Q&A with Bruce Gardner

After researching the Thirty Years War following a tour of Central Europe with my wife in 2012, I became intrigued with the question of what it might really have been like for German citizens of various “classes” to experience such trauma and devastation.  How did they live?  How did they think? What was the basis and extent of their religious beliefs, their family and romantic interactions, their compassion for friends, neighbors, and strangers? Most importantly, when the war struck their cities and homes, WHAT was it that enabled at least some citizens to courageously fight back and endure their nightmarish trials—believing that survival was possible, and that a better day would eventually come? It’s my sincere desire that all who read this work will find it emotionally engaging, informative, challenging, inspirational, and, above all, a fitting testament to those brave souls of 17th Century Germany who refused to give up in the face of impossible odds.


How many years did it take you to write this novel?

I completed the first draft in one year, beginning in Spring 2014.  That draft was 40% longer than the final version, and though the basic story and characters were solid, it took another three years of passing the draft through manuscript and editorial styling reviews, several major revisions, beta-reader reviews, book contests, and a last round of copy-editing before the final draft was ready.  No doubt my choice for the scope and length of this novel influenced the time required to research and write it, as well as the time required for shaping and honing.  So bottom line: four years from start to final draft.

Peter and Anna’s love story is unforgettable. Did you borrow any real-life experiences to help you with this?

Although I didn’t consciously pursue it, I’m sure in retrospect my portrayal of some aspects of the developing relationship between Peter and Anna had to be influenced by my own early interactions with my wife, Nancy.  Our initial “infatuation from afar,” our different educational backgrounds, our constant tension between “emotion vs. intellect” in talking and thinking about our life and faith experiences and hopes for the future—all these definitely seem to have found their way into the story of Peter and Anna.

The specific actions, words, and thoughts of all historical characters in the novel were products of my own speculation. But I did strive to keep all of these generally consistent with the known overall character and demeanor, major decisions and actions of these figures to the extent I could glean them from available biographical descriptions. My main intent was to capture the spirit, if not the letter, of the role these historical characters would likely have played in the various novel scenes in which they are placed.

How did you treat the numerous “real historical characters” like King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden and others in your novel? Did you take any significant "fictional libertieS" with their portrayal?

I’ve always been drawn towards “epic, grand-scale” historical non-fiction and fiction, especially those involving strong elements of war and/or religion.  Some of my favorites over the years include:  The Guns of August (Barbara Tuchman, 1962);  The Winds of War (Herman Wouk, 1971); Shogun (James Clavell, 1975); A Fall of Giants (Ken Follett, 2010), Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand, 2014).  As for movies, three of the more “influential” for me personally were: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd, 1959); Rob Roy (Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange and Tim Roth, 1995; and The Silence ( Martin Scorcese, 2016).

What are some books you’ve read and movies you’ve seen that have inspired the content and style of your novel-writing?

Your novel is very rich in historical detail. How did you get the research needed to ensure these details were accurate?

After making the decision to write Hope of Ages Past and selecting the first half of the Thirty Years War as my focus period, my research took off in earnest. I began by reading several authoritative history books and scads of supporting online articles (both English and German authors) that described the major war events between 1618 and 1632, as well as the motivations, major decisions and actions of the key historical characters in the novel. I then shifted to examining a number of obscure non-fictional books and articles in addition to a couple of contemporary fictional works for authentic descriptions of 17th Century German country and urban life, customs, theological thinking and religious practices. Historical fact-checking by those reviewing and editing the novel also proved quite helpful, in a number of instances catching places in the early drafts where I had forged ahead with some preconceived, mistaken notion (e.g., walls illuminated by gas lanterns before they’d been invented!).  If interested in seeing a partial bibliography of books and articles I found useful to the research, please send me an email.