Stretching the Boundaries with Memoir Fiction

Sigmund Brouwer is the best-selling author of nearly thirty novels, with close to 4 million
books in print. He speaks to over 80,000 students a year at schools all across
Canada and the United States through his Rock And Roll Literacy
presentations. Sigmund is married
to recording artist Cindy Morgan and they have two daughters.
NR: You have been known as a suspense writer (over 30
novels), yet your new book Thief of Glory is historical. Talk about the title
of the book, and tell us what it is like to switch genres and write something
new. 
SB:
Jeremiah Prins, the main character, is near the end of his life. In memoir
style, he finally reveals to his daughter why he has been so emotionally distance
from her all her life, aware that time is about to take away from him
everything that matters. Because the story was also inspired by my father’s
boyhood in a Japanese concentration camp in the Dutch East Indies, my primary
goal was to tell a story that honored my father’s past. So it was exhilarating
to focus totally on the story, without any self-imposed expectations about
genre. It was also exhilarating to feel the story begin to flow, once I
understood the motivation for the main character — Jeremiah Prins — to finally
reveal to his daughter the single act of horror in his boyhood that shaped who
he became as a father to her, and in so doing, overcome the emotional distance
to her that was his greatest regret in life.
NR:
When writing this book, you had to feel the specialness of it. Was writing Thief of Glory an emotional writing
experience for you?
SB:
Every day, writing from the viewpoint of Jeremiah as boy, I saw the world
through my father’s
eyes as a boy. It was the first time I was this emotionally invested in a
character.
NR:
Thief of Glory has been
described as memoir fiction. How did you incorporate truth and fiction in this
story. 
SB:
I think too, the important things in a memoir are to share the emotional memory
of an event, and that choosing what to leave out of a memoir is an important as
what you choose to reveal. With that in mind, I wrote this story as if my father
were describing his boyhood to me. He endured many of the events in the novel.
The fictionalized part was the relationship with Jeremiah and his mother, and
what Jeremiah had to do to try to keep his siblings alive.
NR:
Do you do your research
first, or begin to the story first?
SB:
Both! I’m thinking of
story as I begin the background research necessary to understand the setting of
the main character’s life. As I write and get immersed further into the story,
it leads me to more research questions — and more research to answer those
questions — which in turn leads me deeper into the story. It’s a wonderful
repeating cycle that lets me live a different world for months.  Right now, for example, I’m in the romantic
post-Edwardian era of Downton Abbey, battling the heat and humidity of Panama
among the giant steam shovels and mud slides as my main character begins to
realize that the visit of President Teddy Roosevelt to the Panama Canal will
threaten everything that matters to the woman he loves and . . . sorry, got
lost in story again!
NR:
Talk about your
research for this story. You had your own family history with your father, and
you also went deep into the history of Jappenkamp and the war.
SB:
Because my father was only seven when he entered the camp, in comparison to
teenaged girls or mothers who later wrote survivor accounts, his  memories weren’t as articulate. (At www.thiefofglory.com,
I list those accounts.) I discovered that once I knew enough of the background
from those accounts, I had enough situational specific questions for him to
bring back many of his memories. It’s so sad to lose stories when we lose a
generation, that I went ahead and formally interviewed both my parents on
video, so that their grandchildren and great grandchildren will always be able
to hear those stories.
NR:
Readers will be in for
a surprise at the end of the book, you have author’s notes and also
photographs. Why was it important to include these in Thief of Glory. 
SB:
My mother was a young girl in Nazi-occupied Germany, and remembers the pain and
horror when Nazi soldiers took away her father for hiding a Jew in their home.
I wanted Thief of Glory
to be a testament to what enduring love can be, despite life difficulties.
Through the photos, I hope that readers might understand better what life was
like in that era.
NR:
What is the role of
faith in your book? How important was faith in the life of your characters
during this time.

SB: In today’s American culture, it seems that Christianity seems
to be very polarizing, but during the Second World War it was much different.
The faith element is integral to the time and the situation, and I hope readers
see how practicing this faith can make such a different in horrible conditions.

At 70 years
old, Jeremiah Prins is seeking redemption by journaling about everything he
could never share with his children—including his time in a Japanese POW camp
and his abandoned marriage engagement. But when an online encounter puts
Jeremiah in touch with his wartime fiancee, his secrets risk destroying everything
that he loves.