Beatriz Williams: The ALONG THE INFINITE SEA Interview
ALONG THE INFINITE SEA is one of those special books where readers will not want the story to end. The story alternates between the late 1930s in Nazi Germany and mid 1960s America, with the flashback narration revealing a mystery of regret and intrigue. It is a story of relationships: a love triangle between the Jewish resistance fighter, Stefan, and his rival, German General Johann, as they struggle for Annabelle. The 1960s part shows the relationship between Annabelle and Pepper, who meet over the sale of a 1930s Mercedes. Both women are survivors who refuse to allow someone to control their destiny and help each other to survive.
Elise Cooper: You wrote in the acknowledgements section that this version was not the original. Why?
Beatriz Williams: I tried to open all my files for the story and found that they were corrupted. I don’t know the official reason but there could have been a bug in Pages, because after I downloaded the new version the file opened. I double clicked on it and the darn thing opened up, when I was 90% through with the new version. I lived and learned so I switched back to Word.
EC: Can you tell us the differences in versions?
BW: No, that will be left to find in my safe’s archives. But I did feel it was meant to be. I think I went down the wrong path with the first version. This version is completely different, and I think it is as it was supposed to be. I am much happier with this final result.
EC: I though Nick was going to be front and center but he only makes cameo appearances. Why?
BW: I did not want this story about Nick and for him to take it over. I thought since Nick was in Europe at the time it would be entirely appropriate for him to be a part of the resistance and friends with one of the main characters. It was fun to place him there, but I did not want him to steal the thunder from the new characters.
EC: Can you talk about where you got the idea for the car?
BW: A few years ago I came across an article about a vintage automobile, a rare 1936 Mercedes 540K Special Roadster. It had been discovered in a shed at an inn. A German baroness had driven this extraordinary car around Europe before WWII began. She had various affairs including one with a Jewish gentleman. She eventually fled to America with her Mercedes. After being fully restored the car was sold at auction in 2012 for nearly $12 million. I decided to make up a story about the car and the third Schuyler sister, Pepper. This 1936 German car was the perfect springboard into the world of the early Nazis. Remember the female protagonist Annabelle is the grand daughter of a Hardcastle so she spent a lot of time at the Cape Cod summer cottage, where the car was hidden. Since it was so distinctive the family wanted to make sure the Nazi regime did not know General Von Kleist escaped, because he knew a lot about the Third Reich plans.
EC: Do you think General Johann Von Kleist was a complicated character?
BW: It took courage for a German to say I will not stand for this and refused to conform. I wanted to show that not every German during that period was evil. There were some individuals bravery who helped with escapes. At first Johann’s upbringing of being a Prussian officer who fought in World War I influenced his desire to work with the Nazis. It was part of his heritage to obey orders. Yet, he took a journey when he found out their true intentions.
EC: Was Von Kleist’s feelings towards Stefan motivated by Anti-Semitism?
BW: No. I wrote in the love triangle that is partially based on revenge. It gets personal between himself and the Jewish resistance fighter, Stefan, the lover of his wife Annabelle. Johann allowed his personal views to influence his actions towards Stefan. He did not deport him to Dachau Concentration Camp because he was a Jew, but for revenge.
EC: How would you describe Stefan?
BW: He is a flawed hero. I loved writing about him. His family represented the Jews who influenced the German culture at the turn of the century. All of this wonderful creative production was coming out of the Jewish cultural legacy. The rest of the population in the 1930s betrayed Stefan’s family. He understood this and was very clear sighted about what was happening in Germany to the Jews. He was torn between his public duty and his love for Annabelle. The pairing of these two was the easiest to write about.
EC: Describe Annabelle and Pepper?
BW: Annabelle has strong maternal instincts. She sees Pepper as somebody who was in a similar situation as she was when young. They both had their own trauma and are survivors. They are strong women, who went against the tide, grew up in a dysfunctional family, and are unwilling to allow someone to control their destiny. I think Annabelle has a sweetness about her that Pepper lost somewhere along the way. Pepper is a hardened version of Annabelle who is more brash and cynical, but does have a vulnerability that Annabelle finds. Pepper’s beauty is what makes her special, but she also was seen as someone without brains and a rule breaker.
EC: How would you describe your style?
BW: Love stories are at the core of all my books and like an opera it drives the action forward. I get frustrated with the modern idea that love stories are inconsequential. I always speak to the war between love and public duty. What sacrifices does someone make for the greater good? I like to pair two women who on the outside seem very different but do share similar characteristics. In a way they come to depend on each other. I also like to point out the differences between eras and today. For example, in this book I deliberately talk about how both women smoke and drank while pregnant. I try not to whitewash anything.
EC: You have a quote in the book that any dog owner can attest to; “Dogs are marvelous…No matter what your sins, if a dog can stand you there must be some hope left for your soul.” Do you have a dog?
BW: Yes, I do have a dog, after years of pleading from our four children. She’s a rescue dog, a beagle mix from rural Virginia, and her name is Bailey. She’s been the most wonderful addition to our family: sweet-tempered and loving, with loads of energy outdoors and endless snuggles indoors. We can’t imagine the house without her.
EC: What do you want the reader to get out of the book?
BW: I wanted to create an intensely emotional book. I want the readers to be in love with the characters as much as I am. I see my job as putting myself into the character’s heads. History is used as a backdrop for the character’s actions, personality, and desires.
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next projects?
BW: Out in January is a group novel, THE FORGOTTEN ROOM, written with two other authors, Karen White and Lauren Willig. It centers around a mansion in NYC with three different narrations: 1890s, 1920s, and during WWII. We weave them together. Out in June is my stand alone, A CERTAIN AGE, based on Strauss’ opera “Der Rosenkavalier.” It will be a murder mystery.