Why I Wrote the Sophia’s War Series and Why You Should Read It

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As some of you already know (that is, if you read my article on Harry Potter), I’m a huge J.K. Rowling fan. I consider her one of my greatest inspirations as a writer. I have always been a reader, but the Harry Potter series gave me an experience I’d never really had before. It was my first time reading a book(s) where I didn’t feel like I was a mere observer to someone’s life through a one-way mirror; I felt as if I was there in Harry’s world, being faced with the same challenges and emotions as Harry. I felt like the characters jumped off the pages and into my life in such a way that they were my friends—characters with redemptive qualities and flaws that I treasured. I loved them. I still do.

Another huge inspiration to me is Jane Austen. I love not only the romance of Austen’s novels, but being swept into such a curious time period that was early 18th century England (actually, I love any time period in England). Austen’s heroines are independent and generally selfless and good-natured, while her heroes are handsome (so handsome) and complex. I would gush to myself while reading, eager for when the stubborn heroine would come to her senses and for the hero to come rushing in at the most perfect, exquisitely romantic moment possible. Austen’s twists and turns—the way she makes her heroines as well as her readers think one thing only to discover another—was one of my favorite things about her novels. It’s my favorite thing about any novel, really. When I’m reading, I love being surprised. I love being wrong.

Magic book with bright light coming from its open pages

I didn’t plan on being a writer. From the time I was 4 until I was probably 20, I wanted to be a singer. I’ve sung in too many competitions, events, talent shows and auditions to count. I even made a couple of albums (covers for friends and family) and I’m a songwriter. When I was inspired to write a novel, it never occurred to me that it would evolve into a passion that would consume my life.

It began while I was in college. Since elementary school, World War II has always been an intriguing era to me, though not nearly to the degree it is now. At 19, I got a hankering for a particular kind of romance set during WWII. I can’t even describe to you, really, what it was I was searching for; I just knew I’d know when I found it. I looked in local and chain bookstores. I looked online. I couldn’t find the book I was looking for anywhere, so I thought, “Hey! I know! I’ll write it! If I can’t find it, that means other people can’t find it either! It obviously needs to be written.”

It started out lighthearted enough. I’d never written more than poetry and songs (and a couple of short stories in elementary school). I began researching World War II in depth and contemplating what I wanted my novel to be about—what lessons I wanted to leave with anyone who read it. (Fun Fact: The first storyline I intended on pursuing for Sophia’s War is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from what it was to become…probably going to use that original idea in a future novel, though…) I watched and read every single thing I came across that had to do with World War II. If there was paper nearby, I was jotting down ideas and quotes. If I was walking around outside, I was watching scenes play out in my head. The concept for Sophia’s War slowly began to come to fruition in my mind. Daily, I was getting visions of new scenes that propelled the story forward and experiencing all the emotions I wanted to evoke for my readers. Initially, I drew most, if not all, of my inspiration from Rowling and Austen. I wanted to write a novel that made readers feel as if they were standing right next to Sophia, experiencing it all with her. Romance was a must, though it ended up not being the focus, and I wanted to play tricks on people—make them think one thing before turning their worlds upside down with something totally unexpected…

The more I learned about the war, though, and the more I immersed myself in German history, my writing style and writing philosophies began to mature and expand. Though what I gleaned from Rowling and Austen is still a priority to me, I discovered I have a passion to write about “real” characters. I mean “real” as in genuine, not necessarily “alive” (though they are all very much alive to me!) I couldn’t take the light from Austen’s novels and use it in mine; not during a period as dark as 1940s Germany, when millions of people were being systematically murdered, Nazism was running rampant like a cancer throughout Europe, and war was turning good men and virtuous women into people who must do anything to survive.

I am a Christian. Unabashedly. Though one of the novels I have already written (and a couple I have simmering in my mind) could be classified as Christian fiction, most of my work that’s set in WWII is not. Because of my faith, I often write from the perspective of a Christian character, but the fiction itself I do not feel belongs in the Christian genre. I appreciate Christian fiction and feel that it is fulfilling a demand in the industry, however, I have a few issues with a lot of Christian novels I read. They don’t feel “real” to me—genuine. I love seeing God move, even in a novel, but what drives me insane about a lot of Christian novels is that the main character often makes bad decisions only because they are the victim of someone else’s sins. Or, let’s say they haven’t made bad decisions at all; let’s say they are good all the way around. They make almost all the right decisions (oh, besides that ONE time he looked too long at a woman in a bikini or she skipped that woman’s prayer meeting, but she had gotten caught up in a hilarious scene where a series of unfortunate events caused her to be late, so it wasn’t really her fault after all…) The people who don’t know Jesus are often portrayed as stereotypical, or pitiful and ignorant, though they almost always open up to God and you can count on them accompanying the main character to church at the end. You can always point out the Christians in the book and also the non-Christians—clearly. I’m not saying these are necessarily bad things, as it is geared toward a certain group of people within the industry (and even a certain group within Christianity, in my opinion), but that’s not really what I wanted people to think about my work. I wanted to be something different.

Wooden cross isolated on white

The truth is, I don’t really know where my work belongs. I’m proud of that, but it’s also a little scary. My characters don’t always make the right decisions. My characters aren’t always principled. Being at war, my characters will find themselves guilty of doing much worse than missing a prayer meeting. Some of my characters get drunk; some of my characters curse. My characters have sex, in and out of wedlock; sometimes by choice, and unfortunately, sometimes not. Some of my characters know God, some of them don’t. Sometimes my Christian characters find themselves far from God because of the choices they’ve made. Even the most moral of my characters will find themselves coming to terms with sins they once thought they were incapable of engaging in BECAUSE THEY ARE IN A WAR. I write them like that because it is what’s real. And I love them for it. All of them.

