In the new time-slip novel The Winter Rose by award-winning Christian fiction author Melanie Dobson, a modern-day woman searches for answers about her mentor’s past and finds a link to a woman who saved children during World War II. In the Q&A below with Melanie, learn more about this inspirational fiction story, what inspired it, and what Melanie hopes readers will take away from the book.
What inspired the storyline and characters in The Winter Rose? Are any based on real historical figures?
I used to teach at George Fox University, a school in Oregon founded by the Religious Society of Friends, and had the privilege of learning about Quaker history there. The characters and storyline for this novel are a culmination of research and personal experience, and while The Winter Rose isn’t based on the life of one historical figure, Grace—my Quaker heroine in Nazi-occupied France—was inspired by women like Mary Elmes, Alice Resch, and Marjorie McClelland who cared for children during World War II through the American Friends Service Committee.
Where did you get the idea for Grace Tonquin’s connection to Oregon and the Quaker community? Was her story inspired by anything from your own life?
This is my sixth novel set during World War II, and as I research each book, I often learn new things that I’m not able to use in my current story. I originally learned about the Quakers’ work as I wrote The Curator’s Daughter, and before I started my next book, I spoke with several Friends about the possibilities. While I wasn’t able to travel overseas, I spent several days writing at a local Quaker retreat center with a lake that inspired Tonquin Lake in The Winter Rose. I pour a bit of myself into every novel I write and pieces of this story were inspired by my belief in God’s power to redeem families.
What was one of the most surprising things you discovered in your research for this novel?
Usually I travel to my main settings to research my novels, but with the pandemic, I wasn’t able to go to France or even to the American Friends archives in Philadelphia. People were incredibly generous with their time and resources to get me the information I needed for this story. The AFSC archivist answered my many questions, digging through files from home and forwarding them to me. The president of the American Synesthesia Association, Carol Steen, spent a significant amount of time on Zoom to help me build my synesthete character of Marguerite. During our time together, I was surprised to learn that synesthesia has been recognized in Europe for more than a hundred years. Carol also educated me on the artistic talents of those who see words, numbers, or emotions in vibrant color.
Then our Zoom world gave me the opportunity to connect with a Jewish gentleman who was rescued by Mary Elmes in 1942 and hidden in France for the remainder of the war. I was tremendously honored that he would share his story with me. While visiting a location and interviewing in person is ideal, it was a blessing in this strange, difficult season to find others willing to help me compile all the factual information needed to write The Winter Rose.
Tell us about some of the core themes of The Winter Rose. How do you hope these themes will resonate with and challenge your readers?
Beauty in brokenness was one of the most important themes in The Winter Rose.I was hoping to demonstrate the French concept of brocante—salvaging items that someone else trashed, then restoring and repurposing them in their brokenness for something new. I wanted to show how God can heal the most painful of wounds, restore complicated relationships, and through the incredible power of forgiveness and prayer, use the nicks and gashes and ultimately redemption in our stories for good.
Who did you write this book for?
I wrote The Winter Rose for readers who love to learn about history and enjoy being inspired and challenged through fiction. Part of this story was poured straight out of my heart for moms who’ve had a child they love turn away from their faith and family. My hope is that the heartache and eventually redemption among my fictional characters will encourage parents to never stop praying for their kids.