World War II is ending, but for Captain Meier, the fight for his life has only begun. Stranded behind enemy lines and tormented by his past, his only ally is a young private who practices a strange American religion. As they travel through treacherous Russia, the two quickly realize they will have to trust in merciful God to have any chance of escaping a deadly fate.
Excerpt from: The Road To Freedom:
A rumbling rose in the distance; it was harsh, mechanized, and unwelcome. He watched as a truck appeared in the west, coming from the town he had just left. Only one. He sighed with relief. He could handle one, and maybe the driver could help him. He pushed himself upright and went to the shoulder of the road and waved. The truck stopped. The driver leaned over and pushed the passenger door open.
“Dobroye utro!” he said. Then, with a shake of his head, he said, “I mean, good morning! Do you need a ride?”
Christoph backed away, suddenly panic-stricken at the sound of the driver’s voice. An instinct surged inside him–primal and violent–triggered by those words, that accent. He tried to push it down, but the anxiety ignited once again at the sound of the truck flaring again. His mind raced and his heart pounded. The driver had offered the ride in broken German, but “dobroye utro” was “good morning” in Russian.
In the late war, every German had learned to fear the Russians. He especially knew that fear. He had survived on it. And now, a Russian was here? Something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong.
When Shawn asked me to read his book, I didn’t know what to expect. After all, I am a girly girl who likes mystery, romance, and historical fiction. So far, so wonderful and very unexpected.
Shawn’s characters are very three dimensional. I can see the story unfold. Break out a little, and give Shawn’s story a try. I am glad I did.
Shawn and I talked, and I am pleased to share a little author interview with you.
Shawn Pollock, Author
Shawn grew up in Cache Valley, Utah, served a mission in Japan, and graduated from Utah State University with degrees in Professional Writing and Instructional Technology. He works as an instructional designer in the software industry. His short story, “Hats,” won first place in The New Era magazine’s fiction contest. Any time not devoted to work and family goes to cooking, reading about history, and participating in the League of Utah Writers. The Road to Freedom is his first novel.
What inspired you to write about this era?
Well, I have always been fascinated by both World Wars and have a natural interest in Germany. I’m not sure where that comes from because I’ve never been to Germany and I don’t speak German or even know any Germans, but hopefully someday.
I also thought it made for a very fertile place to examine some questions of faith that are also found in the Book of Mormon. How can a man try to stick to values and convictions when he’s in a place where no one shares them and everyone is very war-like and violent? What effect might that have on those around him? Will he change, or will they?
How did you do your research?
I have a large collection of books on World War II, most of which belonged to one of my grandfathers. I got them when he passed away. I also made good use of my library card. So, tons of reading and making notes. I’d been reading about the war for years already anyway, so I started off with a good base.
Your characters are so believable. Are they based on people you know or knew? How did you develop them?
None of my characters are base too specifically on real people. Certain elements of people I know did find their way into the story, though. For example, my grandfather who served in WW2 in Europe was a big guy who lost a lot of weight from endless walking and bad food, so I made that part of Kohler’s character. I also knew a man who got really pouty about things his neighbors did, which became the inspiration for Heinz Kohler.
Other times, little things inspired some of the characters. If you read about the uprising at the Sobibor death camp, Gustav Wagner was one of the meanest, most vicious guard there. I transplanted that idea into the character of Wagner. Likewise, Captain Manteuffel was inspired by Ian Holmes’ performance in the 1979 version of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” which I’ve seen several times.
I made Meier and Kohler as opposite from one another as I could because I knew their growth through the story would show in the ways they played off each other. In an earlier version of the story, Kohler was an experienced sergeant who had been with Meier for a long time. I eventually realized I was just writing the same character twice and changed Kohler into a green private.
What does it mean to be quiet as a church mouse? This charming picture book
shares the story of how one little boy learned to sit still while his imagination
kept running free. With these fun and colorful illustrations, follow along as a
boy and a mouse discover how reverence shows our love and respect for our
Elliott’s Review: Elliott Dickerson, age 6 thinks, “I like it! Because it’s really cool cause it has that mouse that goes to church. I liked its blue jacket. It is really tiny. It was a new mouse who goes to church. I wish I had a mouse in my church bag. I think I can be as quiet as a mouse when I sit in church. I sit with dad on the stage. He leads the music.”
