Aimie K. Runyan is a bestselling author of historical fiction. She has been nominated for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer of the Year award and two Colorado Book Awards. She lives in Colorado with her husband and two children.


SunLit: Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate? 

Aimie K. Runyan: “The School for German Brides” was actually born from research I stumbled on for my previous novel, “Across the Winding River” (also a Colorado Book Award finalist). I had a character, much like Hanna, who was being shoved into marriage with a high-ranking SS officer. 

I was searching to see if the Nazis had any wedding traditions, given that they flaunted most traditional religious rites, and stumbled onto the Nazi Bride Schools, or reichsbräuteschule. The whole concept was so terrifying, I couldn’t help but envision it as the center of a novel. 

SunLit: Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?

Runyan: This is our opening scene. Hanna has just lost her mother, and her life has changed irrevocably. She is going off to live with an aunt and uncle she doesn’t know well, and she has to adjust to a life that is wholly unlike her mostly idyllic childhood in Teisendorf. Berlin is a huge, imposing city, and she has no idea the darkness that is awaiting her there. 

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.

SunLit: Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you sat down to write? And once you did begin to write, did the work take you in any unexpected directions?

Runyan: This was my “heart of the pandemic” book, meaning I was writing under stay-at-home conditions and homeschooling my children as a newly single mother, so instead of clocking 2,000 words a day, I was writing in 200-word chunks whenever I could. And it was so, so hard… but in a way, I think it needed to be hard, given the bleakness of the subject matter. 

Klara, the character who bridges the gap between Hanna and Tilde, was the real surprise. She developed as perhaps the most interesting character in the book completely on her own. 

SunLit: Are there lessons you take away from each experience of writing a book? And if so, what did the process of writing this book add to your knowledge and understanding of your craft and/or the subject matter?

Runyan: Each book absolutely teaches me something, and this one was sheer endurance. Books can be written under terrible conditions, and they can be made better for it. 

SunLit: What were the biggest challenges you faced in writing this book?

Runyan: Apart from the above mentioned homeschooling of my two children, the fact that I couldn’t travel for research and that my research avenues were limited definitely hampered the process. 

SunLit: If you could pick just one thing – a theme, lesson, emotion or realization — that readers would take from this book, what would that be? 

Runyan: No one is neutral. Even by not deciding, you pick a side, and you are complicit in the outcome of that action, for better or worse. 

“The School for German Brides”

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SunLit: In a highly politicized atmosphere where books, and people’s access to them, has become increasingly contentious, what would you add to the conversation about books, libraries and generally the availability of literature in the public sphere?

Runyan: I believe libraries are a treasure. So are book shops, large and small. Any place that exposes people to literature in a welcoming environment is a good thing. I care very much, however, that authors are able to make a gainful living off their work. I think currently, the biggest existential threat to that livelihood is AI and the direction where it’s headed. 

I hope the powers that be are able to rein in the scope of AI before it makes artists of all stripes obsolete. I’m not opposed to having AI help a person make a schedule or draft an email, but art should be for humans. 

SunLit: Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write? 

Runyan: My preferred time to write is first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee in my recliner. I write three pages, stream-of-consciousness style, longhand, in a journal, then I go about drafting or whatever my most pressing deadline is. 

SunLit: Tell us about your next project. 

Runyan: I have a historical novel, “A Bakery in Paris,” split between the 1870s (the Siege of Paris/Paris Commune) and 1946 and the reconstruction of Paris after WWII. Pitched as “Les Misérables” meets “Chocolat,” it’s the story of two women from the same family, generations apart, who find their path in life in the guise of a small green bakery in Montmartre. 

Quick hits: A collection of quirky questions

SunLit: Do you look forward to the actual work of writing or is it a chore that you dread but must do to achieve good things?

Runyan: I love writing. The research is so fun, but I am always so excited to dive into the actual crafting of the story. 

SunLit: What’s the first piece of writing – at any age – that you remember being proud of?

Runyan: In third grade, I wrote a short story — a retelling of the myth of Atalanta. I got to handwrite the final draft in a homemade bound book that one of the class grandmothers made, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. 

SunLit: When you look back at your early professional writing, how do you feel about it? Impressed? Embarrassed? Satisfied? Wish you could have a do-over?

Runyan: My first two books, “Promised to the Crown” and “Duty to the Crown,” were definitely naïve in a few ways. I wouldn’t mind the rewind button to 2013 to make them better and to strengthen the plot in a few ways, but I learned a lot from them and the process of bringing them about. I still love those books. 

SunLit: What three writers, from any era, can you imagine having over for a great discussion about literature and writing? And why?

Runyan: Gosh… Ken Follett, because he turned me on to historical fiction. Margaret Atwood because she’s one of the most skilled writers of our time. And maybe Charlotte Brontë so we could gush over “Jane Eyre.” 

SunLit: Do you have a favorite quote about writing?

Runyan: “Stop aspiring and start writing.” I don’t know who said it, but it’s the truest thing I know.

SunLit: What does the current collection of books on your home shelves tell visitors about you?

Runyan: That I have an eclectic taste in books, and that I am not afraid to turn any flat surface in any room into a bookcase. I currently have research books on my subwoofer in the living room and stashed in the ottoman, an “urgent” TBR shelf in my room (with probably 50 books on it), and a whole library in my basement office. I love physical books, but also listen to a lot of audio, 

SunLit: Soundtrack or silence? What’s the audio background that helps you write?

Runyan: Silence or, occasionally, soft classical. I prefer silence and solitude for drafting. 

SunLit: What event, and at what age, convinced you that you wanted to be a writer?

Runyan: I think the first time I was let loose in third grade (see anecdote above) was the moment I first got hooked, but I didn’t consider it seriously until I was in my 30s. I’d been told so many times how hard it is to make a living as an author, I took the message a little too much to heart. 

SunLit: As an author, what do you most fear?

Runyan: I think most of us fear capricious market changes. One day historical fiction is selling like hotcakes, and the next day, the genre is dead. It’s unsettling and you have to be willing to ride the waves. 

SunLit: Also as an author, what brings you the greatest satisfaction?Runyan: Having readers reach out and tell me that my work impacted them at a profound level. It’s thrilling to know that I brought people joy, helped them to cope with something in their own lives, or brought them to a greater understanding of our human truths. It’s a miraculous thing, really.