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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Interview & #Giveaway: SURVIVING THE FATHERLAND by Annette Oppenlander



Hi! Would you tell us a little bit about yourself?
As a German American I grew up in Germany and met my husband at a super bowl party in Wichita, KS. I’d just arrived in the U.S. to work for a year and then begin my big career back home. Instead we married a year later. That was almost 30 years ago. My background is in marketing, but I worked in real estate, PR/advertising and as a financial advisor. I also raised three children. I always loved reading and wrote a lot of non-fiction in my PR/advertising job before discovering fiction. 

Something few people know about me is that I love to fly-fish. Once or twice a year my husband and I travel to Missouri where we fly-fish for several days. It’s typically a men’s sport and sometimes I feel self-conscious sharing the river with a bunch of guys. But there is nothing better than spending time in fresh cool water, listening to birdsong and watching your line float. It’s Zen for me.

Do you have anything you would like to say to your readers?
I’m humbled and honored to write stories my readers consider worthy of spending their precious time with. In today’s publishing environment choices are almost infinite. I so appreciate it when readers choose to accompany my protagonists on their journeys. Also, I welcome feedback and love hearing from them.

Do you write an outline before starting a book or just write?
I’m a pantser and have only a lose idea where the story goes. I find if I let my mind run, I come up with new characters, subplots and generally am freer to create than if I outline. Having said that there are some requirements for historical novelists. Though I have only a general idea about my character’s journey, I do spend a lot of time studying the world my story takes place in. This preparation time may take many months because I have to get a good feel for the era, the weather, food, clothing, way of life, and a myriad of other details. That takes time as I have to find the appropriate resources. Once that world is embedded in my mind, I am ready to send my protagonist on his/her way.

When did you realize that you would like to write and publish a book?
Becoming a writer/author was a process that took several years. In the beginning–the late 90s–I wrote children’s stories for early readers. I didn’t know anything about writing for children, the market nor the submission process, so this went nowhere. In 2002 I interviewed my parents about their lives during WWII in Germany which led to a number of short stories. I didn’t really imagine writing a novel, let alone several, I merely wanted to preserve the memories for my family.
But I became aware how much I enjoy the writing process. How I felt while I did it. I worked for a PR agency and did lots of business related writing. I’d go home at night and write some more, spent my weekends writing fiction. I grew more and more invested, took classes, read books on craft, attended conferences and joined a critique group. In 2009 I attended a short story class at Indiana University and that’s when the light bulb turned on fully. I’ve known ever since that writing is my passion and I must do it even if publication is light years away.

Can you tell us, in your own words not the book description, a little about your book?
‘Surviving the Fatherland’ is based on my parents’ experiences as German war children in WWII. Though it is a love story, it is definitely not a romance or historical romance, but rather a coming-of-age story. When I sat down with my parents in 2002, I didn’t really know what would happen with the material. All I knew was that I wanted this information preserved. I’m glad I did because my mother passed away from a sudden brain hemorrhage two years later. Most of what made it into the novel is true though there are a few additional characters and minor plot lines that are fictitious. A lot of reviewers actually comment how much they appreciate learning about life in WWII Germany. I even had a history teacher comment that he learned a lot from the book.

What was the inspiration for this novel?
Growing up I always felt there were a lot of stories hidden in my family. I’d hear bits and pieces, quick references or watch my parents nod at each other in silent understanding. As my interest in history grew, my curiosity grew with it. So in 2002 I asked my parents to share their stories. I spent several weeks visiting them in Germany and recording their memories. I remember one afternoon we were in the basement while my mother ironed. I’d ask questions and she’d tell me about the way her mother treated her. I still have those tapes though it’s hard for me to hear my mother’s voice. She passed away in 2004.My mother always insisted that my father was the better storyteller. And while I agree that his activities were quite adventurous, my mother’s quieter side offered a lot of depth. And so I think the two characters balance each other out nicely.

