Tuesday, July 08, 2014

An interview with author Cathy Gohlke (day 1)

This week we’re happy to welcome Cathy Gohlke as our spotlight author! Cathy is the two-time Christy Award–winning author of the critically acclaimed novels Saving Amelie, Band of Sisters, Promise Me This (listed by Library Journal as one of the best books of 2012), William Henry Is a Fine Name, and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires, which also won the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Book of the Year Award and was listed by Library Journal as one of the best books of 2008.

As our guest this week, Cathy will be giving away one copy of her latest release, Saving Amelie, to one of our visitors. Just answer this question in the comments section to be entered in the drawing:

What is the name of the controversial German pastor, the author of The Cost of Discipleship, who gave me new insights for Saving Amelie?

Welcome, Cathy, and congratulations on your latest novel’s release, Saving Amelie! We’d love to hear about the story and your main characters.
Summer, 1939
Rachel Kramer is visiting Germany when a cryptic letter from her estranged friend, begging Rachel for help, upends her world.  Married to SS officer Gerhardt Schlick, Kristine sees the dark tides turning and fears her husband views their daughter—deaf since birth—as a blight on his Aryan bloodline.

Once courted by Schlick, Rachel knows he’s as dangerous as the swastikas that now hang like ebony spiders across Berlin.  She fears her father, an eminent eugenics scientist, may know about Hitler’s plans for others, like Amelie, whom the regime deems unworthy of life.  But when she risks searching his classified documents, she also uncovers shocking secrets about her own history and a family she’s never known.

Hunted by the SS, Rachel turns to Jason Young, a driven American journalist whose connections to the resistance help Rachel and Amelie escape the city.  Forced to hide in the Bavarian village of the Passion Play, Rachel’s every ideal is challenged as she and Jason walk a knife’s edge, risking their lives—and asking others to do the same—for those they barely know but come to love.

What an intriguing storyline! Where was the idea for Saving Amelie born?
After attending the world’s longest running Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany (380 years), I wondered how the Alpine village had responded to Hitler and the Nazis, which represented anything but the sacrificial love of Christ. 

When I learned that the scheme to create a master race by eliminating bloodlines deemed “unworthy” was not confined to the Nazis, I wondered how we can prevent stepping onto such slippery moral slopes today. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a WWII controversial German pastor and author of The Cost of Discipleship, gave me that answer, and a story was born.

You’ve written historical novels about time periods ranging from the pre-Civil War to the early 1900s. What draws you to a certain time period? Have you enjoyed writing about one era more than others?
Sometimes characters—both real and imagined—draw me to a time period.  Most often I’m drawn to a cause.  Slavery and breaking the chains that bind, inward and outward, are common themes in my writing.

So, slavery and the Underground Railroad and Civil War were natural fits for my first two books.  The chains of class and abuse made Titanic and WWI an ideal setting for Promise Me This.  Band of Sisters connected with human trafficking among the immigrants of Ellis Island and the vulnerable of New York City, 1910-1911.  It was a natural progression in my thinking to reach WWII and the Holocaust, then to bring readers full circle with questions about today and the parallels that concern us all.

I love most the time period I’m writing about.  But, I certainly felt at home when writing about the pre-Civil War and the years just before WWI.  Perhaps those seemed most natural to me because they embraced the lives of my grandparents and great-grandparents.  I grew up fascinated by their stories and trying to understand and picture their daily lives.

Several of your books feature characters who have connections in both Europe and America. What kinds of challenges come with that? And how do you think it might strengthen the stories?
Characters in Europe or America require lots of research to gain an understanding of their time and place in history.  If possible, I love to travel to their settings and visit historical sites pertinent to their stories, read books, poetry, newspapers and letters written during their time period, understand their language, environment—indoors and out, politics, culture, religious practices, listen to the music they heard or played, eat or prepare the food they grew and cooked, see and touch the clothes they wore—really understand their world as best I can.  Those might be challenges, but they’re ones I love—all those questions intrigue me.

Research and an understanding of human nature bring characters to life—no matter where they’re from.  Readers can tell if a writer has not done her/his research.  As writers we can tell if we have not done adequate research.  How else could we add depth and dimension to our characters or story?

You tell a wonderful story on your website about when you first believed you wanted to be a writer. Will you share that with our readers?

