Bestselling Author


The Last Green Valley by Mark Sullivan

My guest for Historical Happy Hour is bestselling author Mark Sullivan. He will be joining me to discuss his latest novel, The Last Green Valley, the epic WWII story of one family’s decision to escape tyranny and run to freedom. 

Mark Sullivan

Mark Sullivan is the acclaimed author of eighteen novels, including the #1 New York Times bestselling Private series, which he writes with James Patterson. Mark has received numerous awards for his writing, including the WHSmith Fresh Talent Award, and his works have been named a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. He grew up in Medfield, Massachusetts, and graduated from Hamilton College with a BA in English before working as a volunteer in the Peace Corps in Niger, West Africa. Upon his return to the United States, he earned a graduate degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and began a career in investigative journalism. An avid skier and adventurer, he lives with his wife in Bozeman, Montana, where he remains grateful for the miracle of every moment.

In this captivating episode of Historical Happy Hour, Jane Healey welcomes Mark Sullivan, the acclaimed author behind the riveting historical novel “The Last Green Valley.” Sullivan delves into the incredible true story of the Martel family’s harrowing journey from Ukraine to freedom during World War II, facing unimaginable choices between the encroaching Soviet forces and the Nazis. The conversation spans the depth of Sullivan’s research, including his emotional trip to Ukraine, the profound impact of real-life stories on his narrative, and the transformative power of hope and resilience amidst the darkest times. This episode offers an intimate look into the process of bringing historical events to life through fiction, appealing to anyone fascinated by the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

Here’s what we covered:

  • [00:00:00] Introduction to Mark Sullivan and “The Last Green Valley”
  • [00:01:41] Inspiration and background of the story
  • [00:05:35] Details on the Martel family’s journey and choices
  • [00:10:30] Sullivan’s research process and trip to Ukraine
  • [00:15:17] Creation of fictional characters based on real people
  • [00:19:02] Writing process and narrative structure
  • [00:22:50] Balancing historical accuracy with fiction
  • [00:27:14] Future projects and updates on movie adaptations
  • [00:33:06] Upcoming book project on ending child soldiering
  • [00:39:52] Sullivan’s personal reading and writing habits
  • [00:43:33] How to stay connected with Mark Sullivan


[00:00:00] Jane: All right. We are here and we are live with Mark Sullivan, New York Times bestselling author. Thank you for coming tonight. Mark, I’m so thrilled to have you on historical happy hour. Cheer.

[00:00:18] Mark: Thank you for having me.

[00:00:20] Jane: Yay. . This is awesome. It’s my seventh one. I am gonna start with. Brief intro about you.

And then I have about a dozen questions. And then after I ask my questions if anyone has any questions for Mark, please put them in the chat or the QA and I’ll monitor both and I’ll I can feel questions for you. So awesome. Thank you. So Mark Sullivan is the acclaimed author of 18 novels, including the number one New York Times bestselling private series, which he writes with James Patterson.

Mark has received numerous awards for his writing, including the WH Smith Fresh Talent Award, and his works have been named a New York Times Notable Book and an LA Times Best Book of the Year. Medfield, Massachusetts. and graduated from Hamilton College with BA in English before working as a volunteer in the Peace Corps in West Africa.

An avid skier and adventurer, he lives with his wife in Bozeman, Montana, where he remains grateful for the miracle of every moment. Welcome, Mark. So thank you for having me again. Yeah, thank you. This is great. And so we were just talking about the first question is the most obvious one. Tell us about How you first heard of this story because it’s based on a true story and what the inspiration was behind The Last Green Valley, which I read and I loved and everyone’s street.


[00:01:41] Mark: First I wanted to apologize if I slur a little. I’ve been going through a bunch of operations. On my face and mouth. But the inspiration came after shortly after beneath the scarlet sky was published. I had a lot of people telling me I would never find a story like it again. And I was like, I don’t think that’s true.

I think I am going to find a story like that again. And sure enough, in the months immediately after publication of beneath, I started getting all these letters and pouring in. I had to it. Come up with a criteria. What was I really looking for? Yeah. And I thought a lot about Beneath a Scarlet Sky.

And what I came to the conclusion was the story was inherently moving, inspiring, healing for some people, transformative to other people. And I realized, put those four words down, that’s what I’m looking for, a story of that nature. And I was hearing a bunch of, I probably heard 40 or 50 stories that people pitched me about, various people they knew who would be in some way in World War II, some World War I, all sorts of different stuff.

And it wasn’t until November of 17 that I was doing a talk at the local Rotary Club here in Bozeman, Montana, where I live. And this retired dentist came up afterwards and talked with me and he said, Have you heard the story of the Martel family? And I said, no. And he said the entire time I was reading Beneath the Scarlet Sky, I couldn’t help but think of their story of how they came to America.

