Once, in a little village forgotten by time, there lived two feuding families: the Toussaints and the de Colvilles.***
As with most enduring feuds, no one knows exactly why it began. Some say it was over une aventure--an in indiscreet love between one man and a woman not his wife. Others insist money was the cause--a squabble between the miller and the baker over the price of flour. Still others recall it beginning with a simple difference of opinion on the faults and merits of Napoleon between two old men sharing a cup of chocolat...
It is not, however, the origin but rather the result that matters. One hundred years later, even the purest flour made into the flakiest pastry would leave a bitter taste if made by one clan and sampled by the other.
Except for one brief moment in history, the feud rages to this day...
What inspired you to write a novel set during the First World War?
I've always been fascinated by this era. In my family, I'm one of the youngest children of a large family--which I mention only because people are surprised that my grandmother (not a great-grandmother or some other distant ancestor) used to tell me about living in the era where "motorcars" shared the roads with carriages. Where airplanes were something people stared at when they had the chance to view one overhead. Where telephones were common in the city but certainly not in rural areas and not in every home, even homes in the city. She seemed to me to be a link between history and nostalgia to this modern world we shared.
And war...well, with a grandfather who fought in the First World War and a father who fought in the Second, I grew up hearing about war and I guess it made an impact!
Was marketing a novel set during the First World War a tough sell?
Initially it was. LOOK TO THE EAST is actually my third novel set during this time period, although those first two are not related to this novel. When I started circulating my first WWI idea, I received several rejections stating it wasn't "historical enough to be historical, or contemporary enough to be contemporary." But I'm happy to say the books sold despite those initial rejections.
However, when I mentioned to my agent that I had not one but THREE more novels set during this era, he was...shall I say, less than enthusiastic. At first.
I think the thing that convinced him was my own enthusiasm. I'd already done an American setting with this war, but this time I wanted to do a European setting--close to the war itself, but not a book of battles and war scenes. I wanted the drama of the war as played out in a relational story as seen through civilians, not soldiers. Book One, LOOK TO THE EAST, is set in a fictional little town in Northern France; Book Two, out early next summer, is set in Brussels, Belgium, and Book Three will be set in Germany.
None of these settings are your typical women's fiction or romance genre settings, but I've always been of the opinion that any story, in any setting, can work just so long as the characters and their goals are sympathetic or exciting enough to grab a reader. And that starts with the author's enthusiasm to write the story to begin with.
How did you choose the exact location for the setting?
The location for LOOK TO THE EAST had to be quite specific, since this story was inspired by real life events that took place in a town in France, near the front lines established during World War One. I've always been an avid reader of this era, and I came across a book titled The Englishman's Daughter, about a soldier who was caught behind enemy lines and had to take refuge in a little village in France.
So the backdrop needed to be in the same general area as the town that inspired this idea. I was fortunate enough to take a trip to France during the time I wrote this book, and was able to visit the towns in that area. I took pictures of buildings and churches, walked the streets and just generally soaked up the experience. Much of this particular area remains rural even today, so some of the landscape I saw was probably similar to what my characters would have seen.
How much research was involved in writing LOOK TO THE EAST?
Since research is one of my favorite parts of writing, I probably recall it taking less time than it actually did. I read many books on the subject of the war and what people in the occupied territories experienced, starting with The Englishman's Daughter, which I read more than once! Going to Northern France (and Belgium, where the second book the series takes place) was incredibly valuable, not only for orienting my characters to the area, but getting into context what went on at the time as it's commemorated over there.
As I write any novel, I usually start out with at least a couple of months of research and then search out more details as I need them--those unexpected little turns plots like to take, which lead to the demand for more knowledge.
One of my favorite parts to research was finding a church to have in mind as I wrote the scenes where my hero, Charles, is hiding. I needed to know if they were similar to churches here, if they had a basement, if they had pews the way churches here do, how ornate they might have been, etc. I'm convinced the authority an author conveys for writing a novel is found in the details.
So as my husband and I drove through Northern France, we often stopped to get a closer look at different churches. It was fun!
How can readers find you on the web?
My website is www.maureenlang.com, but if readers would like a peek at the journey this novel took--from the sale through the European research trip and on through the editing process--they should visit my blog archive starting from August of 2008. It was great fun to catalogue the process!
Thanks so much for stopping by, Maureen. She's giving away a copy of LOOK TO THE EAST to one lucky person, so leave a question or comment for your chance to win. I'll draw the winner next Sunday. Void where prohibited. Good luck!