An interview with Sarah Sundin,
Author of Through Waters Deep
With the first book in her new Waves of Freedom series, Through Waters Deep (Revell/August 4, 2015/ISBN: 978-0800723422 /$14.99), Sarah Sundin transports readers back to the 1940s — a fascinating time when ordinary men learned they could do extraordinary things, and women explored new roles while still remaining ladies. It’s an era Sundin enjoys living in while she weaves her stories. “When we read of how people in the 1940s prevailed in times of uncertainty, fear and danger, it gives us hope we can prevail today, no matter what we face,” Sundin explains.
Described by Booklist as “an optimal hybrid of 1940s crime and romance,” Through Waters Deep takes readers through the tense months right before the U.S. entered World War II. There they’ll encounter German U-boats and torpedoes, along with the explosive power of true love.
Q: Through Waters Deep is the first book in your new Waves of Freedom series. What’s it like for you to start a new series?
Both exciting and scary. I love getting to know a whole new cast of characters, but it takes time to get to know them. I love the challenge of a new setting, but the research can be daunting. I loved stretching myself by writing a mystery plotline for the first time, but sometimes I felt I’d gotten in over my head. And I never know what my readers will think of the new series . . . kind of like trying a completely new haircut and waiting for your friends’ reactions!
Q: You are known for finding inspiration for elements of your story plots in Scripture. Which verse did you choose for Through Waters Deep?
Ironically, the verse I originally chose didn’t really play into the book after all. However, verses emerged when I wrote the story. For Mary Stirling, who struggles with a fear of attention, her theme verse is Matthew 5:15-16: “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Mary learns that using your gifts isn’t prideful when you do it to call attention to God, not to yourself.
Q: Why do you like setting stories during the World War II period?
It’s a fascinating era filled with drama, action and romance. Ordinary men learned they could do extraordinary things, and women tried new roles while still remaining ladies. When we read of how people in the 1940s prevailed in times of uncertainty and fear and danger, it gives us hope we can prevail today, no matter what we face.
Q: Do you know anyone who served in the Navy during World War II? Did you draw from real stories as you wrote Through Waters Deep?
My grandfather served as a pharmacist’s mate (medic) in the U.S. Navy in World War II. He was quite the storyteller! His wartime stories were medical in nature, and I adapted one of them in my Wings of the Nightingale series. For the Waves of Freedom, I read several accounts by U.S. naval officers who served on destroyers.
Q: What fact did you find most interesting as you did research for this book?
I found something new and interesting almost every day! The novel itself was inspired by the little-known fact that six American ships, including a destroyer, were sunk by German U-boats in 1941 — before Pearl Harbor! Even those sinkings and the deaths of more than 100 sailors and merchant marines didn’t provoke the United States to enter the war.
Q: How does Mary’s fear of attention hold her back? Do you have past or present fears that have held you back? How did you overcome?
Mary’s fear of attention causes her to hold back in many areas of her life. She wears inconspicuous clothes, chooses not to assert herself on the job and refuses to use her gift of singing. Only when she releases that fear can she fully use the gifts God gave her — and she even chooses to wear red!
Personally, I’m a cautious person by nature, so I’ve had to rely on the Lord to help me overcome my fears and do what He asks of me. Whenever I do, it’s such a thrill that over time it’s become easier and easier to step out in faith — and now it’s a joy!
Q: Jim has always floated with the current, and he struggles to be bold when necessary. Do you tend to be bold, or do you “go with the flow”?
Like Jim, I’m a people pleaser who loves peace and lack of conflict, and I usually try to smooth things over between people. However, unlike Jim, I’ve always known where I want to go in life, and I follow that path with determination (although some might call it stubbornness).
Q: How do events that happen in our childhood shape our present character? Is it possible to overcome these past events and forge a new future?
I find it interesting what a powerful effect childhood events can have on our characters, shaping our fears and notions — often subconsciously. To overcome the negative effects, we have to recognize them, find the source, combat lies with truth and choose to live in the truth. Often it needs to be a daily choice. I’m thankful God gives us the wisdom, comfort, truth and power to do this!
Q: Have you ever been on board a WWII-era ship? What did you think?
I have! In the past few years, I’ve explored an aircraft carrier, two battleships, two destroyers, a submarine and a Liberty ship! I’m always impressed by the sparse living and close quarters. No wasted space, no unnecessary equipment or personal items, and everyone had to do their part. As I learned about these ships and what they did, visiting the ships meant even more to me. I got a bit too excited when I had the opportunity to climb inside a 5-inch gunmount, visit an ammunition handling room and see a real Mark 37 fire control computer. I’ve never been normal.
Q: The U.S. was united immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, but earlier that year a different cultural temperature existed. How does this time remind you of today’s world?
While we all look back nostalgically at the unity in America during World War II, the States were anything but united in 1941. Interventionists were alarmed by the situation in Europe and wanted to join the war effort before Britain fell. Meanwhile, the isolationists felt the best way to save America was by staying out of yet another European war. They argued bitterly, with lots of name-calling. The stark division and the angry debate remind me too much of the nation in 2015. I pray it won’t take another Pearl Harbor to bring us back together again.
Q: What significance does the imagery of sailing have in Through Waters Deep?
When I was in the early stages of planning this novel, I was designing Mary’s apartment and decided she’d have a painting of a sailboat on the wall — something a Midwestern girl might buy when moving to New England. It appealed to Mary for the sense of boldness and movement, surging forward despite the wind and the current. I realized this captured the heart of the story: two characters who need to learn to hoist their sails and fly!
Q: This book contains an element of mystery; is it hard to create that kind of suspense?
What challenged me most was the complexity of a mystery plot. About a dozen suspects and investigators, acting, reacting to each other, implicating others, telling the truth, telling lies, planting clues. My head swam. So I made a chart. That’s what I do when I get confused. I had a column for each character and described what they were doing or thinking in each scene and between scenes. It helped me so much.
Q: What message do you hope readers take away from reading Through Waters Deep?
Hoist your sails! Jim Avery is an easygoing, “float with the current” man who learns the hard way that floating can carry him onto the rocks. And Mary Stirling keeps her sails bound tight in false humility, fearful of becoming prideful, fearful of falling. Jim and Mary learn, “We have to hoist our sails. We have to let the Lord fill them. Then we have to resist the current if necessary to stay the course. . . . Then we can fly with the wind.”
However, I’ve learned readers often take away a completely different message than what’s written, and that’s wonderful! I’m in awe of how God can take a simple story and use one element to touch a reader’s heart in a personal and unique way. So I hope readers take away what the Lord wants them to take away.
Q: What can readers anticipate as you continue the Waves of Freedom series?
In the second book, Anchor in the Storm (Revell, summer 2016), plucky pharmacist Lillian Avery and high-society naval officer Arch Vandenberg find danger from U-boats, black market drug rings — and love. I’m currently writing the third novel (Revell, winter 2017). In it, the last thing no-nonsense naval officer Dan Avery wants to see on his radar is fun-loving glamour girl Quintessa Beaumont — even if she has joined the WAVES.
To keep up with Sarah Sundin, visit www.sarahsundin.com, become a fan on Facebook (SarahSundinAuthor) or follow her on Twitter (@sarahsundin) and Pinterest (sarahsundin).