For many years I lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a city chock full of German heritage—swarming with first, second, third, and fourth generation Germans. Enough for Milwaukee to be considered the “Midwest Munich” back in the day.
I even had German neighbors who’d immigrated in the 1940s. But unfortunately, I’d never thought about either of the world wars from the perspective of Germans in America—until I read The Storm Breaks Forth by Terri Wangard. This novel hones in on German Americans living in Milwaukee during World War I.
Many Germans identified as Americans. But doubting their loyalty, Milwaukee government officials began monitoring their daily lives. Folks were barred from certain areas of the city, and from certain jobs. Newspaper coverage threw people into a panic. German features were repressed—from names to language to food. Supposedly, this is when the Frankfurter, a German sausage, was rebranded as a hot dog. Sauerkraut was christened “liberty cabbage.”
Learn more here: WUWM 89.7—Milwaukee’s NPR
The Storm Breaks Forth provides a moving portrayal of one couple’s challenges through WWI.
Terri’s books include another World War I novel, Roll Back the Clouds, about the Lusitania; five World War II novels; and a contemporary tale.
Back Cover Blurb
World War I rages in Europe, and now the United States joins in. Peter Bloch heads to France with the Wisconsin National Guard, but his wife Maren is the one under attack. She’s German born, and anti-German hysteria is running high. Simple suggestions for coping with wartime measures lead Maren into an active role in the community, but her service doesn’t help deflect suspicion from her. Zealous patriots target her with a vengeance. Peter caught the eye of a major who seems intent on using him as a spy. He’s been fortunate to avoid injury so far, but these activities are likely to get him killed. Peter and Maren dream of the day they will be reunited, but more and more, that day appears to be a mirage.
Though I’m not naturally drawn to wartime novels, Terri Wangard’s novels are worth reading. The Storm Breaks Forth was my first plunge into World War I via historical fiction. I appreciated learning how the Great War impacted Americans, both soldiers and those waiting for them back home. Young married couples like Peter and Maren Bloch are ripped apart by war, each fighting different battles.
The juxtaposition of two viewpoints enhance the story. Peter, a reporter, is drafted to serve with the Wisconsin National Guard overseas. He finds himself in France on the front lines as a soldier. He is meant for reporting, not fighting, but rises to the occasion. German-born Maren resides at home in Milwaukee doing what she must to support the war effort and convince non-Germans that she is no longer loyal to her home country.
This story was an eye-opener to the way Americans viewed Germans in America—through unfair assumptions and, in some cases, abominable treatment of those who sought refuge in American from their homeland’s evils.
These fictional characters are real and three-dimensional, their issues compelling. Just enough historical detail is woven throughout the narrative to pull readers into the setting. Despite the first chapter’s dialog exchanging a hefty amount of information, this thoroughly researched story integrates fascinating details without being heavy-handed.
Terri effectively portrays battle scenes. If you’re squeamish about war stories, be aware that these scenes are vivid and alarming.
Join me for some Q & A with author Terri Wangard.
Questions about The Storm Breaks Forth
What inspired you to write a WW I novel? Do you have any personal connections or ancestors who fought in WW I?
Terri: Before writing The Storm Breaks Forth, I wrote a Lusitania story. That ship has always fascinated me, and I wanted to write about it. The Storm Breaks Forth flowed out of that.
Where do your stories normally spring from: setting, characters, dialog, situations, or something else? Or maybe a combination, depending on the story? Explain, specifically in terms of The Storm Breaks Forth.
Terri: It sprang from my previous book, Roll Back the Clouds. Peter and Maren are the next-door neighbors to my Lusitania characters. And then the situations of WWI: the anti-German hysteria, the loss of personal freedom, the Wisconsin National Guard’s role in France. There was a story waiting to be told.
How did you decide on your hero and heroine, Peter and Maren? Did you know at the outset that you wanted to use both a USA and a European setting?
Terri: I needed a German character to experience the hysteria. Maren was arrested (on trumped-up charges), her father was interned. Peter had German ancestry too, and spoke German. That offered a lot of possibility. I often wonder what my dad’s family experienced. The men were too old or too young to fight, but what was it like to live in Milwaukee and be German at that time?
Being a Wisconsin native, how much familiarity did you have with Milwaukee and the WWI era beforehand? What kind of research was involved for the Milwaukee portions?
Terri: There are a couple of excellent books about Milwaukee’s WWI experience, written in time for the war’s centennial. I also have the WI National Guard’s wartime history written right after the war. My personal “familiarity” with Milwaukee comes from my genealogical research and studying the censuses for my ancestors’ neighborhoods.
What kind of research was involved for the European portions?
Terri: Lots of reading. Even the movie 1917 helped.
How difficult was it to write from a soldier’s point of view? Particularly one in combat. Explain how you achieved that.
Terri: I read a lot of biographies, memoirs, and general war histories. Most of the experiences Peter faced in battle were actual happenings.
Questions about writing
Are you an outliner or a pantser? Explain your novel writing process.
Terri: I start with a vague outline that is subject to change. Mostly chapter ideas. Trying to make a detailed outline doesn’t work for me. My biggest challenge is writing time. Most of my writing takes place on weekends.
