Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Effort to Save Children Failed

The Germans were running rampant in 1940. They’d destroyed Rotterdam. London, it seemed, was next. An ambitious plan to evacuate 210,000 British children to Canada, New Zealand and Australia began, including a group of ninety children sailing to Canada on September 13. They never made it, and the Children’s Overseas Reception Board was disbanded.

A prewar postcard of the City of Benares

The City of Benares was an 11,000-ton ship of Ellerman’s City Line. In peacetime, it ran a route to India. Indians made up the crew, dressed in turbans, sashes, and shoes that curled up at the toe. They bowed to the ninety young refugees, called them Little Madam and Little Sir.
Said one evacuee, “They looked after us just wonderfully well. We were in seventh heaven. We felt we’d stepped into the Arabian Nights.” They received an immediate tour of the ship. Girls roomed on one side of the ship; boys on the other. An amazing array of food unavailable or rationed at home awaited them. They feasted on ham, not Spam. And chocolate, hardly ever seen in England. Fresh fruit―apples, bananas, grapes, oranges, pears―were theirs for the asking.
The City of Benares led nineteen ships in convoy OB 213, sailing at the head of the center column. The other ships were smaller and slower. They did not zigzag. After four days, their naval escort turned back to accompany an inbound convoy. That night, the convoy was spotted by German submarine U-48.
The children had been put to bed early. They were traveling in a force eight gale that caused the ship to pitch and roll. Just after midnight, a violent explosion rocked the ship worse than the storm. They’d been torpedoed.
People struggled in the steeply listing ship to reach the boat deck. Launching the lifeboats was difficult in the stormy weather. The lifeboats swung against the ship, overturned in the sea, and were overcrowded. The other ships did not stop to help, scattering instead, as standard procedure to avoid becoming another victim. The City of Benares sank in 30 minutes.
Late the next day, the HMS Hurricane arrived and picked up survivors. Of 407 people on board, 260 died. Out of 134 passengers, 77 were child evacuees. Only 13 child evacuees survived the sinking.
Two weeks earlier, another evacuation ship had been torpedoed. All of the 320 children aboard had been rescued by other ships. With the loss of the City of Benares, the government canceled the program.
After the war, the commander of U-48 was tried for war crimes in the sinking. Kapit√§nleutnant Heinrich Bleichrodt denied any prior knowledge of the presence of children, and refused to apologize for the sinking, stating his actions were within the bounds of military policy. His argument was accepted. Several of his crewmen expressed their shock and regret when it became known that the ship they’d sunk had been carrying children. They reaffirmed there was no way that the submarine could have known who was on board.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Thinking About…Saturn and Uranus

I learned about the solar system in second grade. Mercury―closest to the sun and looking like the moon. Venus―a steam bath. Earth―in living color and full of life. Mars―the red planet. Jupiter―jumbo sized and bearing a spot. Saturn―festooned with rings. Uranus―nothing special. Neptune―same as Uranus, but even further away and colder. Pluto―the little guy in an elliptical orbit.

Saturn fascinated me. All those lovely rings. I’ve even had a look at the sixth planet through a microscope during college. It looks just like its pictures, only smaller.
Back to second grade. I don’t remember what the occasion was, but the two second grade classrooms presented a program (for our parents, I think, about what we were learning, apparently). Nine of us were chosen to represent the planets. My classroom took the odd numbered planets. I was selected for Uranus.
Clay models were hung around our necks. I stood on stage with my clay ball, next to Saturn with its cardboard rings. Oh, how I wished I was adorned with Saturn instead of Uranus. Who cares about Uranus?

Years later, new truths were discovered. Pluto, they say, isn’t a planet. And Uranus has rings, too! I was cheated! I should have stood on stage with cardboard rings stuck in my clay ball.
Do you have a favorite planet?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Last Heiress

Amanda Dunn sails for North Carolina in 1864 to serve as her father's emissary. Dunn Mills needs cotton to stay in business, and the American Civil War has disrupted shipments. Amanda must deal with broker Jackson Henthorne, who eloped with her twin sister Abigail.
         Amanda enjoys getting reacquainted with Abigail, but is dismayed by her sister’s acceptance and treatment of slaves. Abigail sees no difference between her slaves and the poorly paid servants in England. And Jackson and his father don’t take Amanda seriously. A woman doing business? Preposterous.
         Amanda meets greengrocer Nathaniel Cooper and values his friendship and their quick-witted exchanges, but he feels entirely out of his league with her.

