by Melanie Dobson
Damp air settled between the marlstone walls, its chill creeping into my bones as our group wandered reverently through the ancient mines. We stopped to read the old inscriptions, listen to the stories, and remember all that happened in these tunnels along the southern tip of Holland.
During World War II, these passages were used to hide artwork from the Dutch masters and as an escape route for Allied pilots and those escaping the Nazi occupiers. What would it have been like as a Jewish woman, I wondered, trying to navigate the thousands of these tunnels as she fled from a Nazi officer intent on finding her? What if, in order to save her life, she had to leave behind the boy she loved?
My mind began to follow my feet in the wandering.
Each of my research trips begins with a prayer, a petition, as I ask God to direct my every step and lead me to His story. And He always guides me as I wander, giving me the experiences I need to build the foundation for my novels.
“Each of my research trips begins with a prayer, a petition, as I ask God to direct my every step and lead me to His story….”
In those tunnels last year, as I researched for my latest time-slip story, I could feel the wetness of the marlstone walls on my hands and the coldness in my lungs. I could breathe the moist air and fight the weight of darkness as the walls pressed in. And I could imagine the lamplight of the Nazis patrolling through this labyrinth. My own running to hide.
Each time I begin a novel, I read mounds of books, peruse websites, and conduct interviews, but the most important research I can do is walk, if possible, where my characters once walked. Hear what they might have heard. Smell the smells that will whisk readers into a different world. It’s those sensory details that breathe life into historical fiction and invite readers on the journey.
Once I’ve captured the senses in my mind, I have to dig deep to remember my own experiences that provoked heartache or fear. While my memories pale in comparison to what my Jewish character must have felt when she fled from the Nazis, I have to empathize with the sadness and fear and also the hope that propelled her along her journey through these tunnels. The light and peace and freedom she prays that she’ll find when she emerges on the other side.
God used my journey to these marlstone mines, the wanderings of both feet and mind, to inspire my latest time-slip novel, Memories of Glass. It was one of many experiences as I traveled across The Netherlands, but it helped shape my story about a group of seemingly ordinary men and women who saved the lives of more than six hundred Jewish children from deportation. As I wandered, it was a great honor to learn about the real-life Dutch heroes who fooled the Nazi officials with their ingenuity and courage.
Now I’m on a plane destined for Germany. Tomorrow I’ll be wandering down medieval German lanes and the rooms of a Roman castle before visiting the Nazi Party grounds in Nuremberg. And as I explore, I’ll begin fitting together the pieces of a new story in my mind.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Writing fiction is Melanie Dobson’s excuse to explore abandoned houses, travel to unique places, and spend hours reading old books and journals. The award-winning author of twenty books, Melanie enjoys stitching together both time-slip and historical fiction including Catching the Wind, Hidden Among the Stars, and her latest novel, Memories of Glass. Melanie’s historical novels have won four Carol Awards, the 2018 Audie Award, and the ForeWord Book of the Year.
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