Monday, March 14, 2011

Author Spotlight-Ruta Sepetys author of Between Shades of Gray

I'm thrilled to welcome Ruta Sepetys, author of Between Shades of Gray. She was kind enough to stop by The Crazy Bookworm and answer a few questions for me. Enjoy!

CB: I loved that the book was written like a memoir. Why did you chose to write it from 15 year old Lina's point of view?

RS: Thank you!

Adolescence can be a difficult and intense time. Many of the survivors I met were young when they were deported and I was very affected by the things they told me they experienced during their teen years in Siberia. I hoped that making the main character a young girl might add additional dimension to the story.

CB: In your video you discuss your meetings with survivors, visiting an actual train car that was used for deportations and visiting a soviet prison. What was it like meeting with the survivors and visiting those places?

RS: Meeting and interviewing survivors was an incredible experience. But it was also difficult. It was very painful for some of the survivors to discuss traumas that had been dormant for so long. My heart absolutely ached as they wept, telling me their stories. Because the Baltics were Soviet occupied until 1990 - for over fifty years - people were not able to speak about what happened. Speaking of deportation or the gulags meant immediate arrest or imprisonment. Survivors learned to keep painful secrets and lived in fear for over fifty years. I stood in one of the train cars that was used for deportation and I was shocked at how small it was. Somehow I imagined it would be larger. And to think that so many people were packed into those cars for so long, it was horrific.

CB: Your father is a Lithuanian refugee, how did he feel about Between Shades of Gray? Has he read it?

RS: Yes, my father fled from Stalin when he was a young boy. He's read the book and is so pleased that the story is being told. I think what pleases him most is the fact that publishers around the world have also picked up the book.

CB: Describe the feeling you had when you first found out Between Shades of Gray was going to be published

RS: I can't even characterize it as a 'feeling.' It was a reaction of such unfiltered joy and disbelief that I just started screaming and crying, and I mean really screaming. I'm surprised the neighbors didn't call the police. My poor agent had to listen to me sobbing and shrieking over the phone for a long time.

CB: What was the hardest/best part of writing this book?

RS: The hardest parts were researching and also living in the emotions of fear and loss as I was writing the book.

I cried a lot while working on the initial drafts. The best part about writing the book was working with my editor and publisher. The revisions suggested by my editor, Tamra Tuller, had an enormous impact on the book. She's so insightful and it was thrilling for me to work with her on the manuscript. I was actually sad when the revision process ended!

CB: Were any characters based or loosely based on the survivors you met?

RS: The characters are fictional, however, many situations they experience were things actually told to me by survivors.

CB: What gave you that final push to write Between Shades of Gray and tell the story that so few knew?

RS: I had written a humorous middle-grade novel and was looking for an agent. I sent the finished middle-grade manuscript to Steven Malk at Writers House. For some reason, at the last minute, I enclosed ten pages of Between Shades of Gray in the envelope. Steven Malk called me and said that although the middle-grade novel was interesting, he felt the voice in Between Shades of Gray was more authentic and that was what I should focus on. So I changed gears and wrote the book. I owe so much to Steve Malk for that insight and advice!

CB: Would you like to see your book come to the big screen?

RS: Oh, that would be a dream for any writer. But I think historical fiction - especially one with a young protagonist - might be a tough sell in Hollywood.

CB: Between Shades of Gray is a very powerful book. It describes in great detail the horrors that people had to endure. Did it ever become difficult at times to write certain parts?

RS: Yes, I think my heart cracked into a million pieces several times while writing the book. The experience left me with a reverence for life and also pondering questions such as, "Who Survives?" and "What does it take to bear the unbearable?"

CB: What are you hoping your readers take away from Between Shades of Gray?

RS: I hope that readers might think about the real people who endured the Soviet terror. I wrote the book, but the story belongs to the people who experienced it. And many other countries, like Poland, suffered terribly under Stalin. I hope that readers might be inclined to research that era a bit, so the other countries that were affected might also be recognized. Joseph Stalin killed over 20 million people during his reign of terror.

CB: If you had to describe Between Shades of Gray in 3 words, what would they be?

RS: Hope. Love. Freedom.

CB: Are you working on anything now? Can you share anything about it?

RS: My publisher, Philomel, just bought my next book. It's historical fiction and takes place in the US during the 1950's. I'm so excited to work with them on it!

CB: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers?

RS: I feel so incredibly grateful to each and every person who reads Between Shades of Gray. Perhaps together we can finally bring this story out of the dark.

CB: Thank you so much Ruta for taking the time to answer my questions! The Crazy Bookworm is thrilled to have you. You are welcome back anytime!

RS: Thank you so much for having me, Cathy!!

Born and raised in Michigan, Ruta Sepetys is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee. The nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia disappeared from maps in 1941 and did not reappear until 1990. As this is a story seldom told, Ruta wanted to give a voice to the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives during Stalin's cleansing of the Baltic region.

Ruta lives with her family in Tennessee. Between Shades of Gray is her first novel.

To read my review on Between Shades of Gray click HERE

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  1. What a great interview. I always love to hear from authors about thier process and thier feelings about it. This look like an intense read!

  2. Unbelievable book. Great review. Made me want to read it again. You should read Out of the Easy if you haven't.


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