We're excited to welcome the author of Spy Island, Sophie Schiller, to Reading Lark today.
Andrea @ Reading Lark: What inspired you to focus on WWI in your novel?
Sophie: WWI was a natural setting for my novel since the Danish West Indies were sold to America at the height of the Great War. I wanted to tell the story of the transfer to commemorate the upcoming 100th Anniversary of Transfer Day, which will take place in 2017 and will be a major international event. Back during WWI, it was no secret that the Kaiser had set his eyes set on acquiring a port in the Caribbean from which he could launch attacks on the Panama Canal. The Americans felt that the $25 million they paid Denmark was a small price to pay to keep Germany out of our backyard. But I knew there had to be more to the story. After months of research, I finally made a breakthrough: I discovered that a pocket of German spies was operating in St. Thomas right under the noses of the Danish authorities. This startling fact became the basis for my novel.
Andrea @ Reading Lark: How did your experience growing up in the West Indies contribute to your decision to set a novel in that location?
Sophie: Without a doubt, the West Indies is a very romantic place to grow up. As a child, I loved hearing stories about buried treasure and swashbuckling pirates. During my daily after-school jaunts along the waterfront of Charlotte Amalie, I would imagine that the men who came stumbling out of the bars were really pirates like Blackbeard or Henry Morgan. Based on their torn clothing, scraggly hair and bloodshot eyes, it wasn't hard to make that stretch. But most of all, the fascinating history and intoxicating beauty of the Virgin Islands made me long to experience life as it was back in the old days, back during Danish times, but there was nothing available to read. It was this feeling of lack that compelled me to write my novel.
Andrea @ Reading Lark: What are the main ingredients to creating a work of historical fiction?
Sophie: Authenticity is key. The writer of historical fiction has to work harder than a writer of contemporary fiction to create believable characters, situations, and settings. The main ingredient is perseverance, never giving up, digging deeper and deeper to find the story, following every lead, every angle, researching a subject until you've mastered it completely. It is difficult but supremely rewarding work.
Andrea @ Reading Lark: Where is your favorite place to write?
Sophie: I have a small office in a quiet corner of the house. It's a little too small for my needs but I'm pretty organized so it has worked pretty well.
Andrea @ Reading Lark: Which one of your characters is most like you?
Sophie: Probably Abby Maduro. She has an independent spirit yet loves to sit with the older generation, drinking in their wisdom, hearing their stories, as she does with Nana Jane and Judge Neergaard. She loves exploring the world, discovering things on her own, which is how she came to meet Erich, the German war deserter, and Queen Coziah, the fiery coal woman. In many ways, "Spy Island" is based on my childhood experiences growing up in St. Thomas, but the story is completely fictional.
Andrea @ Reading Lark: It's a tradition around here to ask this one - What is your favorite bird?
Sophie: The bananaquit, the ubiquitous island bird found in almost every Caribbean island who is known for his delirious love of sugar. The song "Yellow Bird" was coined after this much-loved Caribbean dweller.
Publication Date: January 16, 2013 | CreateSpace | Formats: eBook, Paperback
A forbidden friendship that blossoms into love is at the heart of this colorful historical novel.
Abigail Maduro arrives in the Danish West Indies on 1916 to live with her Aunt Esther, a bad tempered spinster, and her houseful of eccentric servants. Despite the island's veneer of tranquility, St. Thomas is a hotbed of German spies who use their Hamburg-America steamers to aid the Kaiser's war effort.
When a mysterious stranger suddenly appears in town, Abigail is drawn into the conflict. In the scholarly Erich Seibold, she finds the friendship and love she has been craving, even after she learns that Erich is really a deserter from a German U-boat. But their idyllic interlude comes to a crashing halt when the island's German consul also discovers Erich's identity, and blackmails him into committing sabotage. After a melee involving the Danish governor, Erich is thrown into prison, forcing Abigail to risk everything to save him. Action and adventure abound in this colorful historical novel that brings to life a fading West Indian sugar colony in the last days of Danish rule.