So you really need to go hear it. So three days later, I get out of my truck and I’m in this driveway in this older neighborhood. Near where I live, and I’ve got this weird feeling, and then all of a sudden it dawns on me. I can’t be 200, 250 yards from where I heard Beneath the Scarlet Sky for the first time.

And so I knock on the door with a lot of anticipation, and Bill Martell meets me in. He starts telling me this story. And, within about 15 minutes, I’m on the edge of my seat. And within an hour, I know I’m going to tell this story about, this family of ethnic Germans living in Ukraine.

And in the spring of 1944, they’re faced with this terrible decision. Do they stay and wait for the return of the Soviet bear, the bear that is Imprisoned members of their families, killed other ones, or are they going to run with the wolves, the Nazis they’ve grown to despise during the German occupation of the Soviet Union and the Ukraine?

And they choose to run with the wolves and the story As Bill spun it and then as I began to listen to recordings of Emile and Adeline and talk to his brother and do research, it began to come alive as just a natural drama because they run with the Germans in a, the equivalent of a Conestoga wagon pulled by two horses and they’re, One of 124, 000 families that are being taken back to Germany, and they don’t really understand why at the time when it starts and it’s an inherently natural drama because this is a brutal journey.

This is nothing easy about it. They’re in the covered wagons and they’re caught between these two armies. For a good part of the first part of the book. And as it evolves, they begin to understand more and more about why they’re being protected and what, what’s to be expected of them. And their entire goal is nothing but to find a place.

That they can go live in freedom and they talk about it, in terms of this beautiful Green Valley, we’re going to live and they’re going to be able to live their own life and prosper. And it becomes this sort of myth that they rely on, certainly Adeline does during the hardships. And of course, Emil comes to that place eventually, but that’s where the story came from.

And I was convinced, as I said, within an hour that it was going to be an amazing story.

[00:05:35] Jane: And it is, and it’s just it was an incredible story, and it’s incredible I have a lot of questions about it, but just what these people endured, I just could not, it was like, just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, it got worse.

Unbelievable. And I was reading your note. Of course, I read the research notes in the back and you did a ton of research for this trip, including traveling with the sons of the Martell’s and to the Ukraine to retrace the journey. And can you talk a little bit about that?

[00:06:06] Mark: Sure. Sure.

This is a little bit of out of order, but the most dramatic stuff was when I went with Bill and Walter to Ukraine to try to find their farmhouse and also to find the prisoner of war camp where Emil is eventually sent after going through this incredible ordeal. He gets, without giving away, he gets caught and he gets sent.

And, we went and we were able to go up about seven or eight hours up is one of the worst roads I’ve ever been on. That’s saying something. I’ve lived in the Sahara done stuff like that. And it was a horrendous road and it was beating these two guys up there in their, early eighties.

And but we found it, we got to the little town of Friedenstahl where they had started and it’s called Tyraty now. And we actually. Found the plot of ground where they lived and it had been caved in and stuff, but we found like the well and the root cellar and to be with those two men back at that spot where the run had started.

To see the emotion in their faces as they contemplated the grand arc of their life was simply remarkable. It was stunning. Yeah. And it was even more stunning because when we went to the to Poltava, which is where the prison camp was and I couldn’t put them through another drive, so we chartered a plane because the drive was going to be 13 hours up a road that was supposedly worse than the one we had just got on.

So we flew to Poltava and we got picked up and we went to the museum. Now, what had happened is that Poltava was a city of about 300, 000 prior to World War II and Hitler used it as an air base, as a place to launch raids against the allies. So the U. S. bombed it into smithereens. Like when when Emil gets there, it’s gone from 300, 000 to 6, 000 people, plus 2, 200 prisoners of war.

So he was kept in the basement of a bombed out museum, and he worked to rebuild the hospital. We got to the museum, it’s totally been restored, etc., and it was closed, it was locked. And so we wandered around and we found somebody who went and got the director. And he was very suspicious who we were and why we were there until we told him that Emil had been a prisoner there and he was like, yeah, it was a prison camp.

And then we told him that what he did is he used to collect scrap wood and sell it to the cooks to cook the meals as meager as they were. And he got a big smile on his face. He said, my mother was one of the cooks. And then we were in unbelievable, and we ended up going into the museum and we were able to see photographs of the prisoners, not Emil, but others of the prisoners who had been there.

