It often happens that in the process of researching one novel, I encounter interesting tidbits that give me ideas for a future novel. That’s how my newest book, Long Way Home, came to be. As I researched World War II for my two previous books, If I Were You and Chasing Shadows, I kept thinking about my dad, who enlisted in the Navy at age eighteen and served in the war in the Pacific. Dad never talked about his experiences, but we noticed that certain activities, such as driving across a long bridge, caused him anxiety. While researching, I came upon accounts from WWII veterans and their children that described anxiety-producing episodes like my dad’s. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) wasn’t recognized back in the 1940s, and psychiatry was still in its infancy. Returning soldiers were left to struggle on their own with what was called “battle fatigue” or cope with risky treatments such as electric shocks or insulin comas. Thus, the idea for Long Way Home was born, the story of returned veteran Jimmy Barnett, who suffers from PTSD, and his friend Peggy Serrano, who battles to find help for him.
While researching my earlier WWII novels, I also read about the SS St. Louis, which sailed from Hamburg, Germany, in 1939 with more than nine hundred Jewish passengers, desperate to escape Nazi persecution. I knew when I read their harrowing story that I wanted to use it in Long Way Home, so I decided to retell it from the point of view of Gisela Wolff, a sixteen-year-old Jewish passenger. Her story intertwines with Jimmy Barnett’s story, but readers will have to read the novel to discover how.
In writing my novels, I always begin with an idea, such as the ones I mentioned above. Then I dive into the research until my characters and their settings come to life in my mind. After that, I begin writing and make up the story as I go along, with no clear idea how the book will end. It becomes very much like a roller-coaster ride for me as I experience all of the ups and downs that my characters experience, facing challenges and obstacles along the way. I became very emotional, at times, as I relived World War II with Jimmy and Gisela. One of the themes that emerged is the destructive power of prejudice—whether it’s blatant anti-Semitism or children bullying someone on the playground—and the power of love and friendship to help rescue one another. Another theme asks, how do we hang on to our faith when faced with suffering and God seems very far away?
It was my own struggle with unanswered prayer nearly forty years ago that first inspired me to try writing. God had used a novel, The Chosen by Chaim Potok, to help me understand why a loving Father might sometimes allow His children to suffer. At the time, Christian publishing was in its infancy, but that book inspired me to try writing a book from a Christian worldview, showing God as a main character working behind the scenes as He does in our lives. My hope was to encourage one person the way that The Chosen had helped me.
So, I sat down to write one day when my children were napping and quickly discovered how much I loved it! I learned that all of my quirky personality traits and experiences made me well-suited to be a writer. I began reading books on writing and attending writing conferences in order to learn the craft, and happily, my first book was finally published eleven years later. Since then, writing has greatly enriched my life, taking me to new places for my research, teaching me new things, stretching my own faith as I journey to hard places with my characters. But my greatest joy comes when I hear from readers that God has used my book to enrich their faith journeys, just as a book once blessed me.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot while writing twenty-seven novels, two novellas, and two nonfiction works. There are many wonderful days when the writing flows and I lose all track of time. Of course, there are also days when things get tough and it’s hard to stay in the chair! I’ve learned that creativity must be nourished, and I’ve taught myself some strategies for dealing with writer’s block and discouragement. This was true, at times, while writing Long Way Home because the subject matter was so intense. But I think the end result was worth it and that readers will find it to be a refreshing and surprisingly uplifting story of God’s faithfulness in difficult times. My goal is always to tell a compelling story that will move and bless my readers. I hope Long Way Home will accomplish that.
Lynn Austin has sold more than one and a half million copies of her books worldwide. A former teacher who now writes and speaks full-time, she has won eight Christy Awards for her historical fiction and was one of the first inductees into the Christy Award Hall of Fame. One of her novels, Hidden Places, was made into a Hallmark Channel Original Movie. Lynn and her husband have three grown children and make their home in western Michigan.
Visit her online at lynnaustin.org.
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