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?