And then he took us into the basement where Emil had slept with 600 other men and seen hundreds of them die. And again, to be there with the brothers where they confronted the reality of what their father endured was. It was almost overwhelming. We all started crying. Oh, I’m sure. It was just amazing, and then prior to that, I went, I flew to Bucharest and went up to the border of Moldova. And picked him up because at the time there was unrest going on in Moldova, and I didn’t want to go in there and we started right at the border of the western border of Moldova and Romania and began this to retrace the journey, and it went all the way across Moldova and to go to Hungary and then up through Hungary, Czech Republic and into Poland.

We were able to find where they had been kept in Poland in a place called Lodz, Poland and then tracked them all the way Adele’s route into Germany to Gutengermanndorf in Northern Germany. And then from where she makes her run. And then Walter and I went and did the run together. He remembered and we were able, it wasn’t exactly the way it was because of course the place had been hardened as a a border between East and West Germany.

And then that hard border was torn down and the fields and lanes restored. So it was. Pretty close to what it was, but I got a real idea of what the run was like and what it must have been to experience it. And that was able to inform me the whole way through, was that research. And also, of course, as I said, the recordings of Adeline and Emil and the brothers, with their recollections.

[00:10:30] Jane: Yeah, I should also mention I went on your website and saw some of the pictures from your trip. So I really recommend anyone who wants to know more and see some of the pictures because there’s they were moving. You could see the emotion in the faces of the brothers on that trip and those places. It was unbelievable.

So yeah, definitely check out Mark Sullivan’s website for that. Another thing I read was that you tracked down other survivors of the long trek and interviewed them. And I’m just Like what was there anything when you interview them that like surprised you or that incorporate, added to the book?

I’m sure it added to the book, but in what ways?

[00:11:08] Mark: Okay. So I was able to interview eight people who either were on the trek or who remembered it, had witnessed it. And they were all in their 90s, late 90s. I was lucky that most of them were very sharp. Even this woman who was bedridden, she remembered fleeing out of northern Ukraine and coming down and getting into the caravan and then they cut off hoping to stay in Romania and they got trapped there.

So she told me her story. She was able to flesh out a lot of what it looked like with the big encampments with all these covered wagons and the, the Germans and the Soviets on either side. But the big one was I met this guy I gotta get his last name Georgi. I’ll get his real name in a second, but he was a hero.

He was one of the last surviving survivors of Stalingrad, and I met him in Berlad, which is right on the border between Moldova and Romania, and he was 90. eight years old when I interviewed him, 99, and he’s still alive. He’s 101 right now. And he had fought at Stalingrad in one of the most brutal parts of this extended battle called the Battle of the Don the Don River.

And he was one of the few survivors of it. And when I met him, he was radiant. That’s the only way I can describe the guy. There are photographs of me with him on the website, and he just seems to glow, this little man, and he tells me the story of how he survived Stalingrad and there was this mortar bomb that went off, and he was not cold, but when he woke up, he knew he would live to become a beekeeper, right?

And I’m like, What? And he just kept talking about the joys of bees and bee honey and how he had outlived three wives because of it and, had an amazing life. And and he just wanted me to know, how incredible life was, right? And the Martells understood their father only to a certain extent.

First of all, he didn’t talk very much. He was like one of these taciturn guys. Yeah. He loved life and everything, but he just didn’t believe in talking about bad stuff, so they had very little information about, they knew he was, he was in the camp. He lived in a museum basement. He worked on the hospital.

He got the firewood. He was on the death detail. Okay. He did work the death detail and that’s how he planned to escape. So all that was real, but they said that their father went into the camp. A person who had spent his whole life trying to get not to get noticed, right? Because he had grown up under Stalinism.

And if you got noticed, if you were good at anything, it could have been, if you were a professor, you were an intellectual, so you got sent to the Gulag, if you’re good at a trade, or if you’re a great farmer or whatever, you were a Kulak and you got sent off, which is what happened to both their parents, fathers one came back.

One didn’t. And, so I understood a lot about that world, but they didn’t understand. How in the course of about 10 months in this prison camp, as all these men are around him dying, he transforms and he becomes a different person. Someone who sees opportunity, who will take risks. Crazy risk, trying to survive, trying to get back to his wife and kids.

And they said, we don’t understand how that transition happened. But Bill said, he had to have had allies. He had to have had someone he trusted that talked to him, that got him into this frame of reference. Now, Georgi, the real Georgi, he had been imprisoned in three camps. He had escaped from two of them, two of them Ukraine.

He ended up in the third one in Ukraine down in a high security place where he spent four years before being released. And returning to go home to become a beekeeper. And and so that story just resonated with me and I just invented this character, Corporal Georgi, who becomes the beekeeper and His philosophy of life radically changes Emil and explains in a lot, in a big way who he becomes when he gets to America.

