For today’s Sunday Dinner, I invited Anne Perreault. Anne was born and raised in Germany, though she’s traveled the world and lived in exotic places like Dubai and Austria. She and her husband of 33 years, along with two of her three grown kids and a granddog, now live in rural Vermont, where she enjoys writing in the quiet setting of country life in their ten acre woods.
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, please tell us interesting readers would enjoy learning about you.
I suppose… I’m a teacher. My mom was a teacher (now retired). I have my teaching degree in biology and spent most of my adult life teaching horseback riding. I’ve always been blessed to be able to turn my hobbies into a career. First horses, then homeschooling, now writing.
Also, my real name isn’t Anne (sounded out Annuh) but Anne-Kathrein (and it’s not Anne–Catherine, either lol). Nobody, not even my German friends, could pronounce it correctly, so I learned to drop the Kathrein early on. My teachers called me by my full name and so does my family. My college in New Hampshire continued to misspell my name until graduation… yeah… so sad.
Can you tell us about your latest novel?
Defending My Father’s House is a fictional acknowledgment of my grandparents and parents.
Remember, Petra. The first country Hitler invaded was ours.
World War II rages, but life must go on. For Petra Heinrich, this means taking charge of what’s left of her family. With her father and older brothers away fighting for their country, she is entrusted with the upkeep of their farm in the sleepy German village. During the day, she struggles with daily chores. At night, she hides in the hayloft while bombs drop all around the farm.
Petra grew up in a devout Christian home, but she has long since hardened her heart to God. However, when she agrees to hide a Jew, Petra’s heart slowly softens.
As she starts to trust that things might be improving, the family receives devastating news. Grief-stricken and vulnerable, Petra’s courage is tested beyond what she can bear.
Things can’t possibly get worse. Or can they?
Why did you choose to write a story set in WWII Germany?
Growing up in Germany, not too long after WW2, I have a different perspective on how it affected the everyday people. My grandparents lived through this time, my parents were born at the beginning of it and remember things about it. WW2 had long-lasting consequences. My generation was never allowed to be proud to be German. We didn’t celebrate it. There was a national shame that affected even my generation. So… because my family was directly involved in such a historical event, there was always a story in the back of my mind about it. I’m a consummate storyteller – have been from the time I remember. One of my grandfathers never returned, and that in itself is a tragedy of its own because it had ramifications that trickled into the next generation and affected me and my sister. I always wondered what would have happened if he did come home. How my life would have been different?
I have stayed away from WW2 stories for most of my life. It’s way too personal for me to read or watch.
A trusted friend shared a book called A Prayer on a Wing by Julie Lessman with me and mentioned that I would like it. I had certain expectations, such as, I was going to start it and then let it sit there. I was blown away by the depth of the characters, and this story knocked something loose inside me. I knew I would be able to write an account of my history in fiction. And so it began.
I wrote this book because I wanted to reconnect with my family in Germany and I wanted to honor the sacrifices my grandparents and parents made.
I’m still not a fan of stories set during WW2. I still won’t be able to read them.
Have you lived in or visited Germany? What research was required to set a book, especially a historical, there?
Well… yes… I was born in Hamburg, which is in the northern part of Germany. We moved to a small town in the county of Schleswig Holstein, about 40 minutes from my grandparents and aunts, who still reside in Hamburg today (though my grandparents are all gone at this point). I lived in that small town until I was 14, at which point my family moved to Dubai. As I said, most of my extended family live in Hamburg. My parents have moved back home at this point and are enjoying retirement. My grandparents have passed on, sadly, and I miss them. My cousins are still in the same area they grew up in and I get to visit with them when I go home on occasion. We’re a really close family, which is hard because I’m here and they are in Germany. I do miss them.
I set the story in the village I spent a lot of time as a child, a tiny village where my father and his mother spent the duration of the war. I know the setting so well, I could smell it, see it, and loved visiting while writing the story (another reason for setting it there). Many of my family and friends have a cameo in the story, but my father’s parents are pretty much the centerpiece of this story. My father’s in it as himself lol. Wait till he reads that part lol.
