Interview with Pamela Atherstone, author of
… Like Footprints in the Wind
"…Like Footprints in the Wind/A Generation Lost" is the saga of German-Russian farm people, overwhelmed by the conflicts of heritage, politics and religion in 1929. It is a story of faith. It is a tale of love and adventure set against the backdrop of political change, and the progressive disintegration of a tight-knit family at the hands of Soviet repression. It is a tragic story full of deceit and pain, love and redemption. This book is rich in narrative and detail of rural Russian culture during the pre-WWII era of “The Purge of the Kulaks.”
So what’s the story?
When Johannes and Katerina Jahnle, and their two oldest daughters, are incarcerated in Siberian labor camps, the younger children are left to fend for themselves. The story journeys with Anya, their ten-year-old daughter, who is selected by Sonia, an elderly disabled woman, to assist with her daily needs. Sonia takes Anya deep into the forest where she teaches the child a new way of life. Here, Anya learns to be courageous and brave as time passes and Sonia’s health fails.
Through a set of circumstances guided only by the hand of God, Anya is reunited with her father, and together they set out across the vastness of the Russian steppe searching for freedom.
Hand of God? What genre is your book?
Historical Fiction with Christian content.
What kind of readers will it appeal to?
Anyone who is interested in little-known or unusual history. I have had great reviews from all ages beginning with advanced 10 year olds, people who remember WWII, and many that fall in between those groups.
Complete this sentence for us: if you like _________________, you’ll love my book.
Tell us more about the Jahnle family at the centre of your story.
The Jahnle family are Russian farmers of German heritage living in the area of the Black Sea (once known as Bessarabia.) They maintained their German culture, language and religion and were loyal to the Tsar prior to the Russian revolution. When Lenin, and then Stalin, came into power, the German-Russians were considered enemies of the state. Many were shot and killed, many more were arrested and sent to Siberian forced labor camps.
Johannes Jahnle and his wife Katerina will do whatever it takes to keep their family together, but the strength of the Russian army and NKVD (state police) are more than they can handle. The family is separated and each must deal, in their own way, with just trying to live . Faith is always a support for them, but even faith cannot see them through every situation, and faith takes on many different forms throughout the story.
A lot of research must have gone into this book. How long did it take to write?
I did copious amounts of research in order to “get it right.” All in all, it took three years to finish the initial writing and another six months of rewriting and editing. But this was time well spent, as I learned so much along the journey with my characters.
It's not too research-heavy, is it? Does it still bring the reader along?
A reader left these words for me on Amazon.com, and I think it best answers your question: “couldn’t put it down, but didn’t want it to end! I grew to love the characters, their struggles, perseverance and faith. I hadn’t ever heard about what happened and it was great to read about it, remember this generation and discover new parts of the world. I felt like I was there. It inspired me to take more action and do what I can to help others.”
These words are so gratifying to me. My biggest hope is that people who have never heard of the German-Russians become aware of this suppressed element of recent history.
Where does your interest in the subject come from?
I am the great-granddaughter of German-Russian immigrants and an amateur genealogist focusing on Russians of German heritage. I’m a member of the American Historical Society of the Germans from Russia and the Germans from Russia Heritage Society, as well as the Genealogical Society of Stanislaus County. I attend the Writers Workshop at the Modesto Institute of Continued Learning (MICL) where I enjoy combining my love of family with my love of horses in the stories I write.
I am a mother and grandmother. A lifelong Californian, I live in the Central Valley of California with my husband, Jim, and my horses and dogs.
Do you have a website where we can keep up with your work?
Check out the “Books” page and watch the trailer. The music for the trailer is by a wonderfully talented young man named Grady Klein. He renamed the original piece to match the title of my book. His album “Fractal” is available, too.
How can we follow you on Twitter and/or Facebook?
Book signings, interviews, or whatever it takes to get the word out about this story. I am passionate with regard to telling the world about these special people.
Interview by Marina Neary
Monday, January 18, 2016
Like Footprints in the Wind - a novel of Russo-Germanic heritage by Pamela Atherstone
Guten tag, commies!