[00:15:17] Jane: Okay. So yeah I loved the character Georgi and I loved reading about the real Georgi in your notes. And and I was surprised that it was based on a real person because it’s almost like a character from a parable. I thought that’s all I could think of. Like some sort of spiritual.

Man who who really helped transform Emile and that Yeah. I love that. And the beekeeping is so random, you can I know, right? That up, so I love that. Yeah. Yeah. So you just, in the story is told from alternating perspectives between Adeline and Emile was that a decision you made from the very beginning or did that evolve?

[00:15:55] Mark: No, that was from the very beginning. I knew it was their story that I want because they got split up, right? Because of after everything they go through different experiences. Yes. And I thought it was critical to start that different perspective right from the get go. So you start getting, of course, When you meet Emil, he’s lost his faith in God for reasons that are explained in the book.

And Adeline is still very much believes that they will find the beautiful green valley. She’s 100 percent believes it. And of course, she goes from faith to a great questioning of faith when they are separated. And he goes from no faith to faith through the character of Corporal Georgi. So there was a lot of this symmetry involved in it, and I could see it right from the go.

And so I started out telling the story from both their perspectives right away. I think it was the right move.

[00:16:52] Jane: Absolutely. Yeah. I think it was beautifully done. And and on that note, in terms of the spiritual journey, actually, my next question is are a common question. Adeline or in her earlier in her life, this is not a spoiler at all.

She works for this elderly woman, Mrs. Cantor. And one of my, one of the. The advice Mrs. Cantor gives her when she’s going to get married I think is a, this is a theme that’s pulled through the book. And I’ll just do this one quote. Our job in life is to endure, to be kind, and to constantly put the past behind us and not dwell too much on the future.

If you must look back, try to find the beauty and the benefit and any cruelty done to you. If you must think of the future, Try to have no expectations of it. Trust in God to guide you through. And I thought that was so beautiful and such a beautiful spiritual sentiment. And it was definitely carried through the book.

I thought so. And yeah. Yeah. A real person that was at a real.

[00:17:46] Mark: Yeah. She was the real person. I didn’t have her name. But she was a very real person, this Jewish woman that she worked for, because prior to that Adeline had gone through the Holodomor, which is this when Stalin had starved the Ukraine, and her first job indoors was For Mrs.

Cantor and she worked as a maid and a cook, and she was a great cook. And that’s how they bonded. And the old lady took her under her wing and taught her a lot about life. And she never forgot it. And she repeated this, basically that sentiment to someone here in Bozeman who I interviewed, who knew her, and so that’s where that came from, that was something that carried through and she very much had a very powerful faith.

In not only the vision that they had for their future, but in that they would be protected, that they would make it, that they would, it’s, if you think about it, it’s so improbable that they would have found each other, right? Oh, after where they go and how many people had died and the fact that she gets caught in East Germany and it’s just crazy.

And yet it happens. Yes, and they make it and it’s remarkable. That’s one of the things about the story that just blew me away.

[00:19:02] Jane: Yes, it’s like one of those stranger than fiction, like you just can’t believe that all of the things that they went through and actually were reunited is incredible, right?

Yeah, I want so I want to ask you a little bit about your writing process because I’m always interested in that. And I, most people, I think, probably know, like we talk about plotters versus pancers, writers who plot and writers who write by the seat of their pants. And and, what’s your process?

And does your journalism background influence

[00:19:31] Mark: It does in terms of my research, when I’m going out I’m acting like a journalist. I’m trying to find it. And I usually hire guides wherever I go. Like smart people and I’m usually looking for people with journalism backgrounds because they get what I’m asking for right away, right?

And I had one in Romania and in Hungary. He was great. He had spent time as not only a guide, but as a journalist briefly. So he knew, and he was the one who found. all these people for me to interview. He was just amazing, right? And I give them all due props in the acknowledgments. But once I get the guides, I rely on them and I’m.

I’ve usually outlined the story before I go, right? So I know what I’m looking for in terms of research. With these kinds of stories, the plot was pretty much dictated by what happened. Yeah. The pieces that I knew, I had to, insert plot pieces to get it over, obvious gaps in the plot.

But the plot was the plot because it’s, Basically following them in the last year of the war and the two or three years immediately afterwards. So that was set in stone and then it became, all right, how do I depict it in a way that the reader can sit on their shoulders? Because I wanted the reader not to be at 10, 000 feet looking at this thing.

I wanted him in the wagon sitting on either Emile’s or Adeline’s shoulder. And so that became, Snippets from the Martels, the people I interviewed, for example, in Romania, who remembered what other people had stored in there, some people killed cows and packed it in. Some people killed hogs.

