Interview with an author: Rick Birkenholtz

Rick_Birkenholtz-webresRebecca’s Run by Rick Birkenholtz takes readers on an adventure through many Iowa towns as its heroes try to foil the plot of Nazi spies. The novel is available for purchase from the author, who can be contacted at It can also be purchased at the Write Place online bookstore. Rick kindly answered questions about the research and inspiration that went into writing the book over ten years’ time.

How did you get interested in the subject of Rebecca’s Run (Nazi activity in Iowa in WWII)? How did you conduct research?

Most Americans are unaware of the fact that there was Nazi spy activity in America BEFORE World War II. Adolf Hitler and the German Nazi Party were fully aware that a war with Great Britain would, at least, involve American military aid. Later, if the United States should declare war on Germany, information obtained by Nazi spy activity would be vital for them for sabotage. I thought that this scenario would make an exciting base for a historical novel.

I have read and studied history my entire life and, as a result, have absorbed many facts and figures from various sources. The antique car magazines to which I subscribe often feature historical articles that relate to the cars. The internet had many details for 1939 that I was able to sprinkle throughout the novel to make it as historically correct as possible.

I consulted books in my own collection for details. One book had the history of the Burma-Shave signs. I contacted the Pella Historical Society to find out what bakeries were in business in 1939. As you can see, research comes from numerous sources.

Where did the inspiration for the novel come from?

Because of my love of history and writing I always wanted to write a historical novel. The year 1939 was a pivotal year in history, so I chose it. Involving ordinary people with Nazi spies added mystery and adventure in a believable scenario. I felt that Rebecca, the main character, needed to have a love interest that fit the plot, so I added Erick. He also had tragedies in his past. I also wanted to promote Iowa history and famous Iowans, so Iowa was the venue for Rebecca’s Run. I was both pleased and a bit surprised about how well all of the elements came together.

Cover-webresWhat did you find the most enjoyable about writing and publishing your book?

The most enjoyable part of writing is creating, from scratch, an entertaining story from a lifetime of acquired knowledge and personal experiences. Writing the 90,000 words for Rebecca’s Run turned out to be the easy part!!

Much frustration and depression came when I tried to find a literary agent who, in turn, would find me a suitable publisher. Most of the agents were based in New York and were either too busy to even see what I had written or did not reply at all! I attempted this traditional path several times over the next few years to no avail. I even contacted a couple of published writers from Iowa State University who basically told me to keep trying. I gave up! Several more years went by.

After I retired I wanted to renew my quest for a publisher. Getting published was still on my bucket list. Almost by accident I discovered the Write Place in Pella. Since 2007 they have been writing consultants and publishers. As a bonus they were based in Iowa, too! In spite of my having several Dutch jokes in my novel, they took me on as a client. I found it very easy to work with them. I had the first proof copy of Rebecca’s Run in my hand in only three months after I sent them my final manuscript draft!!

It took you ten years to write the book―where did you find the determination to finish it?

Getting a novel published was always a major item on my bucket list of life. Unfortunately, life got in the way. After graduation from ISU there was a job, marriage, starting a business, helping my father with the farming, church activities, and raising a daughter to keep me busy. The writing and research was done in spurts, often months apart, over the ten years.

What is your favorite book?

One book that I read as a teenager and then again as an adult has always fascinated me. It was the biography of Leonardo da Vinci. We had so many things in common. He was tall and light haired. So am I. Leonardo was creative and had a curiosity about a great many things. So am I. Leonardo was best known as a painter but he also drew thousands of sketches about many subjects. I was amazed that we shared interests in painting, drawing, designing, writing, poetry, birds, fossils, geology, water hydraulics, and mechanical items.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Yes, keep trying―but don’t let twenty-three years go by, like I did, before you get something published.

Always write about something familiar to you and about something that you enjoy. If you have an area of writing with which you are not completely knowledgeable don’t be afraid to do some research.

What are your future writing plans?

As I wrote the manuscript for Rebecca’s Run ideas for four other novels came to me. I decided that one of them would make a great play. The play is now nearly finished. After this play is finished I hope to start on another novel.


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