Monday, October 17, 2022

Lecia Cornwall Interview - That Summer in Berlin

Photo Content from Laurie MacBrown

Lecia Cornwall, acclaimed author of numerous historical romance novels, lives and writes in the beautiful foothills of the Canadian Rockies with four cats and a wild and crazy ninety-pound chocolate Lab named Andy. She has two grown children and one very patient husband. When she is not writing, Lecia is a dedicated volunteer at the Museum of the Highwood in High River, Alberta. The Woman at the Front is her first novel of historical women's fiction.


When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I was always a dreamy kid—I’d imagine stories, name trees, and make things out of whatever I could find. I had learning disabilities, and the therapy at the time was to draw and do handicrafts. I lived for creative writing time at school, and I excelled at using my imagination. At home, I built dollhouse furniture and ‘story sets’ for my Barbies, because that was a different way of creating and telling stories. When the time came to choose a career as an adult, everyone discouraged me from writing fiction. My mother wanted me to be a psychologist, and my father thought I should be a chiropractor like the kid up the street. The career aptitude test at school suggested that I would make a great tree surgeon (Nope—my garden is like an elephant’s graveyard—plants come to my house to die, no matter how hard I try). I got a job as a copywriter, writing direct mail advertising for insurance, telling myself that it was all training for the day when I’d be able to write fiction. It wasn’t until my family moved across the country, and I found myself out of work that I decided to try writing a novel.

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
I loved Anne of Green Gables when I was a kid—I was a lot like Anne, my ‘kindred spirit’. She becomes a writer as an adult, and I realized that all that spirit and imagination could make a great career someday.

I read a lot of history, both fiction and non-fiction, but I love Kristin Higgins’ contemporary women’s fiction books. She’s funny, relatable, and just wonderful. I just finished her latest book, OUT OF THE CLEAR BLUE SKY, which made me laugh out loud and sigh with satisfaction.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
The most incredible experience came just after my first historical romance was published in 2011. I got an e-mail from a man in Japan after a huge Tsunami had devastated the country. He said he and his wife were stuck in their apartment without electricity during the crisis. His wife was waiting for surgery, and to distract her, he read my book aloud to her. He wanted to thank me for getting them through a hard time and making it a little easier. Nothing has ever come close to how very honored that e-mail made me feel.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Our brains are wired for stories—it’s how we learn, how we make sense of the world, and the stories we tell—even if it’s just relating an account of a trip to the grocery store—connect us to each other. Stories make us fully human.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
I began working on THAT SUMMER IN BERLIN during the first year of the pandemic, when I think a lot of novels were started, with all that quality time we thought we’d have to live our dreams at last. For me, it was the second book of a contract, with deadlines. I think any book idea comes and nudges us, lighting a spark, and then it takes a lot of research (and creative thinking) to find the hook for the story, the ‘aha’ moment, to know that, yes, this vague idea can become a whole novel.

The first ‘aha’ moment for THAT SUMMER IN BERLIN came while I was reading about Britain between the wars and learned that upper class debutantes were often sent to Germany for a little continental experience of the art, music, and the society of another culture (and possibly marriage). Surprisingly, this continued right up to the summer of 1939, just weeks before the war began.

In choosing a timeframe for the story, the summer of 1936 was perfect. The summer Olympics were being held in Berlin, a huge propaganda opportunity for the Nazis. I wondered what it would be like to attend those games, knowing that behind the scenes there was violence and anti-Semitism. All that was suspended for the duration of the games, of course, and tourists saw nothing but peace, goodwill, and kindness. Some admired Nazi Germany, completely fooled by the charade, while Hitler was already secretly planning for war, building weapons and training armies. A few journalists and diplomats tried to expose the truth, and that’s where the development of my characters began. I was also fascinated by the stories of early female photojournalists, telling hard stories with daring photographs. I incorporated all those elements into the story.

Meet the Characters
is a young Englishwoman with a talent for photography. She dreams of making it a career, though her upper class mother and stepfather forbid it—aristocratic ladies do NOT have jobs! They expect her to marry well and take her place as part of the social order. But her late father was a war hero, and he raised Viviane to fight for lost causes, to use her camera to expose truth, and to live up to his lofty example. When an arranged marriage looms, Viviane needs to find a way out.

TOM GRAHAM is a journalist, the illegitimate son of an English earl and his Scottish maid. His father ensures he’s well educated but does not acknowledge Tom otherwise. His mother’s kin are tough Glasgow shipbuilders, and Tom doesn’t fit into either world. He forges his own path and becomes a journalist. He agrees to go to Berlin as a foreign correspondent, to ingratiate himself with the Nazis, and learn their secrets, though he doesn’t agree with their politics. He’s being watched, and there’s only so much he can do to get the truth out. He needs someone who can delve deeper, someone with a camera and the skill to use it, with a protected place as the guest of a high-ranking German family. A foreign journalist is always under suspicion in Germany, but a pretty young English tourist taking holiday snaps could hardly be suspected of spying.

