Aimie K. Runyan is a multi-published and bestselling author of Historical Fiction. She has been nominated for a 2019 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer of the Year award and a 2019 and 2020 Colorado Book Award. She lives in Colorado with her two (usually) adorable children. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
In this post, Aimie discusses the research that inspired her new historical fiction novel, The School for German Brides, why she feels resilient writers make for humble writers, and more!
Name: Aimie K. Runyan
Literary agent: Melissa Jeglinski, The Knight Agency
Book title: The School for German Brides
Publisher: William Morrow
Release date: April 26, 2022
Genre/category: Historical Fiction
Previous titles: Across the Winding River, Girls on the Line, Daughters of the Night Sky, Duty to the Crown, Promised to the Crown
Elevator pitch for the book: An orphaned German teen sent to live with her ambitious aunt and uncle, avid members of the Nazi Party, and a young Jewish mother find their lives entwined in the most unexpected of places: one of Hitler’s horrific bride schools.
What prompted you to write this book?
I was inspired by two pieces of research I found for Across the Winding River. One was, as you might guess, a description of the bride schools. They were real places, and the one on Schwanenwerder Island was the most illustrious of them. They were designed to teach women housekeeping and child rearing skills, and were inspired by the “mother schools” that emerged to help combat the high rates of infant mortality (a good cause, to be sure) but added in insidious propaganda about how to raise a “proper German family” with devout allegiance to Hitler.
The role of woman was limited to wife and mother, and to seek anything else was considered unpatriotic and disloyal. It seemed like something out of The Stepford Wives and I was compelled by what these schools represented. You’ll find that the “bride school” isn’t the setting for much of the book, but in a way, Hanna’s entire existence is preening her for becoming the model Nazi wife. The bride school isn’t just the villa on the island near Berlin … it’s present from the moment Hanna steps off the train platform to greet her aunt and uncle.
The second piece of research was an article about the attitudes of Berlin teenagers late in the war. They were … bored. They were sick of the adults around them talking only of the war and they longed for a normal adolescence. Clearly, it was hard to sympathize with them. They didn’t seem to care that their neighbors were disappearing. They didn’t spare a lot of concern for the troops fighting. They just wanted to get on with the business of growing up.
And that, while reprehensible, I can wrap my head around. And this is where Hanna and Klara were born. They are perfectly “nice” girls, and certainly the war was just building up as the story took place, so they couldn’t yet know the extent of Hitler’s evil, but as they come of age, they must decide to be complicit with the system that gives them privilege, or to rage against it.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
I got an inkling of an idea in 2019 while writing Across the Winding River and tabled it when my then-publisher requested that I look at another era aside from the world wars. I worked on a couple of other proposals, and when the lovely people at William Morrow asked for some ideas that I might have in my back pocket, I pitched Hanna’s half of the story, and they were quite enthusiastic, so I wrote a synopsis.
My amazing editor, Tessa, wanted a second POV character from a Jewish perspective, and Tilde, the Jewish wanna-be-lawyer-turned-seamstress came to be. She added such depth and life to the story, I can’t imagine it without her now.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
The publishing process has been really interesting for this book as I am moving back to a traditional publishing house from an Amazon imprint. The editorial methods were very similar, but the marketing is so, so different. There is more need to connect with readers and the writing community to generate attention for the book. Building relationships is crucial. It feels a lot more personal, and I find that it has been really enjoyable getting to know new people while trying to get the word out.
Of course, I think there have also been some big changes in publishing in the last two years (a lot more virtual events and podcasts, for example) which have played into all of this. It’s hard to say how things will go for German Brides. It’s always a shot in the dark, no matter how hard everyone works, but it has been a wonderful experience working with the lovely people of William Morrow. They believe in the book, and I can’t ask for more than that.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
Klara, one of the secondary characters who ends up being an absolutely pivotal character in both Hanna and Tilde’s worlds, was a character who organically popped up in the chapter where Hanna starts school. I knew she was going to play a moderately important role in Hanna’s introduction to Berlin society, but I didn’t realize as I crafted her that I was going to use her as Tilde’s favorite sewing student until I started writing the chapter. I remember thinking it was a wise move to consolidate as many characters as I could, but Klara was involved in several chapters before I decided to make her so central. She was a complex and interesting character to tackle.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
That is a big question. Of all my books, this one deals with the biggest and most challenging themes. I hope that people see that political neutrality and complacency are impossible and just lead to being complicit in oppression. I hope they’re able to appreciate the limited scope of power women had under the Nazi regime and how these bride schools sought to promote that subjugation. The bride school itself may only feature in a few chapters, but Hanna is being groomed to become the perfect German bride from the moment she crosses her aunt’s threshold.
I hope they appreciate Tilde’s strength, warmth, and loyalty. I hope readers see that I was trying to shine a light on what it was to be a woman in Germany during its darkest hour and how very easy it was for some of these characters to end up on the wrong side of history.
If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?
If there is one key to getting ahead in this difficult business, it’s resiliency. It’s about getting knocked down ten times and standing up eleven. A resilient writer, I’ve found, is humble and always willing to learn. Always willing to pivot in their career when things aren’t going as well as they should.
There will be setbacks and grief, those are almost guaranteed. But remember, almost every aspect of success in publishing is out of the writer’s control … except the books themselves. If you focus on your craft, and making each book better than the last, you can make no better investment in your career.