I love even the most sinister of my characters because I know them inside and out, and without them, the heroes and heroines of my novels would not be the same. (Fun Fact: One day, while musing over this and acknowledging the fact that I have a deep affection for some of my villainous characters, I suddenly realized that’s the way God feels about us. He handcrafted every one of us, chose us for parts in His story. Does that mean I believe God intends for some people to be evil and others to be good? No. It’s like the story of the prodigal son; the righteous son stayed with his Father, tending to the sheep, but there was a great celebration and mercy was shown when the prodigal son returned out of repentance, regardless of his sins).

I write like this because it’s “real”. It’s life. Our life—yours and mine. I don’t write about Christians; I write about people. The reason I said it’s scary not knowing where I belong as a writer is because, as a Christian, I’m afraid my Christian readers might go into my novels with a certain expectation of flowers and butterflies. But we do not live in a Christian world, so it’s unrealistic to me to write about a main character who somehow has an indomitable, constant faith and somehow makes it through life unscathed, or with sins that are mere “surface scratches” instead of wounds that have pierced their very souls. At the other end of the spectrum, I have already experienced the fact that non-Christians will see the Christian influences in my writing and automatically assume that my work is “just another Christian work of fiction,” when it’s not. The Christians in non-Christian works are often portrayed as legalistic, hypocritical and insensitive, so when a Christian character comes along that loves Jesus but is not any of those things, they are disregarded and automatically categorized as “Christian fiction.” Both of these notions, in my opinion, are shortsighted. No, we do not live in a Christian world, but we do not live in a world without compassionate Christians who follow Jesus, either. I have tried to keep my work in that narrow area in between, because I feel that there is a literary void between these two mindsets.

I had an epiphany last year. I was sitting there, dwelling on a scene (in a future series, actually), and I remember stopping for a moment and thinking, “Whoa. That’s disturbing. Someone who isn’t like me—someone who has no interest in even fictionally witnessing a horrendous act of war—isn’t going to understand why I put something like this in here.” I began to pray, because I didn’t want to compromise the truth of the darkness in war, but I didn’t understand how portraying some of these “sins” had any redeeming value. Was it all for entertainment? What was the purpose? Was I going too far?

In the midst of my prayer, it hit me, and this is something I remind myself of often now:

“You have to show them how bad war is so they can see just how great God is.”

We don’t serve a mediocre God. We serve a powerful, awe-inspiring God who has the ability to wipe clean the black on our hearts from things much worse than missed prayer meetings.

I always cringe when I hear a song or read a book where faith in God comes across as corny. God is not schmaltzy and clichéd, and regrettably, it is my opinion that most Christian fiction is. That is not to say that I think all Christian fiction is clichéd. In particular, I find Francine Rivers’ work to be fantastic and a welcome exception to the rule. And I’m not saying that my work is somehow better than anyone else’s just because I have different goals as an author—I respect and admire anyone who pours their tormented, impassioned heart into words. Besides, who am I, but a budding author with a dream and a fiery heart? I suppose all I want is an opportunity to explain my writing philosophy and my purpose in writing so you might see what makes it unique—so it might appeal to you enough to take a chance and dive into Sophia’s world.

Sophia and all the people she meets and builds relationships with have come a long way since I started this journey almost eight years ago. Originally, I wrote it as one giant manuscript before deciding to come back to it and turn it into a series. Though I love the characters and the story, I felt that it was written so poorly (first endeavor to write a novel, remember!) and it was so long that I didn’t think it would ever find its way into readers’ hands. It needed a lot of work, and I’m constantly moving from one project to the next, so I didn’t think I would ever make time to go back to it. It had been five years since I had even looked at Sophia’s War, when one day last year I began to reminisce about the dynamic between Sophia and another character in the series. I suddenly realized the world had to know about them. It didn’t matter how long it took, what other projects I needed to put off or how much work needed to be put into it. It had to be done!

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 6.37.08 AM

So that’s where I am now. I have been improving on the series for the past 8 months. Book 3 in the series, Stalemate, will be released in February and I’m currently in the middle of editing and rewriting scenes in Book 5. There’s still more to come and I can’t wait to relive it all again with Sophia.

Today, I invite you to meet Sophia and the others who bring this story to life. Sophia’s War is a series with vivid characters, romance, suspense and surprises that will draw you in and make you cheer for every small victory and fear what comes next with every step Sophia takes. It’s a perilous adventure that will be on your mind long after you’ve finished reading it.

You never know. It might be just what you’re looking for.

Get started today!

Want to meet the characters in Sophia’s War first?: Your Next Favorite Book Characters

Purchase Sophia’s War: The End of Innocence (#1) here!: The End of Innocence

Purchase Sophia’s War: Lies and Allies (#2) here!: Lies and Allies

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2 thoughts on “Why I Wrote the Sophia’s War Series and Why You Should Read It

  1. Pingback: Playlists and New Character Bios! | Stephanie Baumgartner

  2. Pingback: Adrian’s First Assignment (Adrian #1, Short Story Sophia’s War Series) | Stephanie Baumgartner

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