Avid readers are always looking for the next good read, and when they find an author they love, they gobble up the words of each volume with eager enthusiasm. Such is the case with historical fiction author Sarah Sundin. Since the debut of her first book, A Distant Melody, in 2010, Sundin has penned multiple best-selling trilogies. Her most recent novel, the final story in the Sunrise at Normandy trilogy, released in February and immediately garnered high praise. In The Land Beneath Us, set in 1943, “Private Clay Paxton trains hard with the US Army Rangers at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, determined to do his best in the upcoming Allied invasion of France. With his future stolen by his brothers’ betrayal, Clay has little to live for. Leah Jones works as a librarian at Camp Forrest, longing to rise above her orphanage upbringing and to find the baby sisters she was separated from so long ago. A marriage of convenience binds Clay and Leah together, but will D-day—and a foreboding dream—tear them apart?”
Sundin’s characters come to life on the pages of the book, the results of their own insecurities, choices, and unfulfilled dreams. In this interview, Sundin shares about her own experiences, inspirations, and what might be on the road ahead for her characters.
ATG: Your first book, still unpublished, was the result of a dream. How have your other stories come to you?
Sundin: Oftentimes it’s hard to tell where the initial idea came from. One came from a newspaper article, one from a situation my husband was facing at work, but most come from a combination of history and “what if?” questions.
ATG: The 1940s seem to be your era of choice for story-telling. Two of your family members fought in World War II, which you cite as part of your fascination with the era and its tumultuous events. What else intrigues you about that period in our history?
Sundin: So much! The fun music, cute fashions, and men in uniform have a great appeal. But mostly, it’s the sheer scope of it—there are so many angles and stories to explore. World War II thrust very ordinary people into extraordinary danger and hardships. Crises expose and test our character, which makes great drama in a novel.
ATG: You certainly have a special gift for developing believable characters. Your newest release, The Land Beneath Us, features two individuals with painful pasts that threaten their futures. What about each character do you admire the most?
Sundin: I love Clay Paxton’s sense of honor. Although he’s suffered the loss of all his dreams, he’s still determined to do the right thing—and he’s even kept his sense of humor. And Leah Jones is an overcomer. She’s dealt with the extreme losses in her life with optimistic resilience—almost to a fault. Of course, that’s tested in the story, but she keeps her incredible sense of hope.
ATG: Honor and hope. Those are two valuable traits that are difficult to come by these days, but desperately needed. When readers first began embarking on the journey with Clay and Leah, you shared photos of your recent travels to Europe with them on social media. Which sites had the biggest impact on you?
Sundin: For The Land Beneath Us, Pointe du Hoc in Normandy had a great impact. When I first saw those steep cliffs and the cratered landscape over a decade ago, the “what if?” question began to percolate: what would it have been like for the Army Rangers scaling those cliffs on D-day under fire? We visited again when I was researching this series—and this time I came having read up about the Rangers. So visiting Pointe du Hoc was incredibly inspiring and deeply touching.
ATG: Your descriptions of the events that took place on those cliffs paint the suspense of those moments in history. Of the locations you visited, which ones will most likely end up in a future book, as Point du Hoc did in this one?
Sundin: That’s hard to say. None of the locations on that trip are in my next three books…but who knows about the future?
ATG: Now I am curious. What are your plans for your next series? What tidbit can you share that will leave us wanting to know more?
Sundin: My next three books are actually standalone novels, but each follows Americans living in Nazi Europe. The first novel, which will release in early 2021, follows a female American correspondent and an American graduate student in Nazi Germany in 1938, before the war starts—but her determination to expose oppression might land them both in a whole lot of trouble!
ATG: Every book of yours is developed with impressive insight and knowledge. Before starting the draft, how do you prepare?
Sundin: When I’m writing the proposal, which is about two years before I start writing the first book, I do preliminary research to make sure my story idea holds up historically. When it’s time to actually write that book, I dive into the books and websites I’ve collected. I start with the more general sources to give me a foundation, then I get more specific. Since I write under a deadline, I research in the order of the events of the story so I can keep momentum writing the first draft. The research continues throughout the year I work on the novel—and when I edit, I make any changes needed due to research.
ATG: For some authors, the amount of research you do would be incredibly daunting. What do you find most inspiring through the process? What keeps you moving forward?
Sundin: The stories of real-life people who persevered in very trying times, who chose to do the right thing when everything was against them, who gave and helped sacrificially. When I hear their stories, I’m inspired to persevere and to do the right thing and to sacrifice as well.
ATG: And that desire to persevere serves you well. What is the biggest challenge in undertaking a new novel?
Sundin: Each story has its own feel, its own culture. It’s kind of like moving to a new town and having to meet a whole new bunch of people and having to learn where everything is and how people do things. The first few chapters are always a bit slow—even with the ridiculous amount of outlining I do! There’s always a sense of waiting for my characters to give me permission to tell their stories.
Sundin pours her heart and soul into each of her works. Her ability to marry honest characters with the tumultuous years of World War 2 allows audiences to journey through the book, coming to the last page with fresh insight and renewed resolve to be more forgiving, more hopeful, and more resilient.
Sarah Sundin is a bestselling author of historical novels, including The Land Beneath Us, The Sky Above Us, and The Sea Before Us. Her novel The Sea Before Us won the 2019 Reader’s Choice Award from Faith, Hope, and Love, and When Tides Turn and Through Waters Deep were named to Booklist’s “101 Best Romance Novels of the Last 10 Years.” A mother of three, Sundin lives in California and teaches Sunday school and Bible studies. She enjoys speaking for church, community, and writers’ groups. To learn more about Sundin and her work, visit http://www.sarahsundin.com. You can also find her on Facebook at @SarahSundin and on Instagram at @sarahsundinauthor.