Monday, May 22, 2023

Q&A with Buzzy Jackson


Photo by Andrea Scher



Buzzy Jackson is the author of the new historical novel To Die Beautiful. Her other books include A Bad Woman Feeling Good. She lives in Colorado.


Q: Why did you decide to write a novel based on the life of World War II resistance figure Hannie Schaft?


A: I first discovered Hannie Schaft on a visit to the Verzetsmuseum (Museum of Resistance) in Amsterdam in 2016 and was incredulous at the scope of her courage and by the fact that I had somehow never heard of her before!


Here was a young woman (a college student) who transformed from a shy bookworm into the Most Wanted Woman in Holland – so described by Adolf Hitler himself.


I immediately wanted to read a book about her but soon discovered that no such book in English existed at the time – so I decided I should try to write one myself. I felt her story was so important and inspiring, I had to try to share it with others.


Q: How did you research the novel, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: I’m not Dutch, nor do I speak Dutch, so I was fortunate to have the support of friends in the Netherlands who helped me translate documents and provide an introduction to the Netherlands and its history.


I traveled to archives in Amsterdam, The Hague, and in the UK to find World War II documents and also interviewed Dutch experts and people who lived through the war.


I was also able to make contact with descendants of some of the real people in the book and they provided family details for me. I’ve been humbled and honored by their support for the final book. 


Q: What did you see as the right balance between fiction and history as you wrote the book?


A: It was important for me to stay as true to the facts of Hannie’s life as I could while still crafting a page-turning story. I was inspired by Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s List, which is also a novel based on deep historical research. Like Keneally, I tried to keep a vision of the overall story in mind while also using real historical facts to drive the narrative. 


Q: The writer Jamie Ford said of the novel, “This isn’t just a brilliant novel, it’s a measuring stick you’ll use [to] determine what lengths you would go to protect those you love.” What do you think of that description?


A: I’m so grateful for Jamie Ford’s reaction to the book and I love that he picked up on one of the book’s most important themes.


Something I thought about the whole time I worked on this book (seven years!) was, What would I do if I were in Hannie’s position? I’ve never had to face the impossible choices she made, but her example did give me courage to stand up for issues and values that mean a lot to me, and those actions helped define the past several years of my life.


I’ve become more of an activist and that’s thanks to Hannie. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m now working on a new novel inspired by a true crime that took place in the American West in the early 1960s. Without giving too much away, I can say that it once again features a woman who finds herself in a deadly situation and has to fight for her survival. I think of it as “Nancy Drew meets In Cold Blood.” 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I believe that Hannie Schaft is one of the great unsung heroes of World War II and the 20th century, so it’s been a real honor to be a small part of bringing her story to a broader audience. I hope her reputation continues to grow – we need more people like her, now more than ever. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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