Viviane and Tom form an uneasy partnership. Viviane is just an acquaintance, really, a friend of a friend of Tom’s, albeit a fascinating one. And Tom is the only one Viviane can depend on if everything goes wrong. Tom realizes that Viviane’s enthusiasm for her mission, and her willingness to take dangerous chances to get the perfect shot, could easily get them both in trouble. He’s determined to protect her, but there are forces beyond their control, people willing to use what they discover about Viviane’s activities to buy their own elevation in the hierarchy of the Nazi regime. All those hidden secrets and shifting loyalties make Viviane’s mission even more treacherous.

What is the first job you have had?
I worked in a camera store where I fell in love with photography!

What is your most memorable travel experience?
In 2009, my family took a trip to Europe, to France, England, and Scotland. In France, we sought out the war grave of my great-uncle near Vimy Ridge, and that adventure became the inspiration for my novel THE WOMAN AT THE FRONT a few years later. We visited Glasgow, where my husband was born, and while we were there, at one of the few stops where we could check e-mail, I got a message from a literary agent I’d submitted to that yes, she’d love to work with me (she’s still my agent). On that trip, I watched my daughter discover history, which led her to become a professional historian, and my son explored his Scottish roots, and even had a kilt custom made in the family tartan (Kennedy), which he still wears.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
Love always comes with a risk of heartbreak and loss, but I wouldn’t give up a moment of those wonderful experiences. I believe that when we love with our whole heart, no reservations, we become our true selves, and that’s something I wouldn’t want to miss. Once heartbreak fades, the good memories remain, still part of us, and by some twist of fate, in the end, it’s those good things we remember most.

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
I would go back and start writing sooner! I wasn’t published until I was 49.

What event in your life would make a good movie?
I was a shy, awkward teenager in high school, bookish, be-spectacled and nerdy. I didn’t have a date for my senior prom. One classmate offered to go with me if I paid him (ugh). Then a girl I barely knew suggested I should meet her older brother and go to the prom with him on a blind date, and I agreed. I was still shy and awkward, but against all odds, we hit it off, fell in love, and got married a year later. That was forty years, two children, two dogs, a dozen cats, one rabbit, and a cross country move ago. I think perhaps it might work as a Hallmark movie, or maybe a young adult love story, don’t you?

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
Basements. When I was a kid, my mother had a jar with two HUGE bull frogs floating in formaldehyde in our basement. It sat on a counter beside the freezer. I used to hold my breath and avert my eyes when I had to pass that jar to get the ice cream out of the freezer. I lived in terror that they’d come to life and leap out of the jar. One day—you guessed it— the jar toppled off the counter and broke, spilling the dead frogs over my feet. To this day, many basements later, I still run up the stairs in terror once the basement lights are off.

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
My father loved nature. He hunted ducks and fished, and late in his life, after I was married and gone, he took up two hobbies—carving exquisite and very realistic wooden ducks, and having things preserved with taxidermy. He had a forty-inch stuffed muskellunge fish on the wall where it grinned menacingly at visitors for the rest of my dad’s life. I have no idea where that fish is now.

In the summer of 1936, while the Nazis make secret plans for World War II, a courageous and daring young woman struggles to expose the lies behind the dazzling spectacle of the Berlin Olympics.

German power is rising again, threatening a war that will be even worse than the last one. The English aristocracy turns to an age-old institution to stave off war and strengthen political bonds—marriage. Debutantes flock to Germany, including Viviane Alden. On holiday with her sister during the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Viviane’s true purpose is more clandestine. While many in England want to appease Hitler, others seek to prove Germany is rearming. But they need evidence, photographs to tell the tale, and Viviane is a genius with her trusty Leica. And who would suspect a pretty, young tourist taking holiday snaps of being a spy?

Viviane expects to find hatred and injustice, but during the Olympics, with the world watching, Germany is on its best behavior, graciously welcoming tourists to a festival of peace and goodwill. But first impressions can be deceiving, and it’s up to Viviane and the journalist she’s paired with—a daring man with a guarded heart—to reveal the truth.

But others have their own reasons for befriending Viviane, and her adventure takes a darker turn. Suddenly Viviane finds herself caught in a web of far more deadly games—and closer than she ever imagined to the brink of war.

You can purchase That Summer in Berlin at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you LECIA CORNWALL for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of That Summer in Berlin by Lecia Cornwall.


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