I love discovering historical fiction set in locations and time periods I know little about, and after spending some time there a couple of years ago, Norway is one of my special places. How lovely to be able to combine all three in my Author Chat today! Welcome, Heidi, and looking forward to chatting. First, a little about your new novel:
(Soli Hansen Mysteries, Book 3)
By Heidi Eljarbo
In this riveting third book in the Soli Hansen Mysteries series, a woman’s courage to follow her conviction during a horrible war leads her to the portrait of a young Jewish heiress painted three centuries earlier.
Norway 1944. Art historian Soli Hansen has gone undercover to rescue masterpieces and keep them from falling into the hands of Nazi thieves. Working with a small resistance group led by her best friend Heddy, Soli will stop at nothing to thwart the efforts of the invaders of their scenic country. Trust and loyalty mean everything when working against a merciless enemy.
Riddles and clues lead the way to a mysterious work of art. It’s a race against time, but Soli and her network refuse to give up. However, when news arrives that her sweetheart Nikolai is missing in action, she strives to concentrate on the demanding quest.
From the streets of Oslo to the snow-covered mountains and medieval churches of Nume Valley, Soli takes risks larger than her courage, trying to preserve and hide precious art. But she must decide if it’s all worth losing the man she loves.
Antwerp 1639. Fabiola Ruber’s daughter, Annarosa, wants to honor her mother’s last wish and have her portrait done by a master artist who specializes in the art of chiaroscuro. Her uncle writes to an accomplished painter in Amsterdam and commissions him to paint his beloved niece.
Struggling with religious and social persecution, the Jewish Ruber family uproots once again and travels northward. On the way, they will sojourn in Amsterdam for Annarosa’s sitting in the master painter’s studio. But will they make it there? None of them can foresee the danger of such a journey.
Tell us about your work, Heidi. Does writing energize or exhaust you and how do you wind down / recharge?
To be honest, I must answer both. But most of all, writing energizes and motivates me to create and use my imagination. I look forward to Monday mornings and the start of a new week of writing. But the process is also a heavy one, and to wind down I go out and walk my wooly Wheaten Terrier. With the forest and fiord right outside my door, I am lucky to have the serenity of nature right here. And it doesn’t matter what kind of weather it is. I am just as happy to go for walks in the rain and snow as in the sunshine.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
To think you’ll get famous and rich right away, and that everyone will know your book is there on the shelf.
If you could go anywhere for a year to be inspired for your next book, what setting would you choose and what would you write?
If I could time travel, I’d go to the seventeenth century to spend time with famous painters. I’d also like to see what the witch hunts were all about.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal and why?
A dog. I simply adore those special creatures. They are loving, forgiving, patient, and kind. All the good personality traits we strive for. I am also partial to cheerful parakeets.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
I’d love to meet them and thank them for inspiring me.
What does literary success look like to you?
To be able to write a story that will uplift, encourage, and entertain the readers. Also, if they can learn something new from my novels, I am thrilled.
How important is working with your editor or beta readers, and how would you describe your relationship?
Absolutely crucial. I have 4-5 beta readers. They read the book before it goes to the editor and ignore the flaws and missing pieces. But they let me know if the story works, if the characters are well developed, and if I am lacking important parts to the plot. I will then improve the story and send it to my editor. She is fantastic, teaches me along the way, and helps polish that novel. She is worth every penny and has edited each of my books.
If you have pictures on your writing desk or desktop, what are they and why did you choose them?
I have a photo of my mother. She has been an inspiration for my Soli Hansen Mysteries. Her name was Solveig, but my father called her Soli. I also have a snow globe. I know it’s very Christmassy, but it makes me happy and gets to stay out all year.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Writing historical fiction means a lot of research. Some days I spend almost more time researching than actual writing. But I love history, so the process is a lot of fun for me. I do some research before I start a book, then I continue learning about details and facts as the story develops.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I haven’t had a main character from the opposite sex yet, but I have had some of my male secondary characters have their own chapters. I try to go into their heads and personality and write from their point of view. Sometimes, I take a chance and let them run freely, and that’s been an interesting process. They come up with surprising thoughts and ideas I hadn’t even thought of.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Yes. And it’s all right to take a break and do something totally different for a short period. I find that I get lots of inspiration when I walk the dog or do chores, therefore I always carry a pen and paper.
