Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of more than twenty historical romance, suspense, and time-slip novels. Five of her novels have won Carol Awards; Catching the Wind and Memories of Glass were nominated for a Christy Award in the historical fiction category; Catching the Wind won an Audie Award in the inspirational fiction category; and The Black Cloister won the Foreword magazine Religious Fiction Book of the Year. Melanie is the former corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family and owner of the publicity firm Dobson Media Group. When she isn’t writing, Melanie enjoys teaching both writing and public relations classes. Melanie and her husband, Jon, have two daughters and live near Portland, Oregon.
What inspired the storyline and characters in The Winter Rose? Are any based on real historical figures?
I used to teach at George Fox University, a school in Oregon founded by the Religious Society of Friends, and had the privilege of learning about Quaker history there. The characters and storyline for this novel are a culmination of research and personal experience, and while The Winter Rose isn’t based on the life of one historical figure, Grace—my Quaker heroine in Nazi-occupied France—was inspired by women like Mary Elmes, Alice Resch, and Marjorie McClelland who cared for children during World War II through the American Friends Service Committee.
Tell us about some of the core themes of The Winter Rose. How do you hope these themes will resonate with and challenge your readers?
Beauty in brokenness was one of the most important themes in The Winter Rose. I was hoping to demonstrate the French concept of brocante—salvaging items that someone else trashed, then restoring and repurposing them in their brokenness for something new. I wanted to show how God can heal the most painful of wounds, restore complicated relationships, and through the incredible power of forgiveness and prayer, use the nicks and gashes and ultimately redemption in our stories for good.
Who did you write this book for?
I wrote The Winter Rose for readers who love to learn about history and enjoy being inspired and challenged through fiction. Part of this story was poured straight out of my heart for moms who’ve had a child they love turn away from their faith and family. My hope is that the heartache and eventually redemption among my fictional characters will encourage parents to never stop praying for their kids.
What was one of the most surprising things you discovered in your research for this novel?
Usually I travel to my main settings to research my novels, but with the pandemic, I wasn’t able to go to France or even to the American Friends archives in Philadelphia. People were incredibly generous with their time and resources to get me the information I needed for this story. The AFSC archivist answered my many questions, digging through files from home and forwarding them to me. The president of the American Synesthesia Association, Carol Steen, spent a significant amount of time on Zoom to help me build my synesthete character of Marguerite. During our time together, I was surprised to learn that synesthesia has been recognized in Europe for more than a hundred years. Carol also educated me on the artistic talents of those who see words, numbers, or emotions in vibrant color.
Then our Zoom world gave me the opportunity to connect with a Jewish gentleman who was rescued by Mary Elmes in 1942 and hidden in France for the remainder of the war. I was tremendously honored that he would share his story with me. While visiting a location and interviewing in person is ideal, it was a blessing in this strange, difficult season to find others willing to help me compile all the factual information needed to write The Winter Rose.
Which was your favorite character to write? Which one was the most challenging to write?
I had several favorite characters! Marguerite was a super fun character to write with her ability to see emotion in color and her passion to paint what she saw on the chateau walls. I also liked writing from the perspective of Louis who had been wounded deeply as a child and was living a lie in his later years. What a relief for me, as the author, to be able to offer him the gift of restoration. I was going to say that the perspective of Grace, my historical protagonist, was challenging to write, but Addie, the heroine in my contemporary story, who was even more challenging. I changed her backstory several times as I tried to understand where she came from and what happened to her deceased husband. While it stretched me as a writer, I was so pleased in the end with how Grace and Addie overcame the trauma from their pasts and fought for those they loved.
Can you tell us about some of your upcoming projects?
Right now I’m working on a series of books for younger readers called The Magic Portal, and it has been pure joy for me to brainstorm with my daughters to create these fairyland books.I’m also preparing to write a time-slip novel about a girl named Poppy who was lost a hundred years ago in the Thousand Islands of New York.