Having recently done a major marketing push for my novel Buried Appearances, I was re-reading through the customer reviews – as we writers are wont to (somewhat obsessively) do – and noticed this remark: “…one wonders whether [the book] is indeed autobiographical (it isn’t in fact).” (emphasis added) Actually, that’s not entirely true. Although the story isn’t autobiographical (my grandfather fought in WWI not WWII), it is loosely based on a true story and contains hundreds of facts about events, locations, and real life persons from wartime Holland.
For those of you scratching your heads and wondering what in the world I’m on about now, here’s the synopsis of Buried Appearances:
Skylar Dewitt has been ostracized her entire life due to her grandfather’s well-known sympathies with the Nazis. But now her grandfather’s body has been recovered in the Netherlands in an area famous for being a Nazi killing ground. Why would her grandfather be buried in a place legendary for assassinations of resistance members? Skylar jets off to Holland in search of answers about her grandfather’s demise. Along the way she finds long-lost family and old friends but will she solve the mystery of what happened to her grandfather? And maybe she discovers something more valuable than resolving any mystery could be: herself.
Obviously, Skylar is a fictional character. Her grandfather, however, is not. Not really. The man is actually based upon my husband’s grandfather who was indeed a member of the Dutch resistance and killed by the Nazis in the early days of the Second World War. My father-in-law has spent years trying to find out more information about his father. I’ve always found his story fascinating and wondered what if he could find out more about his family.
On Memorial Day a few years ago, I decided to attend the commemoration ceremony at the U.S. Cemetery in Luxembourg (I was living just across the border in Germany at the time). I ran into an American friend who is married to a German whose grandfather was also killed during the war, but his final resting spot was unknown. Her husband has been looking for answers as well.
Looking out over the numerous American fallen resting in their graves and the veterans attending the ceremony while talking to my girlfriend about the attempts her husband had made to find the remains of his grandfather, my muse not only tapped me on the shoulder. She pretty much took a hammer to my head shouting: Here’s an idea! Take it! Take it – now! I let the idea simmer in the back of my head for a few months before finally opening a new Word document and starting Buried Appearances.
Buried Appearances is more than a historical fiction novel. Absolutely every location is based upon actual locations. From the location where Skylar lives in Michigan – Zeeland in Greater Holland region of Michigan – to the street in Haarlem where Skylar’s grandma grew up is real. The street in Haarlem is, in fact, the street in which my husband’s grandfather lived. Heck, even the nursing home Skylar visits where a childhood friend of her grandmother lives exists. It’s a place my husband and I often passed by on walks with the dog. (If you happen to be passing by, it has a quaint tea house in the former gatehouse.)
Aside: I had to laugh when one reviewer complained about the fact that I didn’t spend any time describing the beautiful tulips for which the Netherlands is famous. The novel takes places at the end of June. Of course, I didn’t describe the tulips! They bloom in early Spring. I did in fact mention the tulip fields as Skylar passed them on the train (a train ride I used to take daily on my way from Haarlem to work in The Hague).
The events mentioned in the book are all true as well. Dolle Dinsdag, an event I use to propel the narrative in the story, is an incredibly important historical event from the war. I used factual raids conducted by the Nazis on the NS (the Dutch national railroad) workers as part of Skylar’s grandfather’s story. Even the train times for Skylar to get from Amsterdam to Heemstede and then Leiden and/or The Hague are accurate (for so far as the Dutch trains ride on time!).
Even many of the fictional characters of Buried Appearances are based on real people. As well as Skylar’s grandfather, the Jewish family of Skylar’s friend is based upon a prominent Dutch Jewish family and what happened to them during the war.
So yeah, maybe the story itself isn’t autobiographical, but it is made up of thousands of stories and events, which actually happened.