The three most important parts of a book are: a well constructed plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion.

Monday, December 23, 2013

INTERVIEW with Antoinette van Heugten, Author of "THE TULIP EATERS"

The Tulip Eaters by Antoinette van Heugten
The Tulip Eaters by Antoinette van Heugten
Publisher:  Harlequin MIRA
Release Date:  October 29, 2013
Pages:  368

About the Book:  In a riveting exploration of the power the past wields over the present, critically acclaimed author Antoinette van Heugten writes the story of a woman whose child's life hangs in the balance, forcing her to confront the roots of her family's troubled history in the dark days of World War II… 

It's the stuff of nightmares: Nora de Jong returns home from work one ordinary day to find her mother has been murdered. Her infant daughter is missing. And the only clue is the body of an unknown man on the living-room floor, clutching a Luger in his cold, dead hand. 

Frantic to find Rose, Nora puts aside her grief and frustration to start her own search. But the contents of a locked metal box she finds in her parents' attic leave her with as many questions as answers—and suggest the killer was not a stranger. Saving her daughter means delving deeper into her family's darkest history, leading Nora half a world away to Amsterdam, where her own unsettled past and memories of painful heartbreak rush back to haunt her. 

As Nora feverishly pieces together the truth from an old family diary, she's drawn back to a city under Nazi occupation, where her mother's alliances may have long ago sealed her own–and Rose's—fate.

INTERVIEW - By Wanda Beaver
I'm happy to welcome Antoinette van Heugten, author of "The Tulip Eaters," to 
And the Story Unfolds ---

Q: Tell us about your book, The Tulip Eaters.

A: The novel is an exploration of how the past wields power over the present and of a mother’s unconditional love for her child. It is about a woman, Nora de Jong, who comes home to a nightmare. Her mother lies murdered on the floor, a dead stranger next to her with a Luger in his hand, and her baby, Rose, has been kidnapped. Frantic, Nora works with the police to try to find Rose, but there isn’t a single clue until Nora finds mysterious documents in a metal box that bring everything she thought about her parents into question and drive her halfway across the world to Amsterdam, where pieces of an old family diary lead her into her mother’s past and a world of secrets, lies and truths that played out in Nazi-occupied Netherlands between 1940 and 1945. The more Nora discovers, the less certain she is of the truth and it is only the truth that will lead her to Rose. But the clock is ticking. Will she ever find her? Or has her mother’s secret past already sealed Rose’s fate – and Nora’s own? 

Q: Where did your inspiration for The Tulip Eaters come from?

A: My parents were Dutch and fought in the resistance in the Netherlands during World War II. Although they did not speak of it often, as children we heard stories of how our grandmother hid a Jewish boy in the cellar, how my mother transported microfiche on her bicycle and how my father had blown up munitions depots. We also were made well aware of the hardships their families and others suffered during the five years of Nazi occupation, particularly the starvation conditions towards the end of the war. As such, I have always had a personal as well as a historical fascination with that time period. My parents’ heroism, demonstrated when they were only teenagers, was my initial inspiration. Reading the diaries and letters of so many Dutch people during war inspired me further.   

Q: How did you come up with the title, The Tulip Eaters?

A: Over 20,000 people starved to death in The Netherlands during the Second World War, many in 1945, the year called “The Hongerwinter.” When even basic food sources became scarce, the Dutch scoured the countryside, digging up potatoes – anything they could find to feed their families. When all else had been scavenged, they dug up and ate tulip bulbs, which they ground into meal or made into watery soups, and yet had to be careful to avoid the innermost portion, which is poisonous. They were forced to eat their own national flower to survive, which I found to be a tragic irony of the Nazi occupation.

Q: Tell us about the previous research you did that eventually led to this novel.

A: When I was in my 20s, I received a grant to research the Dutch resistance movement at the Netherlands War Institute (then NIOD, now RIOD) in Amsterdam. My original purpose was to publish a non-fiction paper on the subject, but after two years, I returned to the States, went to law school and into law practice instead. Years later, after writing Saving Max, I came across boxes of my research and notes about the diaries I had read at NIOD, about the lives of those who had experienced the Nazi occupation in the Netherlands, and found myself drawn in once again by that time and place and the social, political and moral issues it presented. Of particular interest, and a historical element that plays a large role in the novel, is the fact that there was a significant Dutch Nazi party in the Netherlands (the “NSB”), peaking at approximately 100,000 members during WWII. This is not a well-known fact outside of the Netherlands, and yet it was a very real element in day-to-day life for my parents and other Dutch citizens during the war. 

Q: Do you find it easier to write about topics that you have a strong emotional connection with, such as your family’s ties to WWII? Why or why not?

A: I don’t think I’m capable of writing a book unless I feel strongly about the subject matter. It is why I write. Passion for the subject matter is what sustains me on those days I want to throw my computer out of the window!

Q: When beginning a new book, do you develop a plot around the characters or does the plot come first?

A: The outline comes first! I am not a fan of them, but my agent, Al Zuckerman, insists upon them and I have come to agree with him. Yes, I always have the main characters in my mind before I begin to outline the plot, but Al and I engage in such an intensive process during the six or eight months that we develop the outline, my characters spring to life as well. And then, of course, everything gets worked out on the page during the drafting and rewriting of the novel itself.

Q: In The Tulip Eaters, who is your favorite character and why?

