Soren Petrek is a practicing trial attorney with a passion for studying World War II. He lived in England and France listening to people’s stories of struggle and sacrifice during the darkest periods of the war. Soren’s debut novel, Cold Lonely Courage, was inspired by the true story of a young Belgian woman who helped countless Jewish children escape from the terrors of the Nazi regime. Soren lives with his wife, Renee, and sons, Max and Riley, in central Minnesota.
Q: We’re talking today to Soren Paul Petrek about his latest historical thriller novel, Cold Lonely Courage. Thank you for this interview, Soren. Can we begin by having you tell us why you chose to write historical thriller novels opposed to other genres?
I have a passion for history and feel it is effectively introduced to a broad audience through fiction. Too many people overlook the importance of history in our present and future lives. By combining an exciting story with historical fact, it gives readers an insight into pivotal historical events and can create a desire to learn more.
Q. Did you outline before you wrote your book or did you just go with the flow?
I did not outline my novel before I wrote it. I had my protagonist’s character clearly defined as I had written about her, and her back story, in my first novel, The Patience County War.
Q. Who was your favorite character in Cold Lonely Courage and why?
The heroine of the story, Madeleine Toche, is my favorite character. I am awed by her strengths and understand her weaknesses. While far from ordinary, when called from her nondescript life, she stands up against evil to protect her country, her family and those who cannot protect themselves.
Q. Who was your least favorite character?
Nazi SS Major Diekmann’s character is a fictionalized version of a real person. Diekmann led the troops who butchered the French townspeople of Ouradour sur-Glane, including hundreds of children, days after the Normandy invasion. While the purpose for his actions is clouded, he nevertheless ordered the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians who had no involvement in the French Resistance, nor were combatants of any kind.
Q. Can you tell us about the setting and why you chose it?
Growing up, I had the honor of knowing a woman who was in the Belgian Resistance. She helped countless Jewish children escape from the Nazis by hiding them or helping to get them out of German occupied countries. Capture for a person engaged in those activities meant torture and death. To honor her, I gave my main character her first name. I also lived in southern France and England for extended periods of time growing up. I heard incredible war stories from the men and women who showed unbelievable courage in the face of such terror, whether under the bombs in London, on the battlefield or hiding children in an attic or cellar while German troops searched for them. I have great love for the people of France and England, and those who sacrificed during the war. I had to express my gratitude in some manner.
Q. What was the hardest part to write?
When I wrote about the massacre at Ouradour sur-Glane. It was a sleepy little French town that the war had forgotten and largely left alone. I knew I was writing about real people and a real event. I included the death of children, and as a parent, I often still become very emotional when I revisit those paragraphs.
Q. What was the inspiration behind the story? Where were you when you came up with the idea?
My inspiration was the true story of Madeleine Behren, who as a young woman in her late teens and early twenties put her life in danger for years protecting Jewish children from the Nazis. She and so many other women did incredible things in the various resistance movements against the Nazis and their allies, most often with little or no training, counting on nothing but sheer guts and a steadfast knowledge that their faith and moral convictions demanded their actions.
Many of the French Resistance regional groups were led by women, keep in mind that prior to the war French women could not vote. They moved guns, they blew up trains, they killed the enemy face-to-face, they gathered intelligence, you name it! The women of the Resistance were fierce.
Q. Do you plan on writing more historical thriller novels?
I have several planned and two in progress; one revisiting Madeleine’s character again later in life as deadly as ever!
Q. Thank you for this interview, Soren. We wish you much success!