Author Interview: Barbara Sontheimer on Her Debut Novel ‘Victor’s Blessing’

Bookstr talked with author Barbara Sontheimer about the joy of writing and breaking barriers in the historical romance genre. Here are the highlights!

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Missouri native Barbara Sontheimer is a lifelong avid reader who started writing at the age of nine. Her debut novel, Victor’s Blessing, takes a diversified approach to the Civil War romance genre, which has long favored the South’s POV in its storytelling. With a fresh perspective and backed by sprawling historical research, Victor’s Blessing is an innovative debut sure to capture readers’ hearts. You can read more about the author’s unique approach and focus on diversity, here.

Bookstr recently had the opportunity to talk with Barbara about her journey as a writer and inquire into the inspiration behind her remarkable debut novel. Here are some of the highlights from that insightful conversation, led by Dhaara Thakkar, Bookstr’s General Manager and Executive Editor.

Dhaara Thakkar: Is writing your passion, and did you think about writing in your previous vocation? Did you start writing this book then?

Barbara Sontheimer: I always thought I wanted to be a writer, but, you know, self-doubt is an evil, ugly monster that inhabits most of us…and I think I had an extra big ugly evil monster.

I started writing this about 15 years ago, but the self-doubt will eat you alive. It wasn’t until my last son – my third child – left the house that I really got serious and tried to see if I could do it… if I could share my story with people because I found it so much fun to write. I hope they would think it was that much fun when they read it.

Dhaara Thakkar: You are a Missouri native. What part of your own life inspired certain elements in the novel? Did you borrow from your real experiences at all?

Barbara Sontheimer: Nope. I pretty much made it all up. But I took characters I would have found interesting and, you know, wove them into this story in Ste.Genevieve. And I picked Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, because I live in the greater St.Louis area. St.Louis was too big a town, and then there’s a little town down the river on the Mississippi called Kimmswick, which, when I did research, didn’t exist…So I landed on Ste.Genevieve. And the more research I did on Ste.Genevieve – and it’s still there today – it’s a wonderful little town.

Image of Ste.Genevieve, MO - which Barbara Sontheimer based her book on.
Ste.Genevieve, MO – Image via Wikimedia Commons

Dhaara Thakkar: We’d like to know: how does an author think when you’re deciding on what a character will be like?

Barbara Sontheimer: Well, you wake up in the middle of the night with ideas, and you get up, and you write them down. And the next thing you do is you look up, and you’re like, oh! that orange ball in the sky is the sun! You know, I almost feel like somebody else wrote it because when I started writing it, I knew how it was going to end; I knew everything was going to happen. It just came out. It was just–I’ve never had that much fun in my life. Other than marrying my husband and having my three children, writing Victor’s Blessing has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

Dhaara Thakkar: It seems like you have an interest in the supernatural. Where does that stem from?

Barbara Sontheimer: Well, that was really all my mother’s doing. So the inspiration for the whole book was sitting down with my mother, who was very very ill and bedridden. And uh, you know, what do you talk about after a while? So she was talking about General Washington during the Revolutionary War and how, with the Continental Army, he had to allow them to go home in the spring to put the crops in.

And, she said, wouldn’t it be cool if one of those soldiers had gone home to put in the crops, and then the year later, his wife would find out that it wasn’t him. And I said, “oh, mom, can I steal that?”

Audience Questions

What does a typical writing day look like for you? What motivates you to write?

Barbara Sontheimer: Because it’s so much fun, and I get to sit down and go crazy. It’s like being asleep but being awake. I can make my characters do anything. I heard a fellow writer say the other day:  writers are really cruel people because we create people we love, and then we do terrible things to them. You know, things happen in their lives.

I get up. I walk five miles. I sit down in my office – which there’s pictures of on my website – is an actual closet with no window. And I’m in there with an Oreck vacuum and folding chairs. And people say to me, “don’t you need inspiration?” and I’m like, “No. It’s all in here. A window would just distract me,” And it has a door to keep my husband out. So, that’s important. 

What’s next for you in the realm of writing?

Barbara Sontheimer: Just the three-part trilogy about the Baleine Brides. I’ve got about 50 pages done, and I’m going to start it in 1721, then I’m going to fast forward to 1920.

I’m going to follow three or four of these brides and then their granddaughters and then their great-granddaughters. So, that’s my plan. I’m still in the research stage, which means for me, buying tons of books and destroying them with outlining and turning down pages and sticky notes.

What is the main takeaway you’d like the readers to get from your book?

Barbara Sontheimer: That love and forgiveness are incredibly powerful, and maybe death is not the end.

Make sure to pick up your copy of Victor’s Blessing, here. To watch the full Facebook Live interview, click here.

Finally, check back here for more author interviews.