Sunday Dinner with Rita Gerlach

Sunday Dinner

For today’s Sunday Dinner, I invited inspirational historical fiction author Rita Gerlach. She’ll tell us more about her novel Wait Until Morning as well as bit about WWII history.

Sunday Dinner is a traditional (noon) meal served after church on Sundays. Whole families, including extended family, would gather over a large meal to celebrate a day of rest. Multiple cultures enjoy this Sunday Dinner tradition. In my experience, I know it from both my Midwestern farm family as well as my Italian-American family. Now, I’d like to bring Sunday Dinner virtually to you. So, pull up a chair as we invite various guests to join us each week!

Without further ado, Rita, please tell us interesting readers would enjoy learning about you.

Hello, all. My name is Rita Gerlach. I’ve been writing inspirational historical fiction since the 90s. My passion is writing stories with unique settings in both America and England.

I live with my husband Paul in a historic town nestled along the Catoctin Mountains in historic central Maryland. Every now and then, he pulls me away from my keyboard and takes me on an outing out in the country with the chance we might get a glimpse of illusive birds, or in town to find a thrift shop treasure. I’m a lover of quilts, old books, and historical places. I have two grown sons and a grandson on the way. I don’t know how interesting this is, but if it is raining, I make a big pot of homemade soup. It’s a thing, and my family loves me for it.

Can you tell us about your latest novel?

Wait Until Morning is my latest novel. For fans of WWII romantic fiction Wait Until Morning journeys into the lives of three women faced with the absences of their men during WWII.

This is the blurb:

Alexandria, Virginia, 1944: Anna Aubrey’s desire to help with the war effort grates against the wishes of her cousin Freddie, the head of the family. She has reached a point where she has had enough of his interference in her life, especially when he rejects Corporal Daniel Blair’s request to marry her before he leaves for Europe as a field medic.

Anna has no choice but to leave Alexandria for her sister’s home in the peaceful town of Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. Upon her arrival, she finds her sister’s health in decline, and ends up in a tug-of-war with the local doctor whose skills are antiquated, while struggling with whether she has lost or won the man she loves…and if he will return.

What made you choose WWII as your setting?

The story came to mind one day after looking through some family photos from WWII. My Dad served in the US Navy aboard the USS Vulcan. My mother worked at the Naval Yard in Washington, DC. Their photos made me think what it must have been like for them to be separated by the war. My youngest son is currently deployed in the Navy, and his wife is having a baby and had to stay home. I can’t imagine what it was like for my grandmothers when their sons entered the fighting in WWII and had no leave home, and for my mother and aunts whose men were gone for so long. They had very little communication to and from home. My mother didn’t see my father for the duration of WWII. This is what gave me the idea of Anna Aubrey and her sister Meredith going through the same.

What research was required to set a book in that historical time period?

Home front wartime history between the 1939 and 1947 were my target years to research. Subjects were…

  • Fashion 
  • Rationing
  • Communication such as V-Mail, telegrams, Military telegrams home.
  • Food
  • Popular magazines and bestselling books.
  • Music, especially Big Band music. They sure had some romantic tunes in those days.
  • The cities of Alexandria, VA. Washington DC and Harpers Ferry, WV.
  • Transportation, such as trains and automobiles of the era, even the kind of bicycle Anna the heroine owned. 
  • Basic medicine used at home.
  • The role of an Army Medic.
  • The American Red Cross volunteers.
  • Walter Reed Naval Hospital.

Were resources easy or difficult to find? Do you have a favorite resource?

I narrow down to specifics when I research a novel. If you know what you’re looking for, it’s not difficult to find sources. There are many good online sources about the home front during the WWII era. 

One of my favorite sources for fashion, with a little bit more, is ‘The Ultimate Fashion History Channel’ on YouTube.  The host Amanda Hallay has videos on the history of fashion ranging from Ancient Greece down to the 1980s. I really loved viewing her videos on the fashions of the 1940s. She covered everything from evening gowns to flour sack dresses.

Can you tell us more about the WWII recipes you found?