They would cook it, pack it in barrels, and then they made this meat out. I was able to get the context from historians in Romania and Ukraine Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland. So I understood what was going on. For example I, before I started I did not understand that like Lodz, Poland was the Ellis Island of Greater Germany.

Yeah, no idea. No. And this was a place that everybody who was brought, repatriated was brought and indoctrinated and giving papers etc. So that was a super big surprise for me. I never expected. And so I had to recreate that. Yeah. And I was lucky that there were academic descriptions of what.

Every single person went through when they came to Lutz, they went to a delousing place, they got new clothes, turns out the clothes belonged to Jews who had gone to Auschwitz, they had no idea they’re given a place to live. used to be the property of Jews. They had no idea.

And this is, so in the book it becomes a process of discovery because it turns out that Heinrich Himmler had this idea that these ethnic Germans Families that had moved to Ukraine in the late 17 nineties and early 18 hundreds and then spent more than a century there. He got this crazy idea that they were the most Aryan people left on Earth, and he wanted their blood brought back into Germany, which blew my mind.

I had no idea that, you know, but yeah, so that was, again and again, that kind of stuff just kept informing the story as I told it.

[00:22:50] Jane: Yeah. And so that brings another question. I had you just talked about like filling in the blanks because both this book and beneath the scarlet sky are very much.

Historical biographical fiction. And how do you strike the balance between fact and fiction when you’re writing a story that’s based directly on a real person?

[00:23:11] Mark: You write as much as you can about the fact. It’s a fact that there was this caravan. It was the fact that there were multiple arms of it that were going all over and they all end up in Budapest before being truck, taken north.

I knew a lot about Adeline’s childhood. I knew a lot about Emile’s childhood. I knew a lot, about what she went through when they were separated. All these kinds of things were there from the get go. And so I was able to rely on them. The big parts were, okay, how do I describe what an encampment looks like, right?

I didn’t get that from them. I got it from someone else. Okay. And I was able to weave the story together. So do I know for a fact that’s exactly how the Martells camped? No, but I do know that they kid, for example, the scene When they’re, they go into the culverts, right? When the bombardment started, they found that if they went into under road culverts, they were protected.

That was real. But the way I describe it in the water and the screaming and what everybody’s going through, that’s dramatized based on what I understood to happen. So that’s where the fiction part of it comes in. And of course you can’t it’s highly difficult 80 years after the fact to recreate conversations.

Yes, about what they were talking about. Now, I knew what their state of mind was leaving Ukraine. I knew they were in an all out run for their lives for close to six weeks during that big run. And I had to fill in the facts based on, okay, I know who she is. I know what her level of education is. I know who he is.

I know what his level of education is. And then I start making educated guesses about how they would have talked and what would have been gone on. So there are also two little boys in that In that, and this is what Bill and Walter Martel, and they were able to tell me they both had big time recollections about what had happened and why and I was able to yeah, that was able to bring their perspective into it, Bill remembers distinctly that so many people were dying on the track that their wagon was bouncing over bodies, which is horrendous, And Walter remembered, the getting strafed and Bill remembered distinctly the tank battle, which Walter didn’t, interestingly enough, Walter had blanked it.

Yeah, Walter was shell shocked. Walter is still an interesting guy. It, the way I depicted him, his brother said, you nailed it. And that’s who he was. And that’s who he is. And Bill was always this guy, kid who You know, he was a kid. He was just always into monkey business and he never really liked school.

He wanted to build things just like his father. And I depicted him that way. And that’s who he was his entire life. Yeah. And Walter said I nailed him too. So yeah, very much of course, they were reading as I was writing, and they read the first one. Yeah. And they gave me a lot of comments and told me, Oh, this doesn’t write like fix this.

This isn’t right. And so that helped me, jigger it. But again, the character of Corporal Georgi is entirely a pro. It’s a product of my imagination, based on the real Georgi, who inevitably became a colonel after the war. After he was released, he was hailed as a hero of the dawn, the battle of the dawn.

He had all sorts of medals and he was promoted to a colonel. Oh, wow. Wow. And his recollections of the battle and his recollections of coming back to Romania and seeing the trek. He distinctly remembered it. He was part of the crew that was there at the border guarding them. And then, of course, his country flipped and became pro Soviet.

He went and surrendered and they sent him to the boot, to the POW camp. Same way as Emil. What a life. It was. Yeah. And he was able to describe a lot of what life was in his prison camp too. Oh yeah. And that affected it. And he had actually escaped from two prison camps. You know the way I describe it.

