Thursday, March 31, 2011

Before the Book: Ruta Sepetys on Research

The thing about BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY--and all historical novels--is that (if they're going to be any good at all) they require copious amounts of research. It is clear from page one that Ruta loved the topic and was meticulous in her research. Today, I'm asking her about the story behind the story.

Where did you start with your research? You’ve clearly done a lot—interviews, history, etc. It seems overwhelming.

I started by researching historical materials that are available. Once I moved through those, I started going deeper and looking for people to interview and ways I could conduct research on my own.

Are there any parts of the story you wrote that directly reflect something from your research.

Oh definitely. Many of the experiences I describe in the novel were things survivors recounted. For example, the scene at the train station with the father’s wedding ring, the boys smoking books, the owl, and the scene with the baby.

Is there anything from your research that you wished you could have included, but couldn’t?

Yes, there was a scene that we had to cut out of the novel that I really loved. It explained exactly how all of the teachers wound up on Stalin’s extermination list. Teachers were very high on the target list and I wish I could have included details about their situation.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I hope readers feel that through examining these tragic parts of history and learning from mistakes of the past we create hope for a more just future. These three small countries have taught us a large lesson – how to speak when your voice has been extinguished.

What does your family think of your book?

My family has been incredibly supportive! My father fled from Lithuania when he was a young boy and I know he recognized the spirit and endurance of several characters in the book. It brought back a lot of memories.

Between Shades of Gray Prize Pack:
Signed bookplate
Music download card

All this week, I'll be posting about BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY. Comment on a post, you get an entry for the random drawing. Five posts = five chances to comment and win. So come back every day this week for another chance to comment and win! 

Also, I thought it might be easier if I suggested some topics for comments--you don't have to comment on the following questions to enter (a simple "please enter me!" is fine), I just thought it might be fun to get a real discussion going.

Question 1: If you're a writer--historical fiction or not--do you have any tips for research?

Question 2: If you're a reader--what historical topic would you like to see a novel on?
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