Nana: Do you think the church mouse will help you sit still?
Elliott: Uh huh. Because it is being quiet and I will copy it being quiet.
Nana Shannon’s Review:
I LOVED this story! I want a church mouse in my church bag too! The art is adorable. There is so much to looks at. I also love that it is a based on a childhood moment in the author’s life (We had a little online chat. Read his interview below).
Elliott’s review is totally authentic. I am an amazing typist. I asked him what he thought and the statement above is all his, word for word. The interesting thing is he made the correlation between the cool little church mouse and his reverence. Elliott loves to sing and make car noises. Reverence is a challenge. I wonder what will happen when I remind him to be as quiet as a mouse.
Stephen Bevan imagined his church mouse at age 5. All those wild Sundays of imaginings are distilled in this book. He and his little church mouse lived in
Montgomery County Maryland, until Heavenly Father took them both to Western Australia for many amazing adventures “down under.” Now those two troublemakers reside in beautiful Cache Valley, Utah. On Friday nights they are telling stories and hammock camping with the scouts but each Sunday
morning they are both trying to sit reverently in church with Stephen’s own wonderful and imaginative children. Learn more about Stephen at
www.bevanstories.com, while you are there see what other adventures he and his mouse have to share.
My Author Interview:
Hi Stephen, Is this your first book? Have you written anything before? I grew up with 7 brothers and sisters. Being one of the older children in the family meant I was often the bedtime storyteller. At first, I read stories by others and by the time I was 10, I was writing my own stories for my siblings. Time and teenage years tend to lead you off into new paths for a time. While attending Brigham Young University I majored in Socio-Cultural Anthropology, which included a lot of ethnographic interviewing and writing. I found I loved writing again. Although I have co-written a few research papers no one else has ever read, and a few electronics articles that a few folks have read, my first book is this fun little picture book, Quiet as a Church Mouse.
Can you tell us the story behind your book? When I was a little guy about four years old my father was in the US Navy and he was assigned as a Corpsman to the 3rd Marine Division in Okinawa, Japan. For the next two years, my Dad would be off with the Marines and my Mom was left in Maryland with five children and one on the way! We didn’t even have a car. Nevertheless, my diligent and faithful Mother got up every Sunday morning, fed us, dressed us, and then walked the mile to church. You would think that after walking a mile a four-year-old boy might be tired enough to sit still in church, but not me. I was crazy! Army crawling under the pews, hanging from door frames I had climbed etc. My poor mother had her hands full and everywhere I went my little brother followed. One day my saintly Mother asked me to be as quiet as a church mouse, and I could not help but wonder why I had never seen one of these church mice in all my wanderings through the building? I began to sit very still in hopes of seeing and catching a church mouse as a pet. I tried to imagine what a church mouse might do. Somewhere along the way, I began to hear the words from the pulpit and more importantly feel what those words meant. I began to see Christ for the first time.
Are any of the characters patterned after someone you know? The characters in the book are really me and my family. That little boy who finally learns to sit reverently was me. And those two siblings in the book represent my five younger siblings. Though I do tease one of my sisters that the little girl not paying attention is her!
If you have children, and they go to church, what other things have you done to help them understand why reverence is important in their Heavenly Father’s house? I have seven lovely children who sometimes are more like their me than I could have ever imagined. We have tried to teach them reverence by helping them see the bigger picture. We have never shied away from teaching them of Heavenly Father’s plan. I guess I might be considered a mean Dad, but we just don’t do Cheerios at church– we do have a few books, and a paper where they can write or draw things they are hearing, but they can’t just doodle pictures of dogs and cats. We expect them to listen and they know they will get asked at dinner, “what did you learn today and how can you apply it to your life.” It can be fun to hear the responses from children at 3 or at 14. They see things in God’s plan that sometimes I overlook so sometimes they teach me!
One thing that my children enjoy is as the music plays before the service starts I like to doodle a scripture or gospel scene on the offering envelope, and then incorporate in a scripture. They have taken to decorating their own tithing/offering envelopes.
“Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? …For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little… ”
Isaiah 28: 9-10
My Grandmother, my father, my aunts, my uncles, my cousins, and I all walked on this wall along the sea, and now my children’s children walk the same wall. Each one of us learned to walk the wall holding a grown-up’s hand until we all insisted on letting go. Step by step, starting with our first baby steps we learned and grew.
Seaside summer evenings were often spent walking as a family to the ice-cream shop. Twenty or more of us strung out along the promenade or Prom on the beach laughing, chasing children, holding our lover’s hands, pushing baby strollers, or watching our parents, aunts, and uncles smile and talk.
We learned about more than how to balance on a cement wall by the sea. We learned trusted loved ones had rules because they cared about us. We learned through quiet conversations on the mile-long walk to town for ice-cream. We learned by watching the grown-ups hold hands and treat each other with respect. The journey was so much more than a walk on the wall. We were building little people and a large family.
Life is a lot like our walks by the sea. It looks like you are doing dishes, going on a diet, teaching your children how to plant a garden, but you are actually doing something much deeper and wider, you are building love, trust, identity, connection, and a family.
A month ago, I committed to making some health changes. I was going on a cleanse. It absolutely made me giggle. For the first time in my life, I joined a group, bought some shakes, and began a sugar fast. All the laughter covered my terror. Remember, I am the girl on the prom wall. All our major childhood accomplishments were followed by dessert or sweet reward, and family gatherings always had food.
I set a goal. One month without refined sugar, caffeine (Diet coke which always led to needing Hot Tamales and a bucket of popcorn), as well as a TON of other foods like corn, honey, potatoes, and soy that I wouldn’t eat.
A few days ago, I finished the month! I was changed. Did I look different? Was I thinner and prettier? No. Was I changed? Absolutely. But the change was on the inside. I felt healthier. I had gained the strength that comes from setting out to accomplish something, anything, and finishing it. The sense of self-worth that comes from seeing something through, especially when it is difficult. I had endured with honor.
Just like the walk on the Prom, it looked simple, fun and easy but the results I hope will be much deeper than improved health today. Years down the road, I hope I look back and find I am grateful for the things I chose to change, the lessons I learned along the way, and the blessing of inner strength that comes from striving to be just a tiny bit better each day.
Every step we take is a choice. Even when we try to take random road trips through life, we are making a choice. But when we choose a direction and take one small step after another toward our goal we just might find we reach not only reach our destination, we have changed along the way.
Special thanks to Hilary and the group at Designing Health. I may stumble and I may fall, but I have a new network of friends headed the same direction. See you all at the Salad Bar!
Ready, Set, Write Podcast crew spotlighted Safe House today on their new show, “So You Think You Can Write!” I am so excited! I am a huge fan of this fun bunch. If you dream of being published they give great advice. It’s a hilarious way to laugh your way through the struggles of the first chapter and writing a great hook. Enjoy!
High-cost methods may not be expensive, but usually, they have costly consequences. For example, when you smoke you might gain quick relief from stress, but the long-term outcome is costly.
Low-cost methods may or may not give you immediate relief but they don’t cost a lot and they lead to long-term positive outcomes. For example, it only costs time to take a brisk walk but it is a great coping mechanism. It gives you time to process or a place to escape thinking for a minute, as well as improved health. The only financial cost is a good pair of shoes and permission from your doctor.
I took some time to practice one of my favorite low-cost methods of coping with stress. I rode my old rusty beach cruiser (Coastie talk for a one-speed bicycle with a basket on the front) on a 12-mile trail and listened to some great tunes. A garage sale bike and the beach! The best!
Here is a little live movie on my favorite subject, how to heal. I hope you listen and remember, there is nothing wrong with Ben and Jerry’s as long as you share it with a friend like me!
Thank you to everyone who nominated Safe House for a Whitney Award! Wondering what a Whitney Award is? Look HERE. And yes- it is for my book! I am so relieved you can’t see my dance of joy! What a gift it is to have you all in my life. I love every person I have met on this journey including Cedar Fort staff, the critics, the other authors, bookstore family, and bloggers.
Okay, there is another Safe House, which came out later by everyone’s favorite author, but she is nominated too! Wouldn’t it be fun to actually make it to the finals and sit together? I would lean over and say, “Hey, nice title,” real smooth and casual like I wasn’t jumping out of my skin to be at the Whitney Awards by Traci Abramson. Then I would say, “So, I hear we share a shelf at Deseret Book.” Do you think she would sign my copy of her book?
