions. Bitterness, anger, and hurt glittered in his eyes. His jaw shifted as though he battled his emotions.
She looked out to sea to give him time to himself, and they stood in silence.
What was it like to have a father who would turn his back on his family? And what was life like for Jews in Europe? They were so far away. Jews in America had it better, didn’t they? Did she know any? There may have been some among her colleagues at the art museum where she’d worked. How could she be so ignorant? She massaged her brow as her head began to ache.
Terri Wangard grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, during the Lombardi Glory Years. Her first Girl Scout badge was the Writer. These days she is writing historical fiction, and won the 2013 Writers on the Storm contest and 2013 First Impressions, as well as being a 2012 Genesis finalist. Holder of a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in library science, she lives in Wisconsin. Her research included going for a ride in a WWII B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. Classic Boating Magazine, a family business since 1984, keeps her busy as an associate editor.