Initially, I had planned to write short stories so my children could remember their grandparents. But then I realized there were few if any stories about Germany’s war children and the civilian side of WWII. Of course, we have excellent and moving stories about the Holocaust and the soldier’s war. There is no shortage of battle scenes. Yet, many battles were fought at home. They weren’t drawing as much attention, but they were just as heroic. I wanted to add complexity to the stereotypical portrayal of Germany in the Third Reich.

Where can we purchase this book?
Any online or bricks & mortar bookstore will have ‘Surviving the Fatherland’ available.

Can we expect more novels from you in 2017?
I recently finished ‘Broken Journey,’ a story set during the American Civil War. It is about a boy’s choice to protect his best friend, a slave, from a brutal attack which forces both on separate journeys: one escapes into war, the other is sold into slavery. Told from alternating viewpoints, one black and one white, the story examines the power of hope and friendship, and the endurance of the human spirit to find a way home. I hope to release Broken Journey later this fall.

Sometimes an author begins writing a story before they are aware of its genre. Did you choose your genre, or did it choose you?
Had you asked me what my least favorite subject was in high school I would have said history. Yet, historical fiction has become my favorite genre. It sort of crept up on me over the years and grown into a fascination of all things historic. So, I guess the genre chose me.





Historical Fiction
Date Published: March 15, 2017

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***An IWIC Hall of Fame Novel*** 

***Winner 2017 National Indie Excellence Award***

"This book needs to join the ranks of the classic survivor stories of WWII such as "Diary of Anne Frank" and "Man's Search for Meaning". It is truly that amazing!" InD'taleMagazine

"This family saga is wonderfully written and, aside from the emotional ramifications, very easy to read. I stayed up too late a couple of nights reading it...I highly recommend this book!" Long and Short Reviews

Spanning thirteen years from 1940 to 1953 and set against the epic panorama of WWII, author Annette Oppenlander's SURVIVING THE FATHERLAND is a sweeping saga of family, love, and betrayal that illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the children's war.

SURVIVING THE FATHERLAND tells the true and heart-wrenching stories of Lilly and Günter struggling with the terror-filled reality of life in the Third Reich, each embarking on their own dangerous path toward survival, freedom, and ultimately each other. Based on the author's own family and anchored in historical facts, this story celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the strength of war children. 

When her father goes off to war, seven-year-old Lilly is left with an unkind mother who favors her brother and chooses to ignore the lecherous pedophile next door. A few blocks away, twelve-year-old Günter also looses his father to the draft and quickly takes charge of supplementing his family's ever-dwindling rations by any means necessary.

As the war escalates and bombs begin to rain, Lilly and Günter's lives spiral out of control. Every day is a fight for survival. On a quest for firewood, Lilly encounters a dying soldier and steals her father's last suit to help the man escape. Barely sixteen, Günter ignores his draft call and embarks as a fugitive on a harrowing 47-day ordeal--always just one step away from execution.

When at last the war ends, Günter grapples with his brother's severe PTSD and the fact that none of his classmates survived. Welcoming denazification, Lilly takes a desperate step to rid herself once and for all of her disgusting neighbor's grip. When Lilly and Günter meet in 1949, their love affair is like any other. Or so it seems. But old wounds and secrets have a way of rising to the surface once more.




About the Author


Annette Oppenlander is an award-winning writer, literary coach and educator. As a bestselling historical novelist, Oppenlander is known for her authentic characters and stories based on true events, coming alive in well-researched settings. Having lived in Germany the first half of her life and the second half in various parts in the U.S., Oppenlander inspires readers by illuminating story questions as relevant today as they were in the past. Oppenlander’s bestselling true WWII story, Surviving the Fatherland, was elected to IWIC’s Hall of Fame and won the 2017 National Indie Excellence Award. Her historical time-travel trilogy, Escape from the Past, takes readers to the German Middle Ages and the Wild West. Uniquely, Oppenlander weaves actual historical figures and events into her plots, giving readers a flavor of true history while enjoying a good story. Oppenlander shares her knowledge through writing workshops at colleges, libraries and schools. She also offers vivid presentations and author visits. The mother of fraternal twins and a son, she lives with her husband and old mutt, Mocha, in Bloomington, Ind.

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