And tell us more about your latest release. What did you edit out of this book?
I get excited about historical facts and must limit these, so it doesn’t appear to be a history lesson. My readers say they love learning when they read historical fiction, but there’s still a fine line where to stop with the details and get on with the storytelling.
What was your work schedule like when writing this book?
I walk my dog in the morning then sit down to work about 8:30am. I have a break for lunch then continue until the late afternoon. If I have time, I will sit down for a while after dinner, too. The thing is, the writing process is sometimes so intensive that I’ll sit and write notes while watching a show in the evening, too.
What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?
Respect and honesty! Many of my characters were famous in the seventeenth century. I’ve written about master painters like Caravaggio, Rubens, and Rembrandt. In other books I’ve touched on the lives of the British Witch-finder General Matthew Hopkins and Thomas Ady who fought against the witch hunts. I spend a lot of time researching their day. Of course, the conversations are made up, but they are sprinkled with facts from their lives.
How do you select the names of your characters?
I research names from certain time periods and check genealogical sources. Then I choose names that I feel suits the character but is also easy for the reader to remember and pronounce. For example, when writing about an Italian Jewish family in the seventeenth century, I asked my Italian friend to help me research good names to use. Name are spelled differently depending on the century, too. Research is the key.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I usually read reviews to see what the reader thinks and to learn what they look for. Fortunately, many have been wonderful, but I’ve had a few bad ones. I’ve tried to not take it personally and understand why and learn from it.
What was your hardest scene to write?
I spent a lot of time on a sword fighting scene. This was new to me, and I had to research moves and phrases to get it right. But once I was there with the character, feeling her struggles and triumphs, it was a fun learning process and a scene I am happy to have in the book.
Are of your characters in this book based on real people you know?
The main character is inspired by my mother, and the baroque painters have been in my head since I studied about them in college many years ago. It’s more like I’d like to know them personally.
Which scene or chapter in the book is your favourite? Why?
I have several, but I will choose the scene where Soli reveals the paintings to her friends. You’ll have to read it to see what I mean.
What was the most difficult part of your artistic process for this book?
Hidden Masterpiece is a dual timeline novel and switches between WWII in Oslo and 1639 in Antwerp and Amsterdam. I hope to write in a way that the reader is right there with the characters, that they can use their five senses and walk beside the people in the story.
How long did it take you to research and write this book; were there any “wrong turns” along the way?
I’ve probably spent ¾ of a year researching and writing this book. I spent some time looking up historical facts that ended up being taken out during the edits. Other than that, I had plotted the main part of the book beforehand and went with the flow as it developed.
Were there days you had to “kick-start” yourself to write? How did you overcome the dreaded “blank screen?”
Deadlines! Dreaded but often an instigator for getting things done. I set goals and timelines for my projects, and once I have a book on pre-order, I must finish the novel in good time.
Give a shout out to a writing buddy or fellow author; how did they help you with this book?
Deborah Swift and Kathryn Gauci for being positive and helpful. Lynn Morrison for helping me read through some Italian phrases. Christina Boyd for always reading my ARCs despite her busy schedule. Mary Anne Yarde for being encouraging and doing amazing blog tours. And to you, Elizabeth St. John: Thank you for a fun interview. I’ve enjoyed it.
Thanks Heidi! It’s been lovely chatting!
Heidi Eljarbo is the bestselling author of historical fiction and mysteries filled with courageous and good characters that are easy to love and others you don’t want to go near. Heidi grew up in a home filled with books and artwork and she never truly imagined she would do anything other than write and paint. She studied art, languages, and history, all of which have come in handy when working as an author, magazine journalist, and painter. After living in Canada, six US states, Japan, Switzerland, and Austria, Heidi now calls Norway home. She and her husband have a total of nine children, thirteen grandchildren—so far—in addition to a bouncy Wheaten Terrier. Their favorite retreat is a mountain cabin, where they hike in the summertime and ski the vast, white terrain during winter. Heidi’s favorites are family, God’s beautiful nature, and the word whimsical.
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