Meet the author of award-winning middle-grade historical novels: Sandy Brehl, of Muskego, Wisconsin.
Sandy Brehl lives in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area and is the author of the Odin’s Promise trilogy, a historical novel series for readers ages ten-through-adult. The trilogy tells the story of local resistance during Norway’s World War II occupation years through the life of a young girl, Mari, and her family in the village of Ytre Arna (a real town on Norway’s western coast, on an inland fjord not far from Bergen). The stakes are high for Mari: in daily life, in her relationships with family, neighbors, and schoolmates, and in the town’s efforts to retain loyalty to their Norwegian homeland while undermining German success.
Ms. Brehl is a retired educator and also writes poetry, picture book text, and other content for young readers. She is an outreach educator with the Milwaukee Holocaust Education Resource Center and an active volunteer in SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Great Lakes Literary: Have you always been a writer, or did your interest develop after you retired from the classroom?
Sandy: I grew up in a family of storytellers and readers, but I never considered myself a writer. At school visits I tell students how jealous I am that they are being instructed and encouraged in authentic writing craft while they are young. When I was their age, “writing” consisted of “composition” of various forms with applied assignments in study projects.
We also worked on grammar lessons, diagramming sentences, and filling in bubbles or blanks. All are essential for writing well, but none are creative or self-directed. When a rare opportunity to “write” was allowed, I enjoyed it, but my writing foundation as a child was being a voracious reader.
Eventually, as a teacher, I was able to help young learners develop not only skills, but craft. I learned so much by writing with and for my students of many ages. The most important thing I learned is that I am, at my core, a writer.
After I retired I made writing (and reading, of course), my life’s work. I joined professional organizations (www.SCBWI.org), found committed critique partners, and attended conferences and workshops. Those efforts allowed me to learn and improve as a writer in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I work every day to continue on that path.
Great Lakes Literary: Why do you write? Why do you devote so much time and energy to it?
Sandy: My mind processes words and events very rapidly, which is a self-serving way of admitting that I fit somewhere within one of several labels: ADD, ADHD, OCD, etc. I compensate well enough to succeed in the world, although I suspect I’ve annoyed people without being aware of it by interrupting, switching subjects, and over-talking them.
Writing slows me down, in the best possible way. It allows my mind to work through ideas, to explore my thinking and intentions more effectively, to save my words and return to them to clarify, rethink, and revise. That’s true whether I’m writing a blog post, a business letter, a poem, or a novel. Writing puts me in touch with my thoughts, allowing me to say what I want or need to share in the most effective ways. That’s why I write.
I’m always an educator at heart, and I miss working with students every day. Writing also allows me to “be with kids” on the page, to share stories and ideas with them, even though separated over time and space. I love interacting with readers, hearing from them about my books or about whatever they are reading or writing.
Great Lakes Literary: Your historical trilogy concludes with the release of Mari’s Hope in September (2017). What are you working on next?
Sandy: The trilogy originated during a trip to Norway, inspired by stories about WWII. I came home convinced that I could share one particular story in picture book format. Anyone interested in how that original nugget developed into three books spanning five years of occupation can visit my website to learn more.
Throughout that writing process I was often writing other picture books, poetry, and more. A few of my best picture book efforts are out on submission now. Meanwhile, I continue polishing other manuscripts and drafting more. I’m also writing an historical novel-in-verse based on the true story of a Jewish family who escaped Norway within hours of the final deportation to the concentration camps, from which very few survived. Also, there’s a fifth-grade boy-character lurking in my files who is increasingly impatient about his half-written story, one that I shelved when the Norway books took over. I won’t be able to ignore his nagging much longer!
Great Lakes Literary: Thank you for visiting and sharing your thoughts with us and your readers.
For more on Sandy Brehl’s books, or to arrange author visitors or presentations for writers, visit:
Great Lakes Literary, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is the business umbrella for two imprints, Crickhollow Books and Crispin Books, publishing quality fiction and nonfiction for discerning readers.