Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ten Questions from Tara: Interview with Glen Thomas Hierlmeier

Tara: Welcome. You’re here to promote Honor and Innocence, a historical romance novel. Tell me, please, what was the inspiration behind this story? How did it come to you?

Readers, here is the blurb real quick:

Hank Fischer is drafted into the American Army soon after high school graduation in 1945, beginning a six month saga of intrigue, horror, and love that takes him from his southern Wisconsin home to Texas, then Germany, Switzerland, Greece, and Singapore, revealing along the way the devastating truth of the tragic consequences of war. In the Texas prisoner of war camp where Germans were interned, a youthful and naïve Hank is targeted by Haynes who becomes his lifelong tormentor, but he also begins his closest, nearly unimaginable lifelong friendship with Max, a German prisoner of war under his supervision, whose twin sister, Roberta, back in their German homeland, is destined to become the love of his life. Hank is drawn into a dangerous web of intrigue by the common heritage he shares with Max, a prisoner of war being returned to his homeland, and the intense love he finds with Roberta. Because of their ties to the SS through their father, a senior Nazi official hand-selected by Adolph Hitler himself, Max and Roberta are pursued by the Intelligence Forces of the American and British Occupation. Hank is faced with the colossal choice between his allegiance to the U.S. Army and his love for Roberta. Hank chooses to collaborate with Max and free Roberta from a British prison camp, beginning a desperate flight through war-torn Germany where they witness first-hand the ravages of post –war Europe, while staying perilously ahead of pursuing forces. Their flight takes them to a secret refuge in the mountains of neutral Switzerland where Lazlo, a Hungarian born war-time profiteer provides the opportunity for their escape. Sadly leaving Max behind in Switzerland they set out for the port city of Trieste by train, only to survive an attack by post-war Italian Army pirates, then sail the seas on a merchant ship with a modern day Greek philosopher, Captain Koz, to search out hidden treasure in a small Greek village. Again forced to flee, Captain Koz helps them find refuge across the Indian Ocean, in Singapore, only to once again face the bane of powerful men…another war-torn country. Their very survival hangs in the delicate balance between their powerful love and will to live, and evil man’s violent quest for power and wealth. Their amazing journey, immersed in horrors of war, bombed-out cities, dead bodies, displaced person by the millions, desperation and hopelessness, give the reader a rare look at the despair of victims of the hubris of men seeking power for the sake of power, amidst their powerful love story.

Glen: Every romance has a dark side. When that dark side is war, hell has no mercy. Through hardship and suffering, the bond of love grows strong.

In Honor & Innocence: Against the Tides of War, I wanted to portray how war effects people who are innocently caught up in the hubris of powerful leaders bent on destruction, and how their honor is tested by desperate circumstances. All of my stories begin with what a close friend, and one of my trusted readers, once referred to as a “golden nugget”, a special moment or event that is unique and memorable. I find that “golden nugget”, then build a story around it.

I found such a nugget in researching my first book, We Had to Live: We Had No Choice. It’s a true story based on the genealogy of my family, tracing my mother’s side of the family from the immigration of her great-great-great grandfather from Liverpool, England in 1773 as an indentured servant, crossing the Atlantic on a slave ship to work on a Virginia plantation. In seeking to understand the family legacy, I extensively interviewed my oldest brother, Hank, the one living person whose life spanned the longest period of time in the family history. He shared many stories and experiences, one of which was particularly fascinating, a “golden nugget”, but not appropriate to include in that first book.

As a U.S. Army soldier in WWII, fresh out of high school, Hank escorted German prisoners-of-war back to Germany from an American prison camp in Texas. I knew all about the Japanese internment camps in California, but I had no idea there were such camps in America for Germans and Italians, and I felt compelled to investigate the historical period just after the war. As I continued my research I realized that much of the post-war experience around the world is largely overlooked in history books.

I used my brother’s story as a key passage, a “golden nugget”, in the novel that unfolded. Because so much of our lives is experienced through romantic relationships I chose to weave a love story around the horrific experiences of common citizens caught in turmoil not of their choosing---Americans, Germans, and many others, caught up by the times. I hoped to captivate my reading audience with fascinating characters, an intense and improbable love story, and historical revelations largely ignored in our written history.

Tara: Wow. I think your family history is fascinating and I imagine you are very proud of your brother.

We focus a lot on heroines here on Book Babe. Tell me what makes your heroine strong.

Glen: Roberta Schoellkopf, a young German girl, is the primary heroine in the story, although there are several other strong women who could be considered heroines as well. Berta is only 18 years old, but due to the travails of war and the absence of her family, she loses everything she depended on in life. On her own, she must learn difficult lessons quickly, but not without making mistakes. She demonstrates the ability to persevere and to overcome her failures and shortcomings, and proves to be a very faithful and strong companion. Ultimately, in spite of great adversity and loss, she becomes the great woman she aspires to be.

Tara: Did any particular woman in your family or life help inspire some of her traits?

Glen: I come from a family of 13, including 7 sisters. I am a great admirer of my mother and my sisters, all strong women. I know the challenges they have faced in their lives without losing their dignity and purpose. Much of what I have accomplished in my life is attributable to their example and encouragement. I think my female characters represent the kinds of qualities I found in them.

Tara: What makes her sexy?