On my Facebook author page, I asked my readers to suggest some recipes that had been passed down to them from their mothers and grandmothers that they used in WWII. I received several, and I researched each one to see how popular they were during the war in a time of rationing. My character August in the novel writes a column for the Lady’s Home Journal. I chose two to include in the book, along with an acknowledgement to the contributors. I also researched WWII cooking. There are too many sites to list, and some of those recipes are very interesting. One of course is the multitude of ways to cook Spam. It was called ‘the miracle meat’ produced by the Hormel Company. 

If I may, here is a section in the book where my heroine Anna is offered a meal by her uncle.

Anna looked down at a platter of grilled Spam sandwiches dripping with American cheese. Spam. A gelatinous, pinkish, canned concoction of who knew what. She’d eaten enough of it to know it was an acquired taste, same with the cheese. As soon as cans were stocked, ration stamps were exhausted. 

“I kept them in a warm oven for you and Georgie. Hope they are okay. Have a seat.”

Ah, the old oak chairs and table where she sat as a child. The matching corner cupboard had the same Blue Willow dishes, and the same tin salt and pepper shakers were in the middle of the table.

“Looks delicious.” Anna opened her napkin, and laid it in her lap. “Napkin, Georgie.”

Uncle Stephen leaned his elbows on the table. “I learned a dozen different ways to cook Spam. We had to during the Depression. There’s a lot you can do with a can of Spam. Fry it. Grind it. Grill it. Eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It isn’t called the miracle meat for nothing.”

One book reviewer wrote to me and said she included Uncle Stephen’s opinion of Spam in her review as her favorite quote from the book.

What is War Time Cake? Can you tell us more about that and your personal connection to it?

Due to rationing during the war, homemakers had to be frugal and resourceful. They’d save their rations to acquire raisins and sugar. War cake was a home front favorite. It was spicy and moist, and did not need eggs. Some women put their cakes in tins and sent them overseas to their loved ones serving in the war. Can you imagine the joy that gave a soldier or sailor to eat something homemade from home instead of a K Ration?
When I was growing up, my mother made this cake often. She called it ‘Applesauce Cake’, and my Dad loved it. When I got married, she passed her recipe on to me. It wasn’t until I was writing Wait Until Morning that I discovered my mother’s recipe was war time cake. This cake became a tradition in my family and I make it every Christmas. I switched up the recipe a little by replacing shortening for butter and adding bits of apple and walnuts. Still, my mother’s recipe is my standby, with dark molasses and a lot of cinnamon.

What is one piece of your research that you couldn’t include in the book, but wish readers could know?

I would like readers to know about The Grey Ladies of the American Red Cross. They were non-medical volunteers that helped the injured and disabled patients in hospitals during World War I and World War II. They wrote letters and read to patients. The worked at the Red Cross Blood Centers among other duties. They were called Grey Ladies because they wore pale gray uniforms. My grandmother in law, Mary Cameron Sullivan, was a Grey Lady through the war and for decades afterwards. Alongside my father and son both US Navy, I dedicated Wait Until Morning to her.

Do you have another book in the works? What can you tell us about that book?

I’m currently writing my fifteenth novel, The Way Maker, set in 1693 Massachusetts as well as colonial Virginia. This novel will be the sequel to Mercy’s Refuge that was released for the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower. I hope to have it ready for publication in the spring of 2023. It’s going to be an adventurous journey for my young heroine Verity, Mercy’s descendant.

The afternoon is slipping away, so we have to draw the stories to an end. Rita, thank you for joining us today!

If readers would like to purchase a copy of Wait Until Morning where might they be able to do so?

Wait Until Morning is available in both ebook and paperback on Amazon.

If readers would like to learn about you or your other books, how might they find you online?

I welcome you to join me on my Facebook page ‘Rita Gerlach / Books, Writing & Readers.’ To view my website ‘Rita Gerlach Author’ follow this link or my Amazon page at this link. They can also find me on Goodreads, Book Bub, Pinterest … and other book sites for readers. Thank you so much for having me as a guest on your blog.

Over Sunday Dinner next week, I’ll be sharing the history behind a few of the Christmas Traditions found in my upcoming Christmas historical romance, As Silent as the Night.

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