Today I am featuring an award-winning indie author Pamela Atherstone whose eloquent novel Like Footprints in the Wind: a Generation Lost tells a story of a Russian-German family caught in the whirlwind of economic purges of the late 1920s in the Soviet Union. In the US this initiative would be called "redistribution of wealth". Since I am of mixed heritage myself (that can almost be described as contradictory), I was fascinated by the concept. This novel is a Must Read for all those who are quick to fall to "power to the people" propaganda.
MJN: I absolutely adore the trailer for Like Footprints in the Wind. It's very comprehensive and covers most of the key imagery, including the propaganda posters glorifying "the common worker". The sinister dark undercurrent is not always obvious when you look at the highly stylized posters executed in red and gold hues.
PA: Thank you, I’m thrilled you like the trailer. That was a special project on its own, and I was trying very diligently to provide the viewer with a feel for what my novel is all about.
As to the dark undercurrent not being obvious in the posters, I kind of disagree. I know the posters in the trailer go by pretty quickly, but if you really look you will notice that there are only women working in the fields, and I know it’s difficult to make out, but on the upper poster a Soviet soldier can be seen handing some sort of paper to the only man worker, who appears to be some sort of supervisor or overseer. I think that sends a couple of subliminal messages; 1) the government is always present and watching, and 2) even though the Soviets claimed women were equal, men still ruled.
Additionally, the red in the posters reflects the red of communism. The Bolsheviks chose the color red to symbolize the blood of the workers, and became known as the Red Army during the 1917 revolution. They fought the White Army, who were loyalists to Tsar Nicholas II. The red flag of the Soviet Union was decorated with a gold-colored hammer and sickle, so Communists or Soviets are called Reds in popular culture.
The German-Russian people in my book fell into the loyalist category, sort of by default. They had been supporters of the Tsar for over a hundred years, and with the rise to power of Stalin and the Red Army, the world as they knew began collapsing around them.
MJN: When you do author events, do you feel like you have to explain a lot of background history or do you feel that most audience members possess enough foundation knowledge on the subject?
PA: The amount of explaining I find myself doing is really dependant on location. At most events, I do have to explain who the people were and what happened to them. Readers are amazed they have not heard of these people and what happened to them. I have even had history teachers question me about this ethnic group and ask why they are unaware. I explain that Russia was a US ally during WWII; so many Soviet atrocities were swept under the table. What’s most interesting, though, is I had no idea about these people either, until I began doing family history research in 2000. I started finding information about some of my ancestors, and not finding information about others, that’s when I began looking for answers. The more I learned about this ethnic group, the more I wanted to share with others. People are excited when I tell them there is a short history in the back of …Like Footprints in the Wind.
On the other hand, I have done several events in the heart of the “German-Russian Triangle” in the U.S. This encompasses part of the mid-west (Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado) and up into the Dakotas. Actually, the triangle extends up into Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada, as well. There are parts of California that also have strong German-Russian communities, specifically Fresno and Lodi. I have had an event in Lodi, CA. These people know their history and are willing the share details with which I might not be familiar.
Some of the people I interviewed for background on my book are from Lodi. There are a few still living that experienced the situation first-hand.
MJN: The word "friends" doesn't immediately come to mind when you think about Russia and Germany, given the events of the 20th century. But, before they became enemies in the two world wars, Russians and Germans had a history of cultural collaboration. Many of the progressive ideas implemented by Peter the Great came from Germany.
PA: Well actually, Peter spent a lot of time in various parts of Europe and England in the early years of his rule. Although there were Germanic fiefdoms and minor principalities at this time, Germany did not exist as a country per se. It pretty much all began in 1762, when Catherine II took the Imperial Throne, following the assassination of her husband Tsar Peter III. Catherine was born in Prussia, and was the daughter of a member of the German ruling family of Anhalt. It’s all very complicated, but technically Catherine was German.
In the years just previous to Catherine’s assumption of the throne, Russia had gained vast amounts of land around the Black Sea from the Ottoman Empire. Catherine needed someone to farm this land and provide a buffer zone between the Turks and Mother Russia. She also knew there was a lack of good farmland left in the Germanic states, due to overpopulation and land inheritance mandates.