Glen: My book has been referred to as “low heat level”. I know that has to do with physical sex and certainly the label does apply, by intent. While she is presented as a very beautiful girl, I wanted Roberta to be an extremely attractive woman for her personal values and attributes, particularly her willingness to make her own way and be her own person. With all the sex in romance novels, I wanted to present a strong woman who is very desirable for her character, and her moral and ethical values, and for the adversity she faces and overcomes. She is the kind of intelligent person a man would love to be shoulder-to-shoulder and back-to-back with under extreme duress. She more than holds her own, while also being very lovely and provocative.

One scene in the book, where the hero and heroine first meet, is analogously based on my first meeting with my wife, RuthAnn. RuthAnn has the qualities I tried to portray in Roberta.

Tara: "A strong woman desirable for her character"...that's exactly what we look for here on Book Babe, Glen. So many people think sexiness is only about physical traits. Not the case. Thank you.

So, what kind of research did you do when you penned this novel? Did anything surprising come up in your search?

Glen: You know from my answer to question #1 above, that this story actually evolved from my research for my first book, We Had to Live: We Had No Choice. A story my brother related about his experience as an American soldier responsible for German prisoners stuck in my mind; my “golden nugget”, leading me to research the circumstances following WWII. I was amazed at how much I found out that I had never known---a view of history not generally recorded in history books that had become very personal to me because of my brother’s experience.

Perhaps not surprisingly, my research for Honor & Innocence, has also led to revelations that have piqued my interest. When I began writing the book, I did not have in mind to write another or two, but I discovered so much historical information that is relatively unknown that I decided to continue my research and perhaps write two more books. My group of intimate readers were so taken by some of the supporting characters that I have decided to write two more books following the experiences of those characters, Lazlo and Koz, and tie them back to the first book. The second book is well underway, and I hope to have it published by September of this year.

Tara: What would you like readers to gain from reading your book? Is there a strong moral? Do you hope they will laugh, learn something, ponder a point?

Glen: I particularly appreciate this question. Yes, it is extremely important to me to accomplish the following with my writing:

Learn and understand history from a new perspective.

Understand the importance of moral and ethical values and how these attributes will be severely tested in life.

Love, fear, or hate the characters.

Feel empathy for others regardless of prejudice, hatred, religion, nationality.

Laugh.

Cry.

Ponder how they might react under similar circumstances.

Tara: I LOVE that answer! I feel that way when I read a book. I want to laugh, cry, have some emotion invoked, or learn something new.

Now let’s talk about your hero. What draws the heroine to him? Does he have some of your own traits or traits you wished you had?

Glen: I prefer to think of my hero as having the attributes of my brother, Hank, who passed away during the writing of this book, just five days short of his 86th birthday, although I certainly have aspired to have the qualities of character that he modeled for me.

The initial meeting finds my heroine under great duress and therefore particularly vulnerable. The initial characteristics that draw her to the hero are his gentleness and empathy. As they are confronted with obstacles, they each prove to be very intelligent, resourceful, and strong. Finding themselves in need of each other, they learn to trust one other and are drawn inexorably close through mutual respect and by overcoming difficult circumstances, leading to their joint quest for peace, harmony, and happiness.

Tara: I'm really sorry about your brother's passing. I imagine, however, his spirit is very proud to be in your book. 

Your book takes place in many places. If I were a tourist, what in your novel would you recommend I see?
Dolder Grand Hotel
Wiki Commons

Glen: There are numerous fascinating locations where the story takes place as it moves from Wisconsin to Mineral Springs, Texas, to Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Singapore, and Australia. I wanted to give the reader a perspective of what was happening in each of those places post-war, while confronting Hank and Roberta with obstacles unique to those locations.

The highlights for me, those places I would most like to see, are as follows:

Hamburg, Germany – to see what remains of the devastation of the city

Zurich, Switzerland – to see the grandeur of Lake Zurich, the mountains, and stay at The Dolder Grand Hotel where Hank and Roberta met Lazlo.

Casa dei Pagani, in the mountains of Italy – a serene mountain location with a mystical past

Kapsia, Greece – the romantic retreat in the Greek countryside south of Athens

Singapore – to look for Puteh

Tara: That's a lovely hotel. I want to go there too! LOL A more personal question. What’s the one thing you hope to accomplish before you die? Your main goal?

Glen: Above all, to provide a living example of moral and ethical values to my wife, children and grandchildren.


Tara: I’m a dog mom, so I always ask this. Do you have pets? If so, tell me about them and do provide pictures.

Glen: We were cat lovers, particularly RuthAnn. However, the passing of our beloved Koko several years ago at the age of 17 was a particularly traumatic experience. In winter he would sleep on my feet because he knew they would be cold---in summer he would sleep on RuthAnn’s---I think because he knew I didn’t need him in summer. We have his remains in an urn on a shelf in her office alongside those of her previous cat, Ulysses. They will go with us wherever we may go, and beyond, and I guess, now, irreplaceable.

Tara: It's heartbreaking to lose a pet. They are like children. Seventeen is an excellent lifespan though. Koko must have been very well cared for.

Thank you for visiting Book Babe today, Glen, and good luck with your book.
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GlenGlen graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, then earned a Masters of Business Administration at The University of Wisconsin at Madison. He served in the US Air Force on the Manned Orbiting Laboratory space exploration program and on the design phase of the development of the F-15 fighter aircraft. After leaving the Air Force, Glen returned to Wisconsin and became Vice President of the largest bank in his home state, First Wisconsin National Bank. In 1979, he moved on to become President and CEO of several real estate development and management companies. Glen retired in 2009 to devote full time to his grandchildren and his writing. Glen is the author of Honor and Innocence, We Had to Live: We Had No Choice…, and Thoughts From Yesterday: Moments to Remember.

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