We’re happy to have Pamela Schoenewaldt as our spotlight author this week. Pamela is a USAToday Bestselling historical novelist drawing on her experience of living for10 years in Italy to write of the American immigrant experience. Her previous books, When We Were Strangers (2011) and Swimming in the Moon (2013), have been translated into German, Dutch, Polish, and Russian and short-listed for the Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction. She lives in Knoxville, TN. She’s currently celebrating the release of her latest novel, Under the Same Blue Sky.
Welcome, Pamela! Where was the idea for Under the Same Blue Sky born?
My first two books, When We Were Strangers and Swimming in the Moon were born of the Italian-American immigration experience. I lived in Italy for a decade (see below on that), my husband is Italian, and I have dual citizenship through him. For Under the Same Blue Sky, I wanted to look at the German-American experience which is my family’s heritage. In particular, what was it like during World War I to feel oneself fully American and yet almost overnight be branded as the enemy, the Hun? I also wanted to incorporate themes of magic realism. For years, I’ve by haunted by the memory of a brooding castle incongruously set in the small bedroom community of Watchung, NJ, where I went to high school. I’d wanted to weave that castle into a narrative and finally found a way in Under the Same Blue Sky.
All three of your historical novels focus on women with immigrant ties between Europe and America. What draws you to writing their stories, and what do you admire most about them?
Between 1990 and 2000, I lived in a small town outside Naples, Italy. While I learned Italian, and had a rich and full social and cultural life, I was always “L’Americana,” the outsider. I imagined other outsiders, women who by choice or necessity came to the United States, sometimes alone, often without my option of going home if things didn’t work out. For them, there was no going back, and often scant welcome in their new country. They persevered. They created new communities and found joy. They developed remarkable skills and fought for justice. Some, like Hazel in Under the Same Blue Sky, endured the terrible wrenching when the home country and the adopted country were at war. I admire these women and find their journeys endlessly intriguing. I have hoped to capture some of these qualities in my work.
Your novels have fabulous titles! When We Were Strangers, Swimming in the Moon, Under the Same Blue Sky. Can you share with us how those titles were created and if there are special stories behind them?
My contract with the publisher (HarperCollins) gives me the right to be “meaningfully included in the conversation about titles and covers.” I think that’s pretty standard: titles and covers are major marketing tools. So the “conversation” was lots of emails, lots of lists. When We Were Strangers was on one of my long lists. The editor loved it and it clicked for all of us. The next two were truly collaborative, with pieces and ideas coming from several people’s ideas. The fact is, after the intensely private work of writing, it was refreshing to be on a team for the titles and the cover.
What do you like most about writing historical fiction? And are there certain themes that you find repeating themselves in your novels?
I fell into this genre. I’d looked at the short stories I’d published which seemed to hold promise for a novel. The one I picked was historical, and it became the first chapter of my first novel. When We Were Strangers did well and the editor wanted another historical. By then, my narrative ideas were running to historical themes and here I am, having finished my third. I’m interested in immigration, in social justice, in women’s journeys, in American-ness, and for my novel in progress, in racial identity. Also food. I love the challenge of historical novel, and the tension between the specific (the historical moment) and the deep universality (the human stories). I enjoy the research, the discoveries and the creative process of weaving the two. So, after the chance falling into the genre, I’m hooked.
Along those same lines, what challenges do you see in writing historical novels?
Oh, there are many. The most obvious challenge is the research, including the opportunity to interview people in many fields. Then there’s the challenge of deciding what of what you know is necessary for the reader, what can be implied, and how to weave it into the texture of your character’s journey—which is what really counts. History is your frame, and inside it is your story. Your call is to use that frame, much as a poet might use the 14-line sonnet structure, not as a limitation, but as a crucible for creation, for an engrossing presentation of a character’s world and world view, choices, challenges, and outcomes in a particular moment in history.
Historical fiction requires a lot of research – which you’re certainly no stranger to. What are a couple of interesting (or unusual, or funny) things you’ve done in the name of research for a book?
Visitors, come back tomorrow for Pamela’s great answer to this and other questions – including the touching story of how she first became interested in writing. You won’t want to miss it!
In the meantime, you can enter our drawing to win a copy of Under the Same Blue Sky! Either click the button below to enter through Rafflecopter, or answer this question in the comments:
Which caused more fatalities to Americans: World War I or the 1919 Influenza Epidemic?
If you answer the question, be sure to include your name and email address (spelling out ‘at’ and ‘dot’ to cut down on spam). Thanks for stopping by!a Rafflecopter giveaway