Well… a nomination is just the first step. It is such an honor to even be listed. To be in the same room as the people I read and respect would be like Christmas times ten!
This is the happiest photo I own. This is my face one second after finding Safe House in the Deseret Book Catalog. Trust me – you don’t want me to video my dance of joy!
Nominate your favorite #LightTheWorld participants to win good books!
Every year the LDS church encourages us to focus on Christ by lighting our world with good works. This year, authors at Cedar Fort and other presses would like to say thank you to those candles on the hill.
When you find a Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter post that lights your world (it does not need to be tagged as a #LightTheWorld post, but certain may be), please 1. Sharing the post or creating a public post highlighting your friend AND 2. Tagging the page Light The World with Books. You may also use the hashtag #LightTheWorldWithBooks. Both YOU, the nominator, and YOUR FRIEND, the nominee, will automatically be entered to win one of 48 books! For official rules and details on the prize books, visit nikkitrionfo.com.
*PLEASE NOTE: If the original post is private (as many on FB and especially IG are), to guarantee we at Light The World With Books see the post, you may also share the post on our Light the World with Books Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/LighttheWorldwithBooks/. A screenshot works; a share; a post that simply says who you are and who you nominated–any of that is fine. We don’t need to be technical; we just need to see you!
Official Rules on https://www.facebook.com/LighttheWorldwithBooks/
I will be working with my publisher to donate a portion of the profits from my book to Operation Underground Railroad.
I have had the privilege of meeting with hundreds of survivors of domestic and sexual abuse and listening to their stories. I hope to share my experience through fiction and motivate change through stories. Holiday Catalog HERE.
Remember! Opening a good book is like running towards the light! #lighttheworld #lighttheworldwithbooks
When I wrote Safe House, I never really thought about the world reading it. I wrote it alone in the winter by sea. I sat by a hundred-year-old fireplace which blew more smoke than heat on rainy Northcoast nights. Night after night I fell into the story and although I had an outline, it wrote itself as the characters came to life.
I confessed I was writing a novel to my sister Stacy. Stacy is an avid reader and was a teacher. She had a friend who is a famous novelist, in fact, she knew a few. She asked to let her read it. I sent it to her, another family member and a friend. It was like sending a baby to the babysitters for the first time.
Stacy was my little sister. She was never afraid of telling the truth to me or anyone else. When she read it, she told me it had to be published. She saw what my heart was trying to say. She felt my message to survivors of hope, that the world needs to know your story, that we see you and we love you where you are and as you are. She understood my desire to wake the world up and ask it to witness just a sliver of what I have seen and learn to love the children involved as deeply as I have.
Stacy was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. She began an almost two-year battle that should have only lasted a few months. Even though she was sick, every time she called, we visited or spent time together she asked, “How is the book.” It is her faith in me that pushed me to send the book in on another quiet and dark winter night.
Time and summer flew by. Then I heard Safe House was going to become a paperback book that you may have already held in your hands.
I spent that last summer with Stacy. I walked with her whenever I could. On death’s door she would return to the sea to search for seashells, or what she called, “God’s blessings…little I love you messages from Heaven,” on the sand.
I went to Utah to say goodbye to Stacy in June the year (2017), a month before the book became touchable. But I was able to let her know it was dedicated to her. It was with her in my heart I gave you my first novel, Safe House.
Stacy gave me courage. It took all of that courage to let you see into my little world and share Grace, a small part of myself. Grace is more perfect, thinner, prettier and has 4 less children, but I know her through and through. It took someone like Stacy and my beloved cousin Kristi believing in me to risk criticism. And it took a wonderful marketing director Vikki to push me off the cliff and onto a Blog Tour! How grateful I am for Stacy, Kristi, Vikki, Hali, Erin and Mom. My first readers.
The results are in and the critics have spoken! Winter is on the way and I am gathering firewood in our little truck. Soon the old fireplace will be smoking and I will be typing on rainy winter nights by the sea.
Here is what the critics have to say, Stacy. Thank you all for being there with me…
“I have to admit that reading books about abuse of any kind is very hard for me. I like to read books to escape reality and not read about it. Having said that, this book ended up being such a great book to read.
