The major inspiration for my novel HOTEL ON SHADOW LAKE was a moment I have never forgotten, a day in which I saw my own grandmother at her most vulnerable and fragile. It was the year 1990, and I just arrived home from school, where I found my grandmother sitting in our kitchen, sobbing into my mother's arms. Her trembling hand clutched a yellowed envelope. Adolf Hitler's face, in the upper right corner, was the first detail that jumped out at me.
The date on the stamp read December 1944. It turned out that the letter inside was from her twin brother who had died in WWII. In it, he bid my grandmother and his mother, my great-grandmother, farewell, feeling that he wouldn't survive the war.
As happened with several other letters sent from the eastern part of Germany shortly before the end of WWII, this one, too, had been imprisoned behind one of history's darkest dividers, only to be set free after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The words he addressed to my grandmother and his mother only reached my grandmother in 1990 -- forty-six years after his death.
When I told my current literary agent, Ana Pontas, this personal story of mine, she was very moved and simply said: "This would make an amazing opening for a novel." At that time I was still a film producer (and she and I met over the film rights for one of the novels her agency represented), and had no time or headspace to concentrate on a novel. But her comment never left me.
And whenever I thought about it, I found that I definitely had an intriguing opening - but it was that, just an opening.
The letter to my grandmother was "just" a farewell. The protagonist in HOTEL ON SHADOW LAKE, Martha Wiesberg (my grandmother's first name) receives such a letter, except that hers contains much more than a simple farewell, but opens old wounds, unearthed long buried secrets.
And at the end of the novel, the reader will finally be rewarded with the letter itself.