You’ve written five WWII novels and two WWI novels. Will you tackle another WWI novel? Do you prefer one or the other and why?
Terri: No more WWI. I do prefer WWII. It’s more familiar with movies and books. Older folks today still remember the war years, including my dad.
You’ve ventured outside of World War I and II with a contemporary, Where My Heart Resides, set in New Zealand. Will you write another contemporary story?
Terri: I started writing contemporaries in the early 2000s, then stopped writing for a few years. After reading Debbie Macomber’s Twenty Wishes in 2008, I decided to write again and used the family letters as inspiration. I continued writing contemporaries until an editor told me I would probably need a series to get a contract.
I ended up completely rewriting Friends & Enemies, and then its two sequels. In the past couple years, I’ve updated and revised two of my contemporaries. Beta readers have enjoyed them, but what happens with them remains to be seen.
What projects are you working on now or in the near future?
Terri: I’m back in World War II in unexpected locations. Again, I look for what’s different.
What’s the most important advice you like sharing with aspiring novelists?
Terri: Lots of patience is required. And perseverance. Get involved with critique groups. Enter contests for the feedback.
Back to Laura . . . On a different note . . .
I’m currently gathering a launch team for my own historical fiction, Fifteen Minutes with Mr. Baum. Set in Holland, Michigan, this split-time novel alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s. It highlights The Wonderful Wizard of Oz author, L. Frank Baum. Read more and watch the book trailer here.
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Terri Wangard Bio
Terri Wangard grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, during the Lombardi Glory Years. Her first Girl Scout badge was the Writer. These days she writes historical fiction, and won the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Woodland’s Chapter 2013 Writers on the Storm (WOTS) contest and the ACFW 2013 First Impressions, as well as being an ACFW 2012 Genesis finalist. Holder of a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in library science, her research included going for a ride in a WWII B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. Classic Boating Magazine, a family business since 1984, keeps her busy as an associate editor. Learn more on her website.
Join me next time for another visit with Terri.
Meanwhile, have you read The Storm Breaks Forth? What WW I fiction have you read? Answer in the comments below.
What a fascinating subject for a book! I dabbled just a bit with Germans in Milwaukee in one of my books.
Even research for a novella took a lot of time, but it was so satisfying.
I hadn’t realized the German presence was so strong in Milwaukee. Funny that just south,
there were Danes in Racine, Italians in Kenosha, and Dutch (among many others) in Chicago.
I wouldn’t mind reading some ‘homefront’ WWI novels. I believe “All Quiet on the Western Front” broke me.
So I’ve avoided even fictional accounts of the wars. I do have quite a yellow streak, I guess.
Much success to Terri in all her writing ventures!
Thank you, Anita! Wouldn’t it be fun to go back in time and visit Milwaukee one hundreds years ago? Terri.
It would! Pretty sure by the 1920s there was indoor plumbing most places. Or my visit would be short 😉
I understand, Anita. I’m not drawn to war novels myself, but the ones I’ve picked to share have really given me a better appreciation for what people dealt with in wartimes. It’s good to know about their lives and efforts, and the troubles they faced. Plus, they end with hope, and are truly inspiring.
I’m realizing the only WWI story I remember is All Quiet on the Western Front. I’m sure there had to be another–and now I’m going to be racking my brain to figure out if I’ve read more–but that’s the only one that comes to mind.
The plotline of The Storm Breaks Forth is fascinating–something I hadn’t thought about, even though my own grandfather was 100% German. Although he was born in America, his parents were immigrants. I never met him as he was already 63 when my dad was born, but now I wonder what Grandpa’s family went through in WWI. Ahh, it’s so sad the stories we lose when people die. I’m glad novelists capture some of them.
I know. I wish everybody back then kept journals of their lives. What a treat that would be!
I have so many questions for my grandparents, now that they’re no longer with us. My grandmother was born in 1900 and died in 1994, long before I started writing. I had tried asking some genealogy questions, but she wondered why I wanted to know all that old stuff. I guess that’s a typical attitude.
I’m sad to hear that your grandma didn’t want to talk more about your questions. It depends on the person. A lot of old people relish such questions and talk openly. Others would rather not, particularly with war memories.
My grandmother was born in 1901. I’m thankful to say I just received some letters that she and her first husband wrote to each other just months before his death. I hope to understand her better in reading them.
Generally, she was always happy to share her stories. But I do remember one funny moment. I asked her what it was like to ride in a horse and buggy. She chastised me for thinking she grew up with the dinosaurs. According to her, they all had cars in the early 1900s. She was a city girl, through and through.
Hence the reason we need to hear these stories. So many different experiences!
That’s funny, Elizabeth. Reminds me of when my son (5 or 6 at the time) asked if I had ovens when I was growing up. Seriously? 🙂
I love your review of this book. I need to add it to my growing TBR pile! I read Susan May Warren’s book, Nightingale, a while back. It was a WWII book taking place in Wisconsin (if I remember correctly) at a German POW camp. I also loved Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay and Winter Rose by Melanie Dobson. Sooo good!
Thanks for the additional titles! Those sound good!