Robin Wells talks about the history of the war brides and how her parents’ whirlwind wartime romance inspired her.
1. Can you tell us a bit about The French War Bride?
The French War Bride is the story of a young woman who comes of age during the occupation of Paris, then tricks an American Army doctor into marrying her so she can come to America.
The book begins when 91-year-old Amelie O’Connor finds Kat Thompson at the door of her assisted living apartment in Wedding Tree, Louisiana. Kat left town 70 years ago when her fiance, Jack O’Connor, returned home from World War II already married to French war bride Amelie.
“Before I die, I want to know how you stole Jack from me,” Kat tells Amelie. “I know that you duped him, but I want to hear how.”
Over the next two days, Amelie tells of a girlhood interrupted by war. She describes the dark days of Paris under Nazi occupation, her secretive work for the French Resistance, and the impossible choices war imposes – choices that contrapose the survival of loved ones against the accepted standards of right and wrong. She tells how she met and married Jack, crossed the Atlantic on a war bride boat, then struggled to earn Jack’s trust after he uncovered the trail of deceits Amelie had left in her wake.
Is it true that all is fair in love and war – or is nothing fair in either? Do the ends really justify the means, or do errant means make a good outcome impossible? Is the road to hell paved with good intentions, or can good intentions mitigate wrong actions?
The French War Bride shows how we should reserve passing judgment on each other, because there’s so much more to each person’s story than what we think we know.
2. Where did you get the inspiration for the novel?
I’ve always been interested in the WWII era, because I had “older” parents who met during the war when my father was training to become a B-17 navigator. They dated for a couple of months, corresponded when he was sent overseas and became engaged by mail. Mom and Dad wed the week Dad returned to the United States, and they were happily married for 68 years.
The story of their whirlwind wartime romance has always intrigued me, because it seems so out-of-character for the two highly practical, weigh-every-decision people I knew. They were both librarians, for heaven’s sake! But then, the 1940s were a time of enormous change and turmoil, and the uncertainty of the war made many people take unusual leaps of faith. There was a sense of urgency, a desire to seize opportunities before they passed and were gone forever.
That was the starting point for my novel: I wanted to write about how the war made people do things they ordinarily would not do. I’d majored in French in college, studied in Grenoble and have always been something of a Francophile, so it was pretty easy for me to decide I wanted to write about the war from a young French woman’s perspective.
3. What was the hardest part of the book to write?
I found it very hard to write about the massive round-up of Jews in Paris carried out by the French Police. It is such a dark, tragic part of France’s history.
4. Do you have a favourite character from The French War Bride?
I love Amelie — she has such a good heart, such an enduring spirit and such good intentions — and I adore the playful, mischievous nature of her friend, Yvette. But I have to admit I fell a little in love with the hero, Jack.
5. When did you decide to write and what prompted you to start?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. In fact, becoming a novelist was such a closely held dream that for years, I was afraid to put it to the test. What if I tried and I wasn’t any good at it? So I put it off. I worked in advertising and public relations, and built a pretty successful career. I finally decided to get serious about writing a novel after I had my first child. Becoming a mother made me think big thoughts, such as “what do I want for my daughter?”
Well, I wanted her to follow her dreams, and it made me painfully aware that I hadn’t followed my own. Watching that little baby grow and change was like watching time fly, and it made me realize how easily my “someday” could turn into “never.” So I dove into writing headfirst – I took a course, I bought lots of how-to books, I joined a local chapter of Romance Writers of America, I joined a critique group of other aspiring writers, but most importantly, I wrote. I sat down every day and put words on the computer.
6. Do you have a set daily writing routine?
I try to sit down at the computer in my home office first thing in the morning, five days a week, and get right to work. The fewer distractions, the better. If I have trouble getting focused, I’ll set a kitchen timer for an hour and tell myself I’ll only work until it buzzes. By then, I’m usually so into the story I don’t want to stop—or else I’ll take a break, go outside with my dog, then set the timer again.
Also, I print out the last page I wrote and carry it with me. I’ll edit/revise/ add new stuff while I’m in the bathtub, lounging in bed, waiting in a dentist’s office, etc. Sometimes writing by hand instead of on the computer helps thoughts flow more freely – but it only counts if it’s on the computer!
7. What message do you want readers to take away from your novels?
All of my novels have distinct themes, but the unifying message they all share is the redeeming power of love.
8. What is one thing about you your readers would be surprised to know?
I brew my own kombucha. It’s a probiotic tea made with a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) and it tastes a little vinegary. It sounds gross, but I adore it.
9. What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on another WWII-era novel based in both in France and in the fictional Louisiana town of Wedding Tree. The working title is The Paris Husband. Like the other two Wedding Tree stories, it features elderly characters reliving their early adulthood. This format lets me write historical fiction with play-by-play immediacy, as if it’s happening to the character now, yet allows me to add the wisdom and insight that only the passage of time can give.
At her assisted living center in Wedding Tree, Louisiana, ninety-three-year-old Amélie O’Connor is in the habit of leaving her door open for friends. One day she receives an unexpected visitor — Kat Thompson, the ex-fiancee of her late husband, Jack.
Kat and Jack were high school sweethearts who planned to marry when Jack returned from France after World War II. But in a cruel twist of fate, their plans were irrevocably derailed when a desperate French girl overheard an American officer’s confession in a Parisian church…
Now Kat wants to know the truth behind a story that’s haunted her whole life. Finding out how Amélie stole Jack’s heart will — she thinks — finally bring her peace. As Amélie recalls the dark days of the Nazi occupation of Paris, The French War Bride reveals how history shapes the courses of our lives … for better or for worse.
Robin Wells was an advertising and public relations executive before becoming a full-time writer. Her books have won numerous awards. Robin recently moved to Houston, Texas with her husband and two daughters.