Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Interview with novelist Ellen Butler

Author Ellen Butler joins me today and we’re chatting about her new historical suspense, The Brass Compass.

Ellen Butler is an award-winning novelist writing critically acclaimed suspense thrillers, and sassy romance. The Brass Compass was inspired by the brave women who served in the OSS, British Special Operations Executive and French Resistance. Ellen is a member of The OSS Society and her fascination with WWII history originally piqued when her grandfather revealed his role as a cryptographer during the war. The Brass Compass is her debut into the historical fiction genre. She also holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and Policy, and her history includes a long list of writing for dry, but illuminating, professional newsletters and windy papers on public policy. She lives in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. with her husband and two children.

Welcome, Ellen. Please tell us about your current release.
Thanks for having me, Lisa. I’m excited to share my new book, The Brass Compass, with your readers. The story is a suspenseful spy novel against the backdrop of World War II. Our protagonist, Lily, is an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) agent, on the run, behind enemy lines. She must rely on her training and resourcefulness to outwit the Nazi’s, and to reach Allied territory before they catch her. While on the run, Lily uses a compass, given to her by a soldier, to navigate the forest in hopes that it will guide her back to the man she loves.

What inspired you to write this book?
My fascination with WWII began about a dozen years ago after watching the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers. The idea of an Allied spy behind enemy lines spun around in my head for about ten years before I began seriously researching and writing the novel I outlined a decade earlier.

Excerpt from The Brass Compass:
Into the Night

February 1945

Was ist sein Name?” What is his name? The SS officer’s backlit shadow loomed over his victim as he yelled into the face of the shrinking man on the third-story balcony. “We know you’ve been passing messages. Tell us, who is your contact?” he continued in German.
Lenz’s gray-haired head shook like a frightened mouse. With his back to me, I was too far away to hear the mumbled response or the Nazi’s next question. I pulled my dark wool coat tighter and sank deeper into the shadow of the apartment building’s doorway across the street from where my contact underwent interrogation. The pounding of my heart pulsated in my ears, and I held my breath as I strained to listen to the conversation. In front of Lenz’s building stood a black Mercedes-Benz with its running lights aglow, no doubt the vehicle that brought the SS troops. None of the neighboring buildings showed any light, as residents cowered behind locked doors praying the SS wouldn’t come knocking. This was a working-class neighborhood, and everyone knew it was best to keep your mouth shut and not stick your nose in the business of the Schutzstaffel.
Their presence at Lenz’s home explained why my contact at the bakery was absent from our assignation earlier today. I dreaded to imagine what they had done to Otto for him to give up Lenz’s name … or worse, mine. Even though I’d never told Otto my name, a description of me could easily lead the SS to their target.
L├╝gner!” Liar!
I flinched as the officer’s ringing accusation bounced off the brick buildings. A young SS Stormtrooper stepped out onto the balcony and requested his superior look at something in his hand. I should have taken their distraction to slip away into the darkness and run; instead I stayed, anxiously listening, to hear if Lenz would break under the SS grilling and reveal my identity. Clearly, they suspected he was involved in spying and would take him away. They probably also knew he had information to spill and would eventually torture it out of him, which was the only reason he hadn’t been shot on sight. It was only a matter of time before he gave me away. My friends in the French Resistance had been directed to hold out for two days before releasing names to allow the spies to disband and disappear. I wasn’t sure if the German network applied the same rules, so I remained to see if he would break before they took him.
“Where did you find this?” the officer asked.
The trooper indicated inside the apartment.
Zeig es mir.” Show me. He followed his subordinate through the doorway into the building.
Lenz turned and braced himself against the balcony. I watched in horror as he climbed atop the railing.
Halt!” a bellow from inside rang out.
Lenz didn’t hesitate, and I averted my eyes, biting down hard on my cold knuckles, as he took his final moments out of the hands of the Nazis. Sounds of shattering glass and buckling metal ripped through the darkness as his body slammed into the SS vehicle. In my periphery, a neighboring blackout curtain shifted.
The SS officer swore as he and his subordinate leaned over the railing to see Lenz’s body sprawled across their car. “Search the apartment. Tear it apart!”
The moment they crossed the threshold, I sprinted into the night.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m going back to my contemporary roots. I’m working on an art heist novel that takes place in Washington, DC.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When my first novel was published in 2013.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
When I have writer’s block I have to step away from the computer and do something else. Invariably, I clean and do other mundane tasks, while my brain works in the background to solve the problem.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Wonder Woman! Didn’t every little girl?

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Ellen Butler twitter style, 140 characters or less: author, mother, wife, shoe lover, chocoholic, fashion fan, sarcastic wit, autumn enthusiast, dancer, book worm, and good-time devotee.


Thanks for being here today, Ellen!

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