We had the pleasure of interviewing history-lover Sarah Sundin a few weeks ago! Sarah’s latest book, With Every Letter, just came out September 1. (You can order your copy here.) Sarah formerly worked as a pharmacist but now uses her love of WWII to write some of our favorite books here in our Litfuse nest.
Q: All of the books in your last series and your new release, With Every Letter, are set in the World War II era. What draws you to writing books set during the war?
Not only do I love the clothes, uniforms, and music, but there’s an inexhaustible supply of dramatic stories and settings—a novelist’s dream. This was a time when ordinary men had to do extraordinary things, and when women explored non-traditional roles—while remaining ladies. Plus, I’ve always been fond of that generation. As a pharmacy resident at a VA hospital, I had the honor of caring for many World War II veterans. As a rule, they were cheerful, kind, and chivalrous, with the solid strength of someone who has been tested—and passed. What more could you want in a hero?
Q: You went to school and trained to be a pharmacist, in fact, that is still your profession. How did you make the leap to author?
I certainly never planned a writing career. In 2000, I was working on-call as a hospital pharmacist and staying home with our three young children, when I had a dream with such intriguing characters that I felt compelled to write their story. That first novel will never be published, nor should it, but it got me started.
However, my pharmacy background has helped me write the Wings of the Nightingale series with its focus on nurses and medical care. Although medications have changed significantly in the past seventy years, the basic concepts remain. Also the hero of the second book in the series, On Distant Shores (June 2013), is an Army pharmacist, so I had fun with that.
Q: Do you enjoy the research process? What were some of the unique aspects of the research for this story?
I adore research. Often I have to force myself to stop and actually write the story. With Every Letter presented unique research challenges. The story is very mobile, since Tom builds airfields just behind the front lines, and Mellie flies into those airfields. There are twenty-five separate settings in With Every Letter, from Kentucky to Liverpool to Algiers to Sicily.
Also, both flight nursing and aviation engineering appealed to me because they don’t get much attention. On the flip side, few research materials are available. I had to do some sleuthing, which led to some fun moments. An obscure website led me to the grandson of an aviation engineer who had served in North Africa. The man sent me a box full of materials—copies of his handwritten narrative, personal letters to his little daughter, and photographs. Priceless!
Q: How historically accurate are your novels (locations and events)? Are the stories based on real people?
I try to make my stories as historically accurate as possible. With Every Letter follows the US Army from the landings in North Africa in November 1942 through the campaign in Sicily in the summer of 1943. The 802nd Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron was a real unit that flew the first official air evacuation flights, but all characters and stories are fictional. Tom’s unit is based as closely as possible on the actual 809th Engineer Aviation Battalion. However, the highly mobile nature of this story and my desire to place Tom and Mellie together at certain places and times created a plot nightmare. To save myself hours of therapy, I created the fictional 908th Engineer Aviation Battalion.
Q: Is there a spiritual lesson or analogy within the story you hope readers will walk away with?
Mellie has always seen herself as merciful as she cares for the sick and wounded. But story events stretch her understanding of mercy. Both Tom and Mellie learn new depths to the meaning of forgiveness.
Also, at the start of the story, both Tom and Mellie are uncomfortable in their own skins. They both have to learn to see themselves as God sees them and grow into the people God wants them to be.