02 February 2014

Author Interview: C.F. Yetmen

This week, we're pleased to welcome author C.F. Yetmen with her latest novel, THE ROSES UNDERNEATH. The author will offer a free copy of The Roses Underneath to a lucky blog visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Here's the blurb.

August 1945, Wiesbaden, Germany. With the country in ruins, Anna Klein, displaced and separated from her beloved husband, struggles to support herself and her six-year-old daughter, Amalia. Her typing job at the Collecting Point for the US Army’s Monuments Men is the only thing keeping her afloat.

Charged with securing Nazi-looted art and rebuilding Germany’s monuments, the Americans are on the hunt for stolen treasures. But after the horrors of the war, Anna wants only to hide from the truth and rebuild a life with her family. When easy-going American Captain Henry Cooper recruits her as his reluctant translator, the two of them stumble on a mysterious stash of art in a villa outside of town. Cooper’s penchant for breaking the rules capsizes Anna’s tenuous security and propels her into a search for elusive truth and justice in a world where everyone is hiding something.

Praise for The Roses Underneath

“A fascinating tale of survival, intrigue, and Nazi looted art amid the ruins of 1945 Germany. It’s a world in which very little is what it appears to be and everyone has a story they don’t want to tell. The author exploits this place and time deliciously.”
James Kunetka, New York Times best selling author

“Fans of Alan Furst will be delighted with this debut novel from the perspective of WW II survivors as they dig themselves out of the rubble and face deprivation and dislocation under Allied command. Yetmen has created a fascinating and complex heroine torn between ‘good Germans and bad Germans’ and the Americans who struggle to occupy and heal a vanquished nation.”
Thomas Zigal, author of Many Rivers to Cross and The White League

“Yetmen turns the narrative of the Allied forces’ Monuments Men 180 degrees and gives us a German protagonist: a young woman who, with her daughter, has survived the war but now must figure out how to survive its aftermath. Yetmen rejects heroism and absolutes in favor of a more complex portrayal of postwar Germany and its American occupiers in which good can look like evil, evil can look like good, and no one is blameless. This page-turner from a talented new writer deserves a place on every historical fiction-lover’s bedside table.”
Kathy Leonard Czepiel, author of A Violet Season

**Author Interview: C.F. Yetmen**

What inspired you to write the book?

It was a collision of several ideas. The experiences of my grandmother and my mother after the war had always interested me, but I only knew little snippets of information. I knew my grandmother and mother were displaced, separated from my grandfather and that my grandmother got a job working as a secretary for an American officer. That idea had been floating around in my head for decades.  In my day job, I work with architects, writing about their work and helping them communicate their value to the public. And, I am a working mother. When I stumbled on the documentary The Rape of Europa one night on TV about five years ago, I was completely fascinated by the Monuments Men. I had never heard of them or their work. Many of them were architects, so that resonated with me. A few days later I was on a walk and pondering ideas for a novel. I asked myself, what do I know? All those ideas converged in a flash and I had my setting. Stephen King describes just such a flash of seemingly unconnected ideas coming together beautifully in his book On Writing. That’s how I got the idea.

How is your book different from the Monuments Men movie?

The book picks up where the movie leaves off. I was really interested in finding out what the Monuments Men did after the war. How did they safeguard, catalog, restore, preserve all the art they had rescued from the Nazis? And then how did they decide whom to return it to, because of course, art provenances are wrought with intrigue and greed. To me, that was the most interesting part. How do you do the right thing and finish the job honorably? And I know it wasn’t easy. There were a lot of influences and opinions swirling around their work, trying to sway their decisions. The stakes were very high.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences?

Only very tangentially. My mother was born in 1940 in Germany and after the war my grandmother took her and my great-grandmother and fled west to escape the Russian occupiers in the eastern part of the country. My grandmother had to rebuild her life, and one of the things that saved her was her ability to speak English. Because of that, she was plucked off the street and hired to be a secretary to a colonel. She often said this saved her life. That’s where the real-life inspiration ends. I thought what if instead of working for a colonel, there was a woman, displaced with a young daughter, who worked for the Monuments Men?

Do you identify with any of the characters?

I suppose as a woman and a mother I identify with Anna’s instinct to protect her child. I also identify with Cooper’s perspective as an American. I guess to me, the thing I connect with most strongly is the space between them, between the German (or non-American) experience and the American one, since I often feel that I straddle that space myself.

What larger or universal themes does the book explore?

I was interested in exploring the experience of ordinary German women in World War II and, of course, the idea of collective guilt that is so often talked about. I was also thinking about how you put something back together that is so totally broken, as Germany was in 1945. Where do you start? How do you move forward? What do you carry with you and what do you let fall away? The work of the Monuments Men puts this in unique context. They are dealing with priceless art, which represents the very best of human accomplishment. But why is art worth saving, especially when so many lives have been destroyed in the most barbaric ways? And what is art’s true value?

Can you talk about your experience of switching from writing nonfiction to fiction and what that was like for you?

That’s a good question. I will say, some of the comments I got on my first draft were that it was too literal, too close to actual historical events, so I definitely had to loosen up and let the characters live their own lives. In my day job I write about place a lot, so the setting of the novel took on strong characteristics, because for me place is always an important part of a story. In that sense, my brand of non-fiction writing helped me. Of course, in 1945, the place became a character all its own, setting up all kinds of problems and challenges for the characters. In the end writing fiction was very liberating, once I got used to the feeling—but that took a while.

What project are you working on now?

My next novel in the series. I still have a lot of research that I did when the plot of this book was very different, so I am returning to that in the next book.

C.F. YETMEN is a writer and consultant specializing in architecture and design. She is co-author of The Owner’s Dilemma: Driving Success and Innovation in the Design and Construction Industry and a former publisher of Texas Architect magazine. The Roses Underneath is her first novel. Visit www.cfyetmen.com.

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