Focus on Fiction is pleased to feature
Tricia, who is the author of From Dust and Ashes, has also published over 150 articles for national publications such as Guideposts for Kids, Christian Parenting Today, and HomeLife, and is the co-author of Meal Time Moments (Focus on the Family). She has led numerous Bible studies, and her study notes appear in the Women of Faith Study Bible. She and her husband, John, live in Northwestern Montana with their three children.
Focus: Tricia, you've written a powerful story set in the Austrian village of St. Georgen during the Holocaust. Can you tell our readers a little bit about it?
Tricia Goyer: As a writer, I never planned on writing historical fiction, but on October 7, 2000 a meeting with a historian changed all that.
I clearly remember my first sighting of St. Georgen, Austria. It was a small town with large white arrows as street markers. The autumn trees around town were thick with yellow and orange foliage. The town appeared old and quaint.
A friend of one of my traveling companions waited for us under a train bridge--a bridge I later learned was built by concentration camp prisoners during World War II. Martha, a schoolteacher and historian, led us to a tired building that had been recently opened as the town museum. In a stuffy room with low ceilings, she told us about the concentration camp that had once sat in the middle of town. This encounter was interesting, but I was more concerned with a hot shower and warm bed.
Then, Martha invited us to her home for tea. How could we refuse? As Martha prepared the tea, I scanned her bookshelf. I opened one Holocaust book after another and noticed they were signed in a similar fashion, "To Martha, much thanks for your inspiration in writing this book." My interest turned to intrigue.
As we sipped tea, Martha began to relate stories of the camp. She talked about the Nazi presence in St. Georgen. The barbed wire fencing. The thousands of men forced to work in underground tunnels, building planes for the Nazis. The women that were brought to the camp didn't live more than a few weeks. Martha also described how conditions worsened as the war neared an end. There was little food and water, and the majority of prisoners were near death.
Then Martha told about the twenty-three American GIs who liberated the camp. The young men were on a recon mission, and they had no idea the camp was there. She spoke of the first person into the camp offering food to the prisoners. It was an SS wife, and she entered with her children. The woman's husband had fled for his life. At her first chance, she offered help.
I sat breathlessly. I was no longer only intrigued . . . I was inspired. I knew God had led me to this woman and this story. I knew I needed to share these extraordinary events concerning an ordinary Austrian village. That's where the idea for From Dust and Ashes began.
Focus: You've made an unforgettable entry on the Christian fiction scene with From Dust and Ashes. What's next for you?
Tricia Goyer: I'm working on a second novel, tentatively titled Night Song: A Story of Sacrifice which will also be set in Austria during WWII and will be released mid-2004.
But while my first love is fiction, I cannot turn my back on writing for those who need other encouragement and support. As I write this, I've just finished a non-fiction book for young mothers titled, "What Every Teen Mom Needs." In addition to writing, I'm also dedicated to ministering to teen moms. I was a teen mom myself--I had my oldest son when I was seventeen-- now I meet with teen moms on a weekly basis and coordinate a support group for them. We're connected with the larger MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) organization. Zondervan will publish this book in 2004 in coordination with MOPS.
Focus: How long was it between the moment you first decided to write this story and the moment you held your book in published form?
Tricia Goyer: My trip to Austria occurred October 2000. From Dust and Ashes was published January 2003.
Focus: You did a tremendous amount of research for this book. Can you give us an estimate of the hours you spent interviewing, studying, and gathering details?
Tricia Goyer: Wow, good question. I don't know if I could guess! I've read over 100 books on World War II. I've interviewed over 70 WWII veterans or Holocaust survivors. I traveled to Austria a second time for further research. Then there's the Internet and the History Channel. . . Perhaps thousands of hours!
Focus: Clearly, you cannot tell a story about the injustice and heartbreak of the Holocaust without being profoundly moved by it. How have you been changed as a person by writing this book?
Tricia Goyer: Let's just say I'm a very different person than the one who walked into Martha's living room three years ago. Right from the beginning I had a sense this story was bigger than any thing I could accomplish. I had to trust God. I've learned over the years to depend on His strength like manna--He provides enough for the day.
There were days when I couldn't read another horrific account, couldn't write another word, and He renewed me. From out of nowhere, I'd get a call from a veteran or an e-mail from Martha with just the right bit of information. Or I'd get a phone call that someone was praying for me.
When it came to writing about the Holocaust, I thought "Why me?" I'm a mom from Montana. Yet when I questioned God about this, I felt Him telling me, "Each person is locked behind gates of bondage, each without hope. I am the great liberator who frees the souls of men and grants new lives." So this is what I share.
After that, I don't question God. I only try to obey. The Holocaust is a big issue that touches deep places in my soul. I try to take in the pain, the heartache, the despair. I also try to share the hope and the glimmers of light experienced in dark places.