I loved this story. I am saying this will all love behind it. My sisters and I love these kinds of books. We call them “Mormon Smut Books”….hehe. I really do mean that as the best compliment. I love to read books that have to do with my religion and love. Or any religion for that matter. I know that when I read it, it will be clean.
I loved that this book covered a hard topic, and showed how people could get out and move on to bigger and better things. I am a HUGE advocate for Sexual Abuse, and the author of this book is a HUGE advocate for Domestic Violence. I think that’s why I liked the book so much. Hard topics are hard to read, so they have to be done well. The author definitely did well with this book.
We all take the chance when we marry someone, that they are not all they say they are. We may not know what their demons are until after marriage. Then sometimes they have groomed you so well, that it’s impossible to leave. Amber and Kelly realize this after they have gotten married and are both faced with the challenge of what to do now.As they navigate their lives with the help of Grace, they realize that there is a possibility of life outside of an abusive marriage. They find their faith in God again, and the power to fight for what is missing in their lives.
This is such a good book about love, life, faith, religion, and suspense. Their stories are heartbreaking, and life changing all at the same time.
I hope that you take the time to read this book. It is so wonderful.”
“I connected with this book. It reeled me in and kept me there with an intense and fast-moving plot. The emotional intensity was a unique aspect of this book for me. I had never read a book addressing domestic violence and abuse, and I found myself incapable of putting it down because I just couldn’t leave these characters in the unjust and demoralizing circumstances.”
“Q.1. Do you plan to write any more books? Could there possibly be more to Grace’s story? (I’d read it!)
Thank you for asking! I would love you to review it.
I planned another story as I was writing this one. It has been taking shape for a while now. I have a working outline and can’t wait to get started! This autumn when the rain starts falling, it will be me, a fire in the fireplace and “Insert surprise name here.”
The next book will be in the same location, same characters with some new friends.”
“Safe House by Shannon Symonds is not an easy book to read, but it is impossible to forget. It deals with the difficult subject of domestic abuse. If anyone has ever wondered why an abused spouse doesn’t just leave, this story will answer that question. An abused spouse is usually penniless and worries about how and where she’ll live if she leaves or worries about her or her children’s safety if she leaves and becomes homeless. Shattered self-esteem is another factor. This book also points out how to find help. It’s also a great story.”
“Author Shannon Symonds brings to life the bitter and devastating truths of domestic violence in her novel Safe House. Her story is heart throbbing and gut wrenching. It hurts so much to read these truths, but powerful at the same time. It teaches readers of the hardships of the people in these situations and about how hard it can be to get out, but that it is possible. The story is a little hard to follow at first due to the way it switches between characters and their stories, but once that is sorted out, readers will not want to put this novel down. It is a captivating and powerful read!”
“Q.2. What is your favorite beverage? Well! Here is an indication of my inner oddball. If I could have anything I wanted it would be a coconut milk, banana, peanut butter, protein powder smoothie with spinach and a tiny bit of raw ginger. But, since I am a writer and often find myself up until all hours of the night creating, I often resort to a drink that you can also clean your driveway with, diet coke. If I could just stay on the wagon and give up caffeine I know I could write and not be weary, but movie popcorn simply screams for diet coke.”
“I liked this story, and it had me on the edge of my seat at times. It was heartbreaking reading about what each of these families were going through with all of the abuse. It was also kind of eye-opening to see just how much psychological damage can be done by the abuser. It’s easy for someone who has never been through it to say “Well, if they’re in a horrible relationship, why don’t they just leave?” but for someone who has been beaten down so much, that they’re worthless, and been made to feel like they are completely dependent on their spouse, they feel like they have no choice but to stay.
I liked Grace and her caring and empathetic manner towards those she was trying to help. It must be pretty emotionally draining to have a career like her, especially knowing that you can’t save everyone, no matter how hard you try.
The two complaints I have about this book are that there were so many characters in it, and the chapters were so short, switching back and forth so quickly, that it was really hard for me to keep track of who was who. I had to constantly flip back a few chapters to remind myself who I was reading about. Also, I don’t feel like things were resolved with Emily’s husband Berk.
Other than those two issues, I did enjoy the story and would read more from this author.”