A: Anneke, Nora’s mother. She was based upon my mother, who fought in the resistance and loved her children more than anything in the world. She was brave, loving, adventurous, funny and amazing. She will always be my hero.

Q: Your debut novel, Saving Max, was a USA Today bestseller. What was it like to have such success with the first book you published?

A: It was shocking. It still is. As anyone who has sweated and prayed just to be published, I felt completely victorious when I saw the book in print. The fact that it has been read and enjoyed by so many still just has me shaking my head.

Q: For other aspiring authors, what is one lesson you learned from the success of Saving Max?

A: Be grateful to those who made it happen. Any author as lucky as I am to have a debut novel achieve such success had an army behind her. In my case, my husband is my greatest champion, first line editor and the only person who can stand to live with me when I’m writing. My agent, Al Zuckerman, is my creative partner and truly my editor. I can’t imagine a book without him.

Other advice: rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
And. Rewrite.

Q: What similarities, if any, do The Tulip Eaters and Saving Max share?

A: Both are about the unconditional love of a mother for her child. In Saving Max, Danielle risked everything to keep Max safe. In The Tulip Eaters, Nora goes to the other side of the world to try to rescue Rose from her kidnapper. Anneke, Nora’s mother, is also an example of multi-generational maternal love.

Q: You were a trial lawyer for 15 years. What made you want to be a writer instead?

A: I didn’t decide to stop practicing law to become a writer. I stopped practicing law to take care of my special needs sons and my family. I had always written, but it was the experiences I had with my son who has Asperger’s that made me want to finally write a book. Writing was how I coped with my life at that time. Now it’s what I do.

Q: Describe your ideal writing space. How does it compare to where you usually write?

A: I write in my ideal writing space! We live in an old German 1860’s rock house, but I write behind it in a small studio next to our kitchen garden that has a lot of light, stone floors and a high ceiling. It is a contemporary space, completely quiet and minimalist. The only thing that makes noise is my Great Dane, Phoebe, who snores on the floor while I work.

Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring novelist?

A: Keep your day job.
Get a reader.
Rewrite until your thumbs are blue and half of your original book is on the floor.
Find a good agent. Don’t stop until you do or you’ll get nowhere.
Be true to yourself.
Get a real life. Be happy. Don’t just write or you’ll go nuts and people won’t be able to stand you!

Q: Are there any authors, living or dead, who have influenced you?

What a question! Does it matter if they’re alive or dead?

Yes. Too long to list here, but I’ll name a few. An odd selection, perhaps, but I’m an odd reader. Harper Lee, Sylvia Plath, Sue Kaufman, Scott Turow, Ian McEwan, Carson McCullers, Saul Bellow, Harold Pinter, Vladimir Nabokov.

Q: Your readers are anxiously anticipating the sequel to Saving Max, Finding Marianne. Tell us a little bit about this next project.

A: Oh, this is going to be so much fun! Marianne has resurfaced after two years on the lam. Danielle has married Tony and Max is attending college in Houston, now that he is properly medicated. Marianne is back at her twisted games, now determined to exact revenge. To assist her, she now has an acolyte with his own bizarre predilections. Danielle, Max and Doaks combine their talents to ferret out Marianne, who is just as slippery in evading them. Will Marianne get her just desserts? She certainly deserves it! 

Q:  What do you feel are the three most important ingredients for a good book?

A terrific hook, complex characters and a plot that zooms!

Q:  What challenges did you face when writing this book?

Weaving extensive historical detail into a thriller was a new challenge for me.  I had to be very careful not to inundate the plot with too much historical background and yet as I wrote, the historical facts themselves became almost a character in the novel as well as providing what I hope is a compelling backdrop for the action.

Q:  What are the blessings in your life?

My husband and my children.  From there the list is too long to begin to recount.

Q:  Do you have any long-term goals as a writer?
To write the next book!  Seriously, I can only think of one work at a time.  Someday I might like to try different genres, who knows?  That is the great thing about being a writer.  You control what you do every time a word hits the page.

Antoinette van Heugten
        About the Author
    Antoinette van Heugten

A former international trial lawyer, van Heugten spent 15 years practicing all over the world, primarily in Scandinavia, Germany and the Netherlands, as well as in Houston, her hometown. She’s a graduate of the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, where she earned her undergraduate and law degrees.

The Tulip Eaters is van Heugten’s second novel. Her debut novel, Saving Max (MIRA Books, October 2010), was a USA Today bestseller, translated into six languages and received much critical acclaim. Inspired by her real-life experience as the mother of two autistic children, Saving Max follows a single mother whose teenage son has Asperger’s syndrome and becomes the primary suspect in a gruesome murder case.

In her latest book, The Tulip Eaters (MIRA Books, November 2013), van Heugten follows Nora de Jong as she returns home from work to find her mother brutally murdered and infant daughter missing. The only clue is the body of a dead stranger, clutching a Luger in his hand. Launching a frantic search for her missing daughter, de Jong is forced to confront the roots of her family’s secret past in World War II, leading her to Amsterdam, where her own haunting memories flood back.

When not thinking up new ways to kill off her characters, van Heugten enjoys long hikes with her dog, gardening and traveling. She is currently working on her next novel, Finding Marianne, the sequel to Saving Max. She lives in Fredericksburg, Texas, with her husband, a former prominent oil and gas trial lawyer.

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