Part of my research dates back to about 36 years ago when my grandfather met my husband for the first time. He couldn’t speak English and my husband couldn’t speak German. But that afternoon, for some CRAZY reason, my grandfather opened up about what happened to him during the war. He’d never spoken about it before and never spoke about it again. I added some of his accounts in the story, but I left out a lot. There was just so much of it… I spoke to my father about his interpretation of what happened to him and his mom during the war and discovered some more really interesting and amazing facts.
Yes, I also did extensive Internet searches to research other aspects of the story. It’s part of the job and I very much enjoy it.
I understand the story was inspired by a personal story. Can you tell us more about that?
Because the war had such a long-lasting effect on my generation, I’ve never wanted to touch anything about it. But setting my grandfathers into this story, my grandmothers, my dad, and my friends… I loved it.
You can imagine my utter dismay when I started writing and I felt led to write it in the first person. At first, I was not comfortable with it at all. It felt too personal for me, I was already touching on things that had been difficult for my family. As I started writing it, I felt surrounded by my loved ones. I was back in that village, where I had spent so much time. I could revisit with my grandparents. I even got to imagine my dad as a three-year-old. It was a soothing experience. I still struggled with the story. Some parts felt too personal, wayyyyy too personal. But I had to get past my fears and my inhibitions.
No, the main character is NOT ME. Although… the more I read the story… we are… similar.
How did that personal story impact writing your novel?
The fact that it was written from a first person point of view was terrifying. I tried not to put myself into the story, but… I guess Petra, my main character, has a lot of similarities to me. She’s very stubborn (in a good way). She’s determined to stand up. She wants to be there for her family. And she loves her horses.
Were resources easy or difficult to find on these topics? Do you have a favorite resource?
My favorite resource was my grandfather. And then my dad. I had a hard time finding out what the average German citizen went through during the war. Most of what is on the Web is not from their perspective.
What is one piece of your research that you couldn’t include in the book, but wish readers could know?
Mmm… I wish I could have included the many ways my grandfather evaded capture or death so many times. By rights, he should never have made it back to my grandmother. There was also the way my grandfather returned to his wife and small children after the war. I asked my father to confirm the way it was and he told it to me differently than I recalled. I chose to leave it out because I couldn’t get that confirmation. It was an amazing story.
Apparently, he and so many others had been rounded up in a British camp near the village where my grandmother and my dad were living at the time. The Brits weren’t too… concerned… with security, and so Opa found an abandoned bicycle near the camp. He… borrowed it… every day and rode to see his family. One time he returned for night check and the camp had been closed down, all the men shipped off to England. He kept on peddling, whistling a spry tune as if nothing had happened, and went home.
As I said, couldn’t confirm that story, so I left it out.
Do you have another book in the works? What can you tell us about that book?
Book 2 in The Liberator series should be out at the end of March. I had planned a rapid release… It’s soooo hard to write a 370 or so page book and release it one month apart. I don’t know how other authors do it. I still hope it’s going to be out at the end of March. Going over the second round of edits now, then the beta team will have it to pull apart and mangle lol. After that, it’s onto the ARC team and finally onto Amazon. The title is Leaving My Father’s House. I’m excited about this too because, honestly, this time the main character really is a lot like me… the me I would have loved to be.
Later on in the year, I’m taking my readers to the Middle East in the Arabian Nights series. I’ll probably start releasing book 1 during the summer.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I don’t ever want them to think that they are abandoned by God, especially when things aren’t going their way or the way they had planned. I want them to know that even when you can’t ‘feel’ God with you, He’s right there. It’s His pleasure to guide and direct us.
The afternoon is slipping away, so we have to draw the stories to an end. Anne, thank you for joining us today!
If readers would like to purchase a copy of Defending my Father’s House, where might they be able to do so?
If readers would like to learn about you or your other books, how might they find you online?
All my links can be found here. I’m very active on social media and always enjoy chatting with my readers.
Over Sunday Dinner next week, author Heidi Chiavaroli will be joining us. See you then!