I remember a mild spring morning in 1961—I was five years old. My younger brother, Danny, and I sat on the living room sofa, our grandmother sandwiched between. Our imaginations climbed the twisted trails forged by Lewis Carroll, as Grandma read aloud, Through the Looking Glass. That book was magic for me, and I was certain that those black, block letters forming the story had appeared between the book’s covers by the same method.

But, that day Grandma revealed a secret, a profound truth that would change my life.  She said, “Cathy, book’s don’t appear by magic. Real people write books.”

Skeptical that such a thing could be achieved by mere mortals, I tested the waters. “Well, then, can I write books?”

Grandma didn’t see why not. “But first you have to learn to read and write.”

Although I dreamed of becoming a teacher, an actress, a detective, a spy, a disc jockey, the next Annie Sullivan, an archeologist, the ice cream truck driver—and many other things—I knew from that moment in childhood that I would one day write books.

You’ve had a varied career path – school librarian, drama director, director of children’s and education ministries. How do you think each of these positions helps you as a writer and storyteller?
Visitors, come back tomorrow for Cathy’s answer to this and other questions – including her biggest hope for her readers.

And, don’t forget to answer Cathy’s question for your chance to win a copy of Saving Amelie:

What is the name of the controversial German pastor, the author of The Cost of Discipleship, who gave me new insights for Saving Amelie?

Be sure to include your name and email address with your comment (spelling out ‘at’ and ‘dot’ to help cut down on spam). The drawing will be held Friday morning, July 11. 

~ Leigh


petite said...

Dietrich Bonhoeffer.I would love to read this unforgettable novel which resonates with me since I am Jewish. Books written about WW11 and the Nazis are compelling.best wishes.

Bonnie Roof said...

Loved the interview, Cathy and Cindy!!

What interesting story lines for Cathy's books!! "Saving Amelie" sounds like such an exciting book and is bound to be full of emotion also!! I would love to read it!!

I love the setting also - I have a special love for passion plays as I was a cast member in an ongoing passion play in Gatlinburg, Tn. - God used that play to speak to me and bring me back to Him!! Since then, I've had a great desire to see the passion play in Germany.

The answer to the question is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy of "Saving Amelie"!!


Post shared on FB!!

Cindy Thomson said...

Thanks, Bonnie, but Leigh conducted this interview. We have a great team here on PASTimes! Cathy, I'm almost finished reading Saving Amelie. The research you've done really put me into the setting. It's a compelling read. I'm wondering about the deaf girl in the story. Do you have personal experience in the deaf community or how did you do that research? It's an interesting element since Hitler wanted a "pure" race.

Cathy Gohlke said...

Petite--I hope you'll enjoy "Saving Amelie." Since you're especially interested in this time period, you might also enjoy the book I'm working on now (to release 2015). It's a time split novel involving elements from WWII and the Nazis--from a young woman's perspective during the time of the war, and from her daughter's perspective during the 1970s as she tries to unravel the secrets of her mother's past.

Cathy Gohlke said...

Bonnie--Your experience performing with a Passion play will make this an especially interesting read. How wonderful that the Lord used that unique experience to bring you close to Him.

You would love Oberammergau and the Passion Play there. I hope you get to visit one day. The next performance is in 2020--so plenty of time to plan! : )

Cathy Gohlke said...

Cindy--You absolutely have a great team on PASTimes!

I'm so glad you're enjoying reading Saving Amelie and that you feel drawn into the setting.

You asked about my experience in the deaf community. During my twenties I took a few semesters of sign language, and while working in a post-secondardy programming school, befriended an adult deaf student and her husband. With them I attended signed church services and events, and we "talked" regularly.

The interesting thing is that sign language is different in different countries, but there are still many very practical signs that enable people from around the world to communicate a few basic ideas. For the most part, this is what Jason and Amelie did. The very fact that he made the effort to communicate with her in a way she understood lit her from within. That's what I've found with deaf children and adults, and hope that was communicated in the book.

Sorry to say I remember very little sign now. It's the same as with any language--if we don't use it we lose it.

I also did research about the Nazi and eugenics movements. Deafness was one of the traits they sought to "eliminate." Sadly, that meant eliminating people.

Patty said...

Thanks for the interview ladies! I believe the answer to the question is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I'm not to familiar with him, but my pastor often mentions him.


Bev said...


Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Lolli said...

Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
I've just discovered historical fiction and am interested in reading Saving Amelie.
Thank you for the giveaway!

Britney Adams said...

I enjoyed this fascinating interview and look forward to learning more tomorrow! Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the name of the German pastor.

texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

susanlulu said...

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the answer. Interesting post.