[00:27:14] Jane: Unbelievable. Yeah. The book is amazing. And I hope that this has given people a taste of it because I just I loved everything about it. And I have a couple of non last Green Valley questions. And then if anyone has questions, you can put the questions in the Q and a or the chat and I’ll ask Mark.

But I have to ask because I am a fan of beneath the scarlet skies. I think a lot of people are here. And can you give us an update on the movie?

[00:27:40] Mark: Yeah we’re not doing a movie. We’re at the point. We’re doing a seven part miniseries limited series even better. Even better because we can tell the whole story.

Tom Holland was attached originally and then the pandemic hit and everything went up in the air because he was already under contract when he agreed to play Pinolella, under contract to play Spider Man in multiple movies. And, he’d already inked the deal and been paid partially. So his entire focus was on those projects that had to come now as they open up.

Yeah. He’s in, he’s still in, if there’s a, there’s an opening in his schedule that fits the filming. I see. So I can’t, I would love to make an announcement on who’s going to play general layers. It’s 98 percent there. It is fantastic. I wish I could tell you, I know. And. They have a pilot written, they have a showrunner as soon as they get the general layers character nailed that he’s going to play it, they’re going to go for financing, and the idea is they’re going to film it next year.

[00:28:49] Jane: Excellent. Excellent. That’s great. I love the idea of a series, like you said, because you can yeah, blow it out more. And then one other question, because I saw your Facebook post about your recent trip to Uganda and your book project. And if you could tell people because they’re fascinated, you can tell people a little bit about that.

[00:29:10] Mark: Sure. So I’ll give you the foundation of that too. My sons were big time ski racers and my oldest went away to a ski racing academy in Salt Lake and lived with a house dad who raised over the course of about 20 years, he raised about 32 boys teenage boys, which is God love it, right? And anyway, Alan one of the boys early in Alan’s tenure was a guy who became the commander of SEAL team six and a very fascinating guy.

Yeah. And my son, after Alan died my son was one of the executors along with the commander of SEAL team six and they became very good friends. And one night. Eric starts telling Connor the story that I’m about to write and Connor about halfway through it goes, this is my dad’s next book. It has to be.

It’s right in his wheelhouse. And so he put me together with the commander of SEAL Team 6 and a guy who had been a CIA ground branch officer, both of whom had been sent to Africa by President Obama to hunt down a guy named Joseph Kony, who was the head of this thing called the Lord’s Resistance Army.

And they meet, This couple Anthony and Florence and Anthony, they meet first and he says what are you guys doing here? Because these white guys in northern Uganda and they said we’re there to hunt Joseph Coney. President Obama wants what he’s doing over and Anthony says I can help you.

And they said how’s that? And he said I was Joseph Coney’s radio man for 10 years. Wow. And the story starts spilling out about how France Florence and Anthony Anthony’s 14, Florence is 13 and they are kidnapped by this messianic warlord, Joseph Coney. And they’re turned into child soldiers and what they go through.

It’s just stunning. It’s the SEAL team commander Eric told me I went through some of the train toughest training in the world. I know what SEAL team training is, and it was worse for these kids. Ugh. They either survived or they died. And the amazing thing is somehow the two of ’em managed to keep hold of the humanity during all this.

Yeah. And about halfway through this 10 year ordeal, they meet. They’re now in their late teens when they meet and they legitimately fall in love and the power of love allows them to survive the last Insanity that they go through, and they begin a family within this, and then they escape one by one, and when they get out, it’s amazing that they turn to getting the other kids out, and one of the things that sold me on the story was, when they came out, one of the first things they did was they forgave Joseph Kony.

for taking a decade of their life. And they got on short waves and they were part of this process of calling the soldiers out of the jungle because the soldiers had all been told that their parents were either dead or that they hated them for who they had become. And so it’s just an incredible story about how the power of love can give you the ability to endure just about anything.

And I was utterly fascinated and I said, okay, I’m in. And we’re using this as a basis to end child soldiering. That’s the reason I’m writing the book. Is to begin the process of telling this story and raising money to There are 300, 000 children right now under arms in the world. And these guys who were hardcore soldiers want to end it.

Yeah. And so I’m part of that process.

[00:33:06] Jane: Incredible. So is this going to be a fictionalized version of their life or is this going to be nonfiction?

[00:33:13] Mark: It’ll be as close to nonfiction as I can. But again, there’ll be things because I want to portray who the soldiers were on the other side. And that I was able to interview a bunch of them.

And but I wouldn’t, I drew the line at going up into South Sudan because it’s an insanely dangerous place. We would have had to have armed guards to go in there. And even then it would have been sketchy. Yeah. I drew the line at going up into South Sudan and interviewing Dinka warriors and stuff, but I learned enough about it while I was there that I think I can portray that.

