“I write historical fiction because I love history, especially the little-known stories of ordinary people.”
An interview with Lynn Austin, author of the book Long Way Home
Have you always loved books and reading? What was it about your formative years that informed your love for books and reading?
Books have been part of my life for as long as I can remember, beginning with bedtime stories when I was a child. My mother was the town librarian in the village where I grew up, so it’s not an exaggeration to say I was raised in a library. Over the years, I helped with everything from processing books to reading aloud for story hour, and I developed a deep appreciation for all sorts of books. In addition, my grandmother was a natural-born storyteller whose tales kept my sisters and me spellbound for hours on warm summer evenings.
How did you become a writer?
I loved to read, but after a while it seemed like so many well-written books offered very little hope. Too many themes seemed to be “Life is hard and then you die.” I agree that life is hard—but God is good! So I sat down one day thirty-five years ago (I was a stay-at-home mom with a new baby at the time) and decided to write the kind of book I enjoyed reading—one that makes me laugh, makes me cry, and helps me learn something about myself and my life. I knew nothing about getting published (that would come later), but I quickly discovered how much I enjoyed writing. Eventually God brought a wonderful Christian author into my life who asked me to join her writers’ critique group, where I learned the basics of writing and publishing. As the years passed, I struggled to figure out if God was calling me to be a writer. I decided to persevere, and eleven years after I first sat down to write, my first novel was published.
What made you want to write historical fiction? What is it about that genre that you enjoy?
I write historical fiction because I love history, especially the little-known stories of ordinary people. For me, reading about the past and how people like me lived with courage in difficult times helps me to live with faith and grace, with God’s help. When we travel back in history through novels, I think it’s easier to see how God used tragic events as part of His redemption story. And that gives us faith to believe that He is still working now and that our lives can play a part in His story today.
What motivated you to write a story about a soldier returning from WWII and the challenges he faces?
My dad was a WWII veteran who enlisted in the Navy at age 18. While he didn’t suffer from PTSD, thankfully, he never talked about his time in the service, although it surely had affected his life—as it had the lives of thousands of other returning vets. I wanted the novel to show the difficulties vets faced in returning to civilian life after everything they had endured during the war.
Please tell us a bit about the setting of your novel.
Long Way Home takes place in a small town in rural New York State in the Hudson River Valley. Many returning veterans came home from the war to small villages like this one all over the US. The flashbacks to the war years take place in Belgium and Germany during and after the war.
Please tell us about your main characters in Long Way Home and what specific challenges each one of them faces.
Jimmy Barnett is an army medic who served in Europe and is hospitalized with PTSD after attempting suicide back home. Peggy Serrano is Jimmy’s longtime friend and neighbor who is trying to help him recover from the war—while also searching for the next steps in her own life. Gisela Wolff is a young Jewish nurse who flees Nazi persecution with her family during the war. Her path crosses with Jimmy’s during the war and she holds some of the keys to his recovery.
Who was your favorite character to write and why?
Peggy became my favorite because she is so sweet and caring in spite of the difficult life she has had and the challenges she now faces. I hope readers will be rooting for her to finally blossom and thrive.
As your story developed, did any characters surprise you, or did the storyline unfold in surprising ways?
Joe Fiore is a wounded army veteran and friend of Jimmy’s whom Peggy meets as she tries to piece together Jimmy’s story. Joe also suffers from PTSD. I was surprised that he became such an integral part of the story as I was writing it, and I wanted to explore his life and future as well.
What lessons can be learned from your main characters?
One lesson is the value of friendship and community for personal healing and wholeness. Life is a journey best taken with others. Also, that wrestling with God over the difficult questions of faith and suffering is part of our spiritual journey.
How much research did you do on the WWII time period and the specific challenges faced by soldiers returning home?
I researched the true story of the voyage of the passenger ship St. Louis as told by survivors, as well as life in Nazi-occupied Europe, especially for Jews in hiding. I needed to know about the work of army medics, the Allied liberation of concentration camps, and life for survivors in the aftermath. Much of my research also concentrated on the challenges faced by returning veterans and their families. I read many first-person accounts from vets and their families that helped bring my characters’ stories to life. Post-traumatic stress disorder was not fully understood until the Vietnam era. It was called battle fatigue or shell shock at the time of this novel. Psychiatry was in its infancy, and the only available treatments were those I highlighted in the story.
What is your hope for Long Way Home?
I hope it will shine a light on the challenges that veterans and their families face. I also hope it will show the devastating effects of persecution, whether it’s the anti-Semitism practiced by the Nazis or schoolyard bullying.
How do you hope this story resonates with your readers?
Fiction can be a great medium to vividly illustrate important truths. In this case, I hope the novel will be a reminder of the need to love others as Christ loved us, no matter what our differences are.
You might be interested in
Long Way Home by Lynn Austin
In this gripping portrait of war and its aftermath from bestselling author Lynn Austin, a young woman searches for the truth her childhood friend won’t discuss after returning from World War II, revealing a story of courage, friendship, and faith.
Peggy Serrano couldn’t wait for her best friend to come home from the war. But the Jimmy Barnett who returns is much different from the Jimmy who left, changed so drastically by his experience as a medic in Europe that he can barely function. When he attempts the unthinkable, his parents check him into the VA hospital. Peggy determines to help the Barnetts unravel what might have happened to send their son over the edge. She starts by contacting Jimmy’s war buddies, trying to identify the mysterious woman in the photo they find in Jimmy’s belongings.
Seven years earlier, sensing the rising tide against her people, Gisela Wolff and her family flee Germany aboard the passenger ship St. Louis, bound for Havana, Cuba. Gisela meets Sam Shapiro on board and the two fall quickly in love. But the ship is denied safe harbor and sent back to Europe. Thus begins Gisela’s perilous journey of exile and survival, made possible only by the kindness and courage of a series of strangers she meets along the way, including one man who will change the course of her life.
About the Author
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.