“On the heels of the release of her new book “Safe House,” longtime Seaside resident and local author Shannon Symonds was the guest at the July Lunch in the Loft author series hosted by Beach Books.
‘I’m very happy to have Shannon. Her book is fantastic,” said Karen Emmerling owner of Beach Books. “It highlights things you probably didn’t know were going on inSeaside, or hoped weren’t going on in Seaside, but it’s definitely a tribute to her work and to her faith. I hope Shannon and her characters will be back at some point, soon.”….by Rebecca Herren
“Q. Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
Grace, the main character in Safe House, is an advocate who responds with handsome Officer Joe Hart to serve survivors of domestic assault. She works twenty-four hours a day to offer survivors and their children safe shelter and a way out. She is the stranger that shows up when your whole world comes crashing down and asks you to trust her and leave everything you know behind.
Grace is also a single mother trying to keep her family going. Grace’s mother Mable, one of my favorite character’s, lives in an in-law apartment in Grace’s house with her younger brother. Grace is only thirty-eight, but she is already a survivor herself and wonders if there is anyone for a clumsy, curly blond.
Grace’s talent is to be the eye of the storm. No matter what dangers swirl around her, she is calm and when you are with her you can’t help but believe that maybe, just maybe, everything is going to be alright.”
“In addition to the social issues and the tensions they provided the characters, this was an exciting adventure as the characters in the town find themselves dealing with a force of nature that threatens to overpower them all, including the modern technology we take so much for granted in this day and age. The action kept me reading….The focus of the book was not romance, but the romance elements present were sweet and clean. Not all romances were resolved, which leads me to hope the author may have a sequel to this novel. It was an enjoyable and enlightening read, and I recommend it.”
“The author did a great job of giving enough detail to let you know these women lived in bad situations without getting too graphic. I am fortunate to not have firsthand experience with this and cringed at what I read, while also realizing that the author didn’t go too dark.
Grace, as well as some other characters, are LDS (or Mormon) so there are some religious references. Each of them are able to help the women and their families in different ways. Women in these situations can be misunderstood and blamed for the situation they are in and Ms. Symonds did a great job in humanizing them and helping the reader see how they can get there. She also shows the incredible courage it takes to accept help and gain control once more of their lives.”
“Q. 1. Safe House is your debut novel. Have you written anything else? You’re the first person to ask me!
Recently, I attended a book signing at a hospital where I worked last year. I confessed in front of a large group of friends that I had been a closet writer for years. I explained that I had written around 200 self-help articles for FamilyShare.com or Deseret Connect. I had written for the BillionClicks.org blog created by Hilary Weeks, singer and songwriter. I had also written lyrics to a love song which is on a CD sold on the coast. I am hoping the song stays hidden! The music is great but the lyrics are sappy.
I came home from the signing and told my mother my secret was out. I was no longer an anonymous writer. She laughed and told me I was meant to be a writer. She said even when I was a small child, if I got into trouble, I would write her an apology letter.”
“While Safe House deals with some difficult and troubling issues, it is also full of faith, optimism, and healing. It gives me hope to think that there are people who genuinely care and truly want to help those who are victims of domestic violence. I really enjoyed reading this book. It is exciting and eye-opening, and it has just a little bit of romance mixed in for good measure. Safe House is written from a Mormon perspective, so if you are not a Mormon, some of the language will not be familiar to you, but it also contains a universal message of faith in God that all Christians can identify with.”
I honestly hope readers will be drawn into the story. I don’t want readers to think about statistics or anything but the characters and the seemingly impossible conflicts they must overcome to survive. I want readers to be surprised at every turn by the life-threatening situations the characters are faced with and their ability to not only endure but to overcome. I would love it if readers laugh at the absurdity of Grace’s life, believe characters with broken hearts can love again, and glimpse the miracles I have witnessed over and over.”
“I first have to say that I think the information and overall message of this book is so important. I haven’t had a lot of experience with domestic violence and knowing there are so many women and children (and men) in the world suffering through this is heartbreaking. The author of this book works as a victim’s advocate so her personal, first hand knowledge and experience go a long way in making this novel valid and real. And honestly? Thank goodness for Shannon and people like her to help, support and love to people when they need it the most.”