In 1762 and 1763, Catherine published manifestos inviting Europeans, (except Jews) to immigrate and farm these new Russian lands. They were able to maintain their language and culture, pay few taxes, and their young men were exempt from the Russian military draft. Germans responded in large numbers due to poor conditions in their home regions. These manifestos remained in effect for 100 years. Things began to change in 1881, when Alexander III took the throne. Russification became the official policy, schools were required to teach Russian, and business was to be conducted in Russian. All of the rights of self-government once enjoyed by German colonists were lost. And, all young men were required to serve in the military. With the onset of WWI in 1914, all ties between Russia and Germany were severed.
MJN: There has been so much talk in the US about the "redistribution of wealth" and penalizing the successful and the fiscally responsible. I often mention that something similar had happened in the early days of the Soviet rule. My American friends often shut me down when I bring up that parallel. They tell me, "Oh, but it's not the same. It would NEVER happen in America." And it's already happening, in a very subtle way.
PA: Wow, that’s a deep and complicated subject. There are so many theories on how and why “redistribution of wealth” will or won’t work. Yes, there are US government programs that institute such redistribution, such as income taxes and food stamps for example. But Soviet wealth redistribution was implemented through land reform, transferring ownership of land from one category of people, in this case the German colonists, to another, the government. In most cases, these transfers were done through direct violence, landowners were arrested and shot, or entire families were deported to Siberian Gulags. Definitions of “wealth” were also left open to interpretation. If a German farmer could afford someone to help him work his land, even though they were his own children, he was considered wealthy.
In Stalin’s view, the fact that the farms in the German-Russian villages were highly productive was due to the fertile land, not the amount of work that went into farming that land. As a result, his sovkhoz (state farms) failed because Russian workers refused to work as hard as the independent German farmers did. One also has to remember that Russia had been dealing with a long period of famine, and the common man had little or no money to buy food, much less politicians.
I personally can’t see this happening in the US to the extent that it happened in Russia. The capitalist system is too entrenched in our psyche and money talks.
MJN: Your book is an absolute gem. I am delighted that I discovered it through Readers' Favorite. I understand it won an award. Can you share more about the submission process?
PA: Thank you for your lovely comment. As an indie author getting a book recognized is a big challenge. Book contests are important because they put your book on a level playing field against all other entrants, whether they have been published by one of “the Big 5” or a small press. I love Readers’ Favorite, because the contest entry also includes an impartial, professional review. Reviews are extremely important to any book, but especially to those of indie authors. Because the reviewer gave me high marks, my book was a finalist in two categories. But, Readers’ Favorite gets so many submissions they only give one award per book.
Submissions to contests aren’t difficult; it’s usually just sending copies of the book and an entry form with required fees. But there are many contests out there, so an author has to be careful they are choosing the right contests to enter. It can get very expensive, very quickly. I only submit to contests which offer reviews, because I feel that justifies the expense of the entry.
The really cool thing about placing in a contest is receiving the award seal to place on the cover of the book. That little gold or silver circle says “Look at me! I’m a winner.” People notice, and even if they don’t buy, they will pick the book up and look at it. There again, that’s very important to an indie author.
MJN: Also, tell me about the beautiful soundtrack in the trailer. Is it an original piece?
PA: Yes, it is an original. In the process of developing the trailer, I began searching for background music on the internet. I wanted something really special, something that would flow well with the information in the trailer. However, I couldn’t afford huge licensing payments to professionals. So I searched for royalty free music and stumbled on this piece. Instantly I fell in love with it and found that it fit perfectly with the images and animations. The site it on which it was posted had a contact for the composer, so I asked for permission to use the music. The composer was willing to let me use it in exchange for a copy of the completed trailer. I also sent him a copy of my book as a thank you. It turns out the composer, Grady Klein, was seventeen years old and studying music in high school. After he received the trailer, he changed the title of the song to …Like Footprints in the Windto match the novel. He wrote several more pieces from the imagery he envisioned after reading my book. He’s now 20 and studying music in college with a desire to do background compositions for video games and movie soundtracks. I love his orchestrations. To me they are very visual and make my imagination soar. Grady recently released a 2 disc album of his instrumentals called Triumviri . The album is on iTunes or can be purchased here: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/fractalmusic1