Praise for Spy Island
"Spy Island is an exciting adventure that will keep you on the edge of your seat. I love being immersed in the world of the Caribbean during World War I, I felt like I was looking into a snapshot of the past. This book is full of adventure, exciting twists, just when I thought I had the plot figured out, it would change again. The descriptions, the characters, and the plot of this story all weave together into a tight package of fun that you do not want to miss." The Howling Turtle Book Reviews
"Spy Island is a fun, fast read for any fan of historical fiction and adventure stories." Lynne Hinkey, author of Marina Melee
"Spy Island hits that rare spot for me in historical fiction. Not only is it an entertaining story with lots of movement, but the authentic island feel and early 20th century world surround you. A great read!" Dianna Rostad, Amazon Reviewer
"From the first page, I was instantly thrown into Abby's world and truly taken aback by the lovely descriptions ranging from those of Panama to those of life at sea to those of the Danish West Indies. Sophie really managed to make me feel like I was right there with the characters in this one and it added a lot to my enjoyment of the book. Spy Island is a thrilling and fast paced novel perfect for fans of historical fiction and mystery." Lauren's Crammed Bookshelf Blog
Suddenly, a posse of machete-wielding men appears out of nowhere. They offer to find the shooter and bring him to justice. My heart races as I catch the glimmer of the razor-sharp machetes in their muscular, outstretched arms. These men are after Erich and there's no way to stop them.
I push my way through the crowd, attempting to flee to the safety of the Grand Hotel. All around me scuffles and brawls erupt among the outraged horde, while panicked faces emerge from windows and doorways, each one trying to make sense out of the confusion and strife. I crane my neck over the commotion, hoping to catch sight of the governor. Thankfully, he is still alive, although dazed with confusion. Two policemen haul him to his feet and lead him to the safety of Fort Christian. Still no sign of Erich anywhere. If Erich was indeed was the shooter, he has simply vanished.
Just then, someone screams, "There he is. Grab him!"
I look up. A dozen natives, all brandishing machetes, take off in hot pursuit of a solitary individual who resembles one of the Cha Cha's from Frenchtown who is pushing his way across the square in horror. Making out his features is impossible as he has a scarf tied around half his face, rendering him unrecognizable. But by his size and height, I am pretty sure it is Erich. I yell for him to run faster, but my voice is drowned out by the deafening roar of the crowd.
Erich scales a low wall and races down the nearest alleyway with a posse of men in hot pursuit. His pursuers shake their fists indignantly, swearing and yelling out threats as they attempt to catch him. Somehow Erich is faster, remarkably agile and adept at outrunning an angry mob, but I know his life is in great danger. With no thought to my own safety, I chase after the posse, hoping I can somehow help to avert disaster.
Erich races down Norre Gade as if he's on fire. He climbs up the steps of the Frederick Lutheran Church two at a time. When some of the men catch up with him, he swings around, kicking one in the chest and sending them all toppling backwards like a line of dominoes. Another one catches up with Erich, but receives a blinding punch in the face that sends him rolling down the steps like a broken wheel. Erich shakes his fist, then disappears inside the church, barring the door shut.
Another group of indignant citizens reaches the front door of the church and pounds on it with tremendous anger. They lunge at it, trying to push it open. All their force is no use; Erich has barred it from the inside with an iron rod. Amazingly, while they fumble with the front door, Erich slips out the back with the stealth of a mongoose and heads to the back of town.
I catch sight of him as he races down Kongens Gade, dodging bewildered donkey carts and flustered market women as he runs for his life. Just then, a thought occurs to me that by going through with Lothar Langsdorff's diabolical plan, Erich has sacrificed his own life to save mine. My heart swells with love for him. Fueled by the hope that I can repay the favor, I follow the trail of angry natives intent on bringing justice down on Erich's head, yet realizing I may never see him again.
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Sophie Schiller was born in Paterson, NJ and grew up in the West Indies amid aging pirates and retired German spies. She was educated at American University, Washington, DC and now lives in Brooklyn, NY. You can find more information on Sophie Schiller and her novels at website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.
Spy Island Blog Tour Schedule
Monday, September 15 Review & Giveaway at Queen of All She Reads
Tuesday, September 16 Review at The Librarian Fatale
Spotlight & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, September 17 Interview at The Maiden's Court
Thursday, September 18 Review at CelticLady's Reviews
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Friday, September 19 Interview & Giveaway at Reading Lark
Monday, September 22 Review at Brooke Blogs
Tuesday, September 23 Review at Just One More Chapter
Spotlight at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, September 24 Review at Luxury Reading
Thursday, September 25 Spotlight & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Friday, September 26 Review at Princess of Eboli
Review at Svetlana's Reads and Views
We have ONE paperback of Spy Island to offer our readers. This giveaway is open to US residents who are 18+ years of age. The book will be shipped by the book tour company.
The giveaway runs from September 19-26. Winner will be notified via email on September 27.