And God never fails me. Even this week as I've worked on my next novel, I had a friend who brought a WWII video by my house. It was exactly what I needed for research. I also had a fellow writer e-mail me out of the blue. I'd never met this woman before, yet her father held the same position as the main character in my novel and this woman lived exactly where my book is set! What are the odds? All I can do is accept these as gifts from God.
Focus: Your research put you in contact with a group of amazing, heroic people. Can you tell our readers about the men of the 11th Armored Division, and how they've had an impact on your life?
Tricia Goyer: I love these men! First of all, the 11th Armored Division is the U.S. army group that liberated the camp where my story is set. Martha told me about the veterans, and when I returned home from Austria I decided to look them up, hoping that one of them would be interested in sharing his story with me.
I was overwhelmed with the response. The vets invited me to the 59th reunion of their division. From that one trip, over 30 men shared their stories and invited me into their lives. I keep in contact with them . . . and their stories are so amazing my second novel is also about the 11th Armored Division!
Of course, we all know the statistic. 1,500 World War II veterans are dying every day. If only I could talk to each one, listening to his heart and his unique experiences!
Some of the men I first talked to are now gone. I'm just so thankful God granted me a chance to meet them first.
Focus: What effect do you hope your book will have on readers?
Tricia Goyer: There is one thing I want readers to realize above all: one person makes all the difference in the world. My characters struggle with good versus evil. They struggle with inner regrets and pain too. Yet, when we step out for the side of good, our lives will change.
One reader wrote and said, "I'm going to stop living the easy way, instead I'm going to live the right way." What could be better than that?
Focus: Although From Dust and Ashes is your first novel, you've been writing articles and Bible studies for a number of years. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Tricia Goyer: It began when I met Cindy Martinusen in church, over ten years ago. Cindy was also a young mom. We got to know each other, and Cindy told me about her dream to write. Something struck a chord in me. I had grown up loving to read, but I never considered writing. We encouraged each other. We attended our first writer's conference in 1994 at Mt. Hermon in Northern California. I was 22 years old and pregnant with my third child at that first conference.
Through the years, Cindy and I have been each other's greatest encouragement, and God has led us down amazing paths. Cindy has three novels published now: Winter Passing, Blue Night, and North of Tomorrow. Check them out at www.cindymartinusen.com
Focus: What would you say is your ultimate goal as a writer?
Tricia Goyer: To listen to God and obey. It's only when I listen that I find the stories on His heart. Yet obedience is the hard part. It's the daily rolling up the sleeves and setting to work.
I suppose that motto also spills over into the rest of my life. In 1999, God clearly asked me to put writing on the back burner in order to start a crisis pregnancy center in my area. I did that and just this week I received a report that Hope Pregnancy Center will reach an estimated 800 clients this year! It's amazing to see what God can do.
Overall, it's not about writing--it's about God. He could ask me to walk away from this, and it would be okay. He knows my heart. He loves me completely. And He has a good plan for my life.
Focus: Besides being an author, you are also a wife and mother of three. How do you maintain a balance between writing and family responsibilities?
Tricia Goyer: Balance, what's that?:) Actually, I think writing has been good for my family. My kids have seen what it means to have dreams, set goals, and watch God work.
In daily life, I try to live by wise advice given by a writer-friend, Anne de Graaf. She says, "focus on one thing." That one thing may be finishing an article or writing a scene for a novel. It may mean driving my son to basketball practice or playing a board game with my kids. It may mean sweeping the floor!
I was a very orderly person before book contracts. Now my life is more hectic, but it causes me to trust God more. I literally ask Him, "what next?" a dozen times a day. With 1,001 things to get done, I depend on Him to direct my path.
Focus: Many writers are also avid readers. Do you have any favorite authors? Could you name a few of them?
Tricia Goyer: I love reading! I have tons of writer-friends, and I enjoy a huge variety of writing. It would be easier just to share what I've read lately. I've enjoyed books by Leif Enger, Sharon Dunn, Athol Dickson, Anne de Graaf, and Robin Jones Gunn in the past few months. While I try to stay knowledgeable of the CBA market, most of my reading time is devoted to research. I read a lot of memoirs and WWII literature.
Focus: How can your readers and fans encourage you?
Tricia Goyer: Good question. The thing that encourages me most is when I know readers are telling their friends about From Dust and Ashes. I've gotten letters from readers who heard about the story from a friend. In Sacramento, California, co-workers wrote to let me know they were circulating my novel around their office. I love that! It's great to know that the story is touching hearts--so much, in fact, that they want to share that experience with friends.
Focus: Is there anything else you would like your readers to know?
Tricia Goyer: Yes, support Christian writers! I've gotten to know dozens and dozens of writers through Internet groups and writer's conferences, and you'd never find a finer bunch of people. These writers have amazing hearts. They encourage each other. They teach each other. It's a community of support and inspiration--not competition. So know when you walk into a bookstore, there's a lot of prayer that goes into each book on the shelf.