           The Last Heiress is now available. Mary Ellis chatted with me about her writing and interests:
You live in Ohio, but your three Civil War books take place in southern states and your new series is Secrets of the South Mysteries. What's the allure of the South for you?
I have always been fascinated with places that don't get buried with snow every winter. I love my home state of Ohio, but life stands still here in terms of yard work and outdoor activities. I love being in the South as often as I can in the winter, so staging my stories there feels natural. Someday when my husband retires, we will move to Georgia.

What prompted your interest in the Civil War?
I believe my passion for Civil War history began when my mom took me to see Gone with the Wind. I loved that movie and have read the book several times. I no longer find war as romantic as I once did, but I'm still fascinated with that era. I'm very active with our local Civil War Roundtable and supportive of reenactments and historical activities.
If you had lived in Civil War times, what do you think would have been hardest about the lifestyle?
Both sides suffered during the war, but the South most of all. They had massive food shortages in North and South Carolina, Georgia, and in Vicksburg and New Orleans. The landscape took decades to recover after battles, troop movements, and destruction by the Union Army. War isn't pretty, but love will find a way to rise above any obstacle.

Is there a genre different from the ones you write in, which you particularly enjoy reading?
Let's see I've written Amish Inspirationals, historical romance, and now romantic suspense. That covers a lot of territory, no? I do love a good contemporary mystery too!
What's a typical writing day like for you?
I write full time, so I'm in my office by 8:00 am. I emerge from the cave at noon for lunch and to walk the dog. Then I return at one o'clock (more or less) for another five hours. I usually take off Saturdays (unless under deadline) and always take off Sundays. One day I hope to cut back to only one book per year. 

Do you have a question our readers can respond to?
The Last Heiress is about twin sisters who find themselves on opposing sides philosophically. Have you suffered any riffs with family members that took much prayer and person introspection to repair?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Liz Tolsma and Remember the Lilies

Liz Tolsma’s latest book, Remember the Lilies, releases today. This World War II tale moves around the globe to the Philippines. Foreign civilians are imprisoned by the marauding Japanese. As the war drags on, life gets increasingly difficult. The Japanese thrive on cruelty. They punish and execute for the least offense. They spoil food in front of their hungry prisoners for fun.
Rand Sterling was a wealthy playboy nightclub owner. Irene Reynolds was a missionary kid living in the jungles with her aunt. Before the war they wouldn’t have associated, but after two years in the camp, they bond.

Liz joins me now to share a little background on writing Remember the Lilies.

Snow on the Tulips and Daisies Are Forever are set in Europe. You credit your son with suggesting a Pacific theater story. How did you decide on the Santo Tomas setting?

When my son suggested a story set in the Pacific theater, I immediately remembered the woman Ken Burns had interviewed for his documentary, War. I was so struck by her story of survival under horrible conditions, and it stuck with me for all of those years. It was a story that had to be told. I’ve had the privilege of speaking to that same woman several times throughout the process of writing and releasing Remember the Lilies. It’s a great thrill in my life.

You traveled to the Philippines when you adopted your daughter Jonalyn. Did you know then you would be writing this story? Did you visit Santo Tomas?

No, I didn’t know then that I would be writing the story. Of course, a good author never travels anywhere without doing research that she tucks into her back pocket for a rainy day. We didn’t go to Santo Tomas, but we did tour Fort Santiago, a place where the Japanese held and tortured both Westerners and Filipinos. There is a mass grave there for 800 Filipinos killed by the Japanese. I can’t describe to you the horror those people had to endure. Fort Santiago does make an appearance in the book. 

When I was globetrotting in the 90s and early 2000s, I had no idea I would one day be writing about many of those places. How often I’ve wished to revisit them!

Tulips. Daisies. Lilies. What inspired the floral theme?

Daisies Are Forever came first. My cousin got a bouquet of flowers from her husband. The other flowers died, but she posted on Facebook that, “Daisies last forever.” That was the original title of the book that the publisher tweaked. So I had that title. It was natural when I was writing Snow on the Tulips, set in the Netherlands, that it had to have tulips in the title. That left Remember the Lilies. Scrambling for a title to send along with the proposal, I came up with Remember the Violets. Trouble is, there aren’t many violets in the Philippines. My working title became Where the Hibiscus Blooms. It worked well with the symbolism I wanted to use. My publisher thought that hibiscus didn’t fit with tulips and daisies. I scoured the internet for Filipino flowers that would be familiar to my readers and fit with the others. Philippine lilies look much like Easter lilies, except that they have a single tall stalk with a single flower. They are also a symbol of God’s care for us. So, the book became Remember the Lilies. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that the hero, at the very end of the book, tells the heroine to, “Remember the lilies.” 

For a chance to win a copy of Remember the Lilies, leave a comment by February 10 and answer Liz’s question. Include your email address as myname [at] gmail [dot] com

Is there a flower that holds special significance to you?