[00:33:42] Jane: Wow. And when’s the like pub date for that, you think a year or two?

[00:33:48] Mark: The pub date is May of 23, but I don’t know, given the surgeries I’m about to go through, if I’m going to make my deadline. So I think it’s going to be more like September of 23 versus May. Wow. By the time I get done.

[00:34:00] Jane: Yeah, looking forward to it.

So okay let me look here. Oh, my Janice asked my husband and I loved beneath the scarlet sky. We have last Green Valley ready to go for our 2022 trip from New Hampshire to Florida. So we just talked about the movie adaptation. Are there any rights secured for Green Valley?

[00:34:19] Mark: Not yet. Evidently what’s going on to me, it’s mind blowing, but what’s going on is that as Hollywood wakes up, they have decided that in the near term, they’re not.

Interested in acquiring more period pieces that is because they’re in. That’s what you’ve heard. Okay. So it’s insanely difficult right now to get a deal based on a period piece and some of the people who aren’t getting deals are stunning. Like Kristen Hannah of war wins did not sell for the same reason.

And I can’t believe that because the depression seems like an absolute apt. A story for our time right now, but whatever I’m sure it’s going to come around and I’m sure someone’s going to come around on Green Valley. We do have a screenwriter who’s interested in optioning it but, it’ll depend on what his contacts are because I would love to see this story told in long form, like a limited series.

[00:35:16] Jane: Oh, yeah. And a follow on question regarding the Scarlet sky limited series. Is that going to be Netflix? Or do you not know who it’s going to be tied to Netflix?

[00:35:25] Mark: Who? We don’t know who the finance because that’s usually what they do is the financing arm is either Netflix or Amazon or one of the big streaming services, and that is who they’re going to talk to.

So I imagine it’s gonna be one of those big streaming service

[00:35:38] Jane: or Apple plus now to that could be good

[00:35:40] Mark: or Apple plus now to yeah. Yeah. Megan just says, not a question, just I wish you the best. Of luck and quick recovery with your surgeries. Very nice.

Thank you so much. I appreciate that.

[00:35:51] Jane: You Laura Reese says, Do you each have a pretty thorough understanding of World War Two?

Are you constantly learning through your research? And do you have much time to read for pleasure? Those are two questions. I, that was actually a question I had on here, Mark. I feel like I’m constantly learning through my own research about World War Two, but also this piece of history in World War Two that you wrote about with the glass Green Valley.

Like I was not as aware of the whole track of the long track. I was vaguely aware, but I think that’s why it’ll appeal to people because it’s one of those kind of really unknown aspects of World War Two. Wouldn’t you say?

[00:36:28] Mark: Oh yeah, absolutely. I knew nothing about it until I went into Martel’s house and he started telling me and I was like, what, this really happened?

And of course I went home and started researching and I went, it really did happen. It was a very real thing. People did die something, the estimates are like 30, 000 people died on the track. And I was shocked at that. And then I just kept researching, but to, to the question, was I like a World War II buff?

No, I read about it and I had watched a lot of movies and stuff, but being as the Scarlet Sky got me fascinated by it. And, so I went in and it became the same thing. Like I never knew that Heinrich Himmler had this Bizarre theory about the ethnic Germans that they were the whitest people on earth and should be brought back and I had no idea that this is another thing that plays into the plot.

I’m not going to give it away. But one of the things that happened before Germany invades the Soviet Union is about two, about a month before Himmler asked to see a firing squad because his plan was to begin to implement the final solution as they’re invading Russia, right? As they’re invading the Soviet Union, and they were going to do it with guns.

And so he wanted to see how it was going to go down. And so there were a bunch of political prisoners that Hitler wanted shot. So he went to watch. And when they shot him, Heinrich Himmler, the architect of the final solution got violently vomited. And he declared that No one who refused to kill a Jew would be punished.

He wanted true believers behind the gun. And that’s true. Yeah. And I was shocked at that because I’d never heard. Yeah. Yeah. I’d never heard that. And, but actually it’s borne out. If you go and look at the Nuremberg trials, it’s borne out because there were all these guys whose defense was going to be you.

I had no choice. I would have been shot if I hadn’t, run the gas chamber or done this or what have you and the actual the defending attorneys went to every prison where they were holding SS officers and asked them pointedly, do you know of anyone who was executed or punished for not killing a Jew?

And they didn’t find one. And I was shocked at that. That is a shock. Yeah, and that became part of the story.

[00:38:49] Jane: Yes, yeah. Yeah, I didn’t realize that either. That seemed a little bizarre to me. But that’s, yeah, that’s one, again, another, that is stranger than fiction. Do you have much time to read for pleasure?

