Today I’m delighted to reintroduce you to my friend Melanie Dobson. She writes great historical fiction, and I’m delighted that her latest book is set in France during WWII with a strong contemporary story running parallel to the WWII story. She’s joined us today to talk more about her book and how she created the idea.
Chateau of Secrets is a beautiful story that moves back and forth between present day and WWII. How did you develop the two threads? The historical plot was based on a true story that quickly came to life on paper, but I struggled with the contemporary journey of Chloe Sauver (the granddaughter) until I began telling her story in first person. I slowly weaved together scenes of Chloe’s fear and doubt with the story of her grandmother’s courage and faith, and after I finished the first draft, I rewrote and rewrote to coordinate the secrets, both past and present, being revealed.
Much of the WWII thread is based on real people. How did you discover their stories? Several years ago, a friend shared her grandmother’s incredible story with me. Genevieve de Saint Pern Menke was a courageous French noblewoman who hid Allied airmen in the tunnels under her family’s château even as the Germans occupied her home. The Menke family partnered with me as I wrote this novel, and Ann Menke, Genevieve’s daughter-in-law, graciously invited me to their family’s manoir and former château in Normandy. Genevieve left a beautiful legacy as an elegant, courageous, feisty Norman woman who was strong in character and devout in her faith.
If people only have one opportunity to go to France, where should WWII lovers visit? The region of Normandy is a beautiful place. The Norman people still express gratefulness for the sacrifices American soldiers made during the invasion, and the Utah Beach Museum hosts amazing exhibits about the war, D-Day, and information about daily life in France under the German occupation.
This isn’t your first novel — you’ve won many awards for earlier books. What did you learn as you wrote this novel? It was such an honor for me to learn the stories of French people who secretly resisted the Nazis during World War II, some of them working with the Allied Forces and hiding members of the French resistance even as German officers occupied their home. I also learned about the thousands of Jewish men who were conscripted into the German military during the war—I had no idea that Hitler “aryanized” men of Jewish descent so they could fight for him.
What do you hope will stay with readers long after they close the covers and place the book on a bookshelf? Château of Secrets is about seemingly ordinary people who stood against evil, often working in secret as they fought against the Nazis and protected innocent people. As I wrote this story, I was reminded that there are many opportunities today as well to stand against evil and protect those who are suffering. I hope readers will join me in remembering that it is always extraordinary to sacrifice finances, time, and even our pride to help someone in need.
Cara again. I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about Melanie and her latest novel. If you’re a WWII fan, where would you like to travel? If not, where’s a destination that tugs at your imagination?