Writer Wednesday: Madeleine Romeyer Dherbey’s The Fortress

Welcome to today’s Writer Wednesday feature. Today I had the chance to highlight Madeleine Romeyer Dherbey, author of The Fortress, releasing today with Freedom Forge Press.

the fortress

Six weeks before Operation Overlord, a thousand kilometers from the beaches of Normandy…

There are no generals in the French Vercors, just a handful of men and women against the Nazi war machine. They come from Bretagne, Paris, distant Slovenia, and the villages up on the cliff. They have nothing left—no friends, no allies, no hope of ever succeeding.

They are the Fortress, a place of striking beauty, a crossroad of redemptive power in the destiny of a fallen nation. With her father’s death, the war breaks into Alix’s life with unrelenting violence, unforeseen possibilities, and a dangerous leader named Marc. She discovers a world in which men and women fight Nazi occupation and the Vichy régime, a world where secrets hide within secrets and the true characters of men and women are put to the test. From now on, every decision she makes will mean life or death.

You can visit her website at http://www.madeleineromeyerdherbey.com/

Tell us about yourself:
I was born near Grenoble, France, in a little village called Saint Gervais. I used to hate it growing up because it was so peaceful, and I was craving adventure. I couldn’t wait to get as far away as I could, and the United States was it. I immigrated in my early twenties for a baby-sitting and house-keeping job in DC and never looked back. I love this nation, so unlike mine in spirit, where one person can change the world, and everyone believes he can be that person. In France people trust the government, here, people trust each other, and that’s what changes the world. That American dynamism, the palpable energy that somehow compels us to try again, that is what makes this country the most individually—and spiritually—empowering place on the planet. I now live in Clarke county, with my husband, Will, two beautiful daughters, and two dogs. Don’t get me started on the dogs.

Tell us about your book:
It is based on the six weeks preceding D-Day, in the Vercors Mountains, a departure from the usual urban underground French Resistance narrative. The actual event chronology is somewhat revised for the sake of flow and plot, but most of these events did take place between January and August 1944. In fact, I was frustrated by the dryness of the many historical accounts written on the subject, and felt they did not reflect the human dimension of that battle, a tragic but redemptive last stand.

Are there biographical elements in your novel?
I should start with the fact that three of my uncles were condemned to death for collaborating with the Vichy government, a puppet of the Nazis. Their sentences were eventually commuted to national disgrace, and ten years of forced labor—thanks to my father, who had fought with honor during the war and wisely negotiated with the subsequent political swamp of the liberation for a lighter sentence. My uncles had to leave the area to avoid being murdered, but we stayed. It would be too long to explain the kind of resentment and mistrust that centuries of hardship and war can breed in a small community, but to summarize the situation, we were the children of traitors to the nation, born on the wrong side of glory. And yet, growing up in that atmosphere of hostility had a strangely strengthening effect on me. It gave me roots, a documented past, an inheritance of sorts, that made me want to understand what tears a nation apart, what makes people turn against their country, their neighbors, and themselves sometimes.

As to the specific biographical elements, the man who falls off the cliff is my own grandfather, a man of almost mythical influence in the family, and whom I finally got to meet as I wrote that first scene. Most of the characters are people I have known—yes, even the one with the rabbit—in other times and contexts, and whose personal issues, relationships, and conflicts created easy background for the plot.

Who are your favorite characters from The Fortress?
Hard to say, they’re all my babies—the good ones, that is. I like Alix, the woman I wish I were, calm but passionate, intelligent and organic; I like Marc, a composite of all the men I have loved, their steely strength and emotional secrets—no masculinity is too toxic there. I love Régis, my lost brother and the embodiment of my father’s youth, the kid who understands idealism as a cross for him to bear, not someone else; and Angélique, entrusted by God with the mission to test man’s endurance to Evil.

It was sometimes painful to go into the bad guys’ minds, because of the blend of contradicting emotions that went into their behavior, the hateful things they say and do, against their stunted humanity. I think the Militia chief, a broken soul with a pale glimmer of who he should have been, is the most effective in that sense.

If you could pack any five non-survival items while being stranded on a desert island, what would they be?
A way to play music for my Finnish metal collection and Beethoven’s symphonies, and the Bible. Also a hand saw. I can do without the internet.

What is the strangest place you have ever been?
The Kheiber pass, and my daughter’s bedroom—which is also a war zone. I traveled through the Kheiber Pass, the ancient silk road between Pakistan and Afghanistan, just a month before the Taliban overran Afghanistan. Everyone was armed to the teeth, it was epic. My daughter’s bedroom is not nearly as exciting of course, but there’s always the possibility of an ambush.

What book or author has most inspired you?
Väinö Linna, Under the Northern Star, a trilogy. It’s a story of hard work, loyalty, forgiveness, and amazing courage during the ferocious civil war in Finland. Read it. Akseli Koskela will show you what a real man looks like.

You can purchase the book at Amazon.com, available today!


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