I personally, between Reading for these webinars and blurbing friends, other friends who write historical fiction, I feel and my own research, I feel like I don’t have a lot of time. Do you? I’m guessing no.

[00:39:11] Mark: I don’t but when I go on vacations. I read voraciously and, I will read stuff that I’m going to blurb as well, but I usually pick one or two that I’m, that I really have wanted to, I’ve set aside that I wanted to write.

That is one of the terrible things about being a full time novelist is that we all got into it because we love to read. And the more you get into the writing, the less reading you get to do that doesn’t have to do with what you’re writing.

[00:39:40] Jane: Yeah, that’s exactly. Yeah, I find get it. I do a lot more audio books now to get through more books like quicker.

So that helps you in the car and whatever driving does.

[00:39:52] Mark: But yeah, I do that. I we have a home about we have a summer home about four and a half hours from here, which makes for a long slog up there to go to our place. And so that’s where I listened to a lot of books.

[00:40:05] Jane: Yeah, I like doing that. That’s good.

[00:40:07] Mark: So I’ll tell you about the one I read, I listened to most recently, I’m going to give my kid a plug. So my oldest son Connor Sullivan just came out with his first novel last month, or two weeks ago, three weeks ago. Yeah, you did it. Two days before he turned 30. And his book is called the sleeping bear.

It’s fascinating. It’s based on one of these odd facts that every year in the state of Alaska, somewhere, or somewhere between 2, 400 people vanished without a trace. So since they’ve been keeping records in the late eighties, close to 70, 000 people. Vanished trace nothing, and he doesn’t explain it, but he explains how somebody or some entity could take advantage of that fact.

And he weaves this wild story that I love the premise.

[00:41:01] Jane: That’s great.

[00:41:02] Mark: Yeah, it’s really good. My younger daughter. I have a 15 and 18 year old my 15 year old loves to write and read and so has he always thought love to write or is this something late that came on later in life? Yeah,

He liked to write but he was pretty much a big athlete.

They were both big ski racers. He, they were trying to, he was trying to make the, the U. S. ski team and the Olympic team and he blew his knee to smithereens when he was 19 in New Zealand and came back and had to reassess his life and decided what he really wanted to do was be a writer.

And he applied to several schools, he applied to the University of Southern California, which has an outstanding writing program and and the film school and he got in. He didn’t have any. experience, but they thought his life experience was so unusual. They let him in and he ended up winning all the writing awards at USC when he graduated.

Oh, good for him. He was off and going.

Yeah. Yeah. Oh, that’s excellent. Excellent. Love it. Oh, Rosemary Sheen asks how many, how are decisions made regarding creating an audiobook? I, my publisher decides everything. I didn’t get to choose my narrator, but I had the same narrator for Beantown Girls and Secret Stealers because I loved my narrator.

And I noticed you had the same narrator both times.

Yeah. Yeah. Will Dameron was fantastic. Beneath the Scarlet Skies. So we decided to use him again, which is because he’s. He is such a talented actor and voice guy. He really makes it come to life. Yeah.

[00:42:30] Jane: Those people are so gifted.

[00:42:32] Mark: Yeah, Amazon did. I published through Lake Union and they did give me a say in who the narrator was.

I got to listen to three or four of them and I said, this is the guy.

[00:42:42] Jane: Oh, that’s great. Yeah. Yeah. I, so I, we’re at 7 45. I last question. Thank you. First of all, thank you. This is amazing and fascinating. And everyone’s State on the whole time, which is testament to how fascinating it is.

And how best can people stay in touch with you? Social media, like newsletter. What’s the best way?

[00:43:03] Mark: Yeah. I’m, I wish I could say I’m a big social media guy, but I’m not, I still work on my, in my, Part time with James Patterson. So I’m usually writing two if not three books at once So I don’t have a heck of a lot of time, but you can find me on facebook.

It’s mark sullivan author i’m on instagram. I think it’s mark sullivan books and I have a website you can contact me there, of course And if you go there on facebook and sign up become one of my followers you automatically become part of my newsletter

[00:43:33] Jane: Nice. Good. Excellent. All right. Thank you again.

Good luck with everything. And and again, thank you last Green Valley. I can’t see my screen. Wait a minute. Okay, I’ll do it too. Yeah. Everyone go read it. It’s amazing. And and yeah, and keep in touch. Take care of Mark. Thank you again. Have a good night. Appreciate it. Thank you, everyone. Thank you. Bye.


Hosted by Jane Healey, Historical Happy Hour is a live interview and podcast featuring premiere historical fiction authors and their latest novels.

Jane Healey

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