Sunday, December 11, 2011

Giveaway and Interview with Ruta Sepetys

Have you ever read a book that changes you? A book that alters your soul after you've read the final page?

I have and that book is Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Here is a description of the story from the official book website:

Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother was worth a pocket watch.

In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina's father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.

Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive.

It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?

Today I have the honor of interviewing New York Times Bestselling and multiple award winning author, Ruta Sepetys. Thank you so much for joining us Ruta!

Between Shades of Gray is a very powerful book full of struggle and hope. What helped you find the right balance between the two?

RS - Thank you! It was difficult at times to find that balance. I was trying to address the search for self in the face of death, which can be pretty dark and depressing. My editor, Tamra Tuller, continually pushed me to focus on the hopeful elements. Many of her revision suggestions centered around amplifying the sense of hope. I enjoy bleak stories so my first drafts tend to be pretty depressing. Tamra's suggestions added incredible dimension to the story but allowed me to retain the dark atmosphere I felt was critical for historical authenticity.

Lina is a wonderful character and I remember thinking several times while reading the novel that you had picked a perfect age for her. What made you decide to make Lina fifteen turning sixteen in the book versus a younger or older protagonist?

RS - Many of the survivors I met with were teenagers when they were in Siberia. Their stories were incredibly compelling and they were all so full of fire and bravery. I thought it might add an interesting dimension to the story if it were told from the point of view of a teenage girl. Also, since this is such a little known piece of history, I was hoping that it might be discovered by teachers and librarians. There are so many wonderful librarians who support the YA genre.

When writing a historical, do you plot then research or do you research then plot?

RS - When I started "Between Shades of Gray" I decided to write the book as I was researching. I hoped writing amidst the research process would create a sense of immediacy in the narrative. I'm not sure I'd do that again! I ended up revising quite a bit. I think next time I will research, plot, then draft.

4. Your cover perfectly captures the a ray of hope in a barren wasteland. Can you tell us anything about the journey of your cover and title?

RS - Thank you! I love the cover. I can't take any credit for it though. I wasn't involved in the process at all. Penguin sent me an email saying, "Here's your cover!" and I fell in love with it. They are now designing a new cover for the paperback version which will be released next spring. I can't wait to see it. In terms of the title, "Between Shades of Gray" was my original title for the book. In meeting with survivors I learned that their situation was complicated and choices were difficult. I think we tend to categorize things in extremes (good/evil, love/hate, etc.) But things aren't always black or white. More often, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. And sometimes, when we peel back the layers, the extremes fall away and we can find love and tolerance there, between shades of gray. Not all the Soviets were cruel. Some showed compassion. So the Lithuanians couldn't hate all of the Soviets. Hope and truth lived between endless layers of gray. That was the inspiration for the title.

5. Can you tell us what you are working on now and when it might be available?

RS - I just finished a novel that's set in New Orleans in 1950. It tells the story of a very gifted girl who is the daughter of a French Quarter prostitute. Despite her background and society's opinion of her, she applies to a prestigious college. It's a story of the courage and fortitude it takes to fly when you're born with broken wings. And since it's in New Orleans there's a mystery and a cast of eccentric characters! Philomel/Penguin Young Readers Group is publishing the book in Spring of 2013.

6. What are some of your favorite books?

RS - Ooh, there are so many! I love anything by Toni Morrison, Truman Capote, or Ellen Gilchrist.
Beth Kephart has a new YA coming out called "Small Damages" that's fantastic. Beth is one of the most beautiful writers. Even her blog posts are poetic. I recently read "Letters From Home" by Kristina McMorris and adored it. I also love Laura Kasischke, a writer from Michigan. Her YA novels are published by HarperTeen and her adult books are through Harper Perennial. If you're looking for a fun, compelling read you must pick up "Dead Rules" by Randy Russell. If I had to choose an all-time favorite book it would be "How I Live Now" by Meg Rosoff.

Thank you so much for visiting with us Ruta!

YA Fusion is excited to give away a signed copy of Between Shades of Gray. To enter, leave a comment below. A drawing will be held the week of December 18th. Tell us about the post, about Between Shades of Gray, or about a book that changed your life.

Please leave your e-mail in the comment so I can contact you if you win. Also, the contest is limited to entries in the U.S. and Canada.


bethany griffin said...

oh wow, great interview!

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Great interview! I'm a huge fan!

Jennifer Rumberger said...

Great interview. This is the second one I have read of Between Shades of Gray and it is definitely one my to read list. Thanks for the giveaway!

Lisa Tapp said...

Thanks for the great interview. I have a copy of Between Shades of Gray on my bedside table, TBR pile. It's definitely going to be moved to the top.

Heather Smith Meloche said...

Thanks, Katie and Ruta! I've heard so many great things about "Between Shades of Gray." It is in my reading queue!

Kurt Hampe said...

Katie, great questions--Ruta, even better answers. Shades of Gray is raking in the praise, in fact, I think it scored another award nomination last week.

I suppose every book changes me, but I'm not sure that a book ever changed my life. There were a few that gave me something to hang on to. As a much younger reader, I enjoyed Daniel Pinkwater's "Lizard Music" and "Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars." In my YA years, I hung on to "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and waited impatiently for each new book. You know, now that I think about it, these are books about people who simply outgrow their worlds and move on. Works for me.

Colette Ballard said...

Thanks Katie and Ruta, i can't wait to read it! It's absolutely next on my reading list!

Alice said...

This sounds like a great book. I'd love to read it.

Evelyn said...

Wonderful interview, Ruta. Thanks for hosting, Katie. I've read Between Shades of Gray and have been recommending it to others every chance I get. I'd love to have a copy to share. Ev evelyn(dot)christensen(at)gmail(dot)com

Starr K @ The Literati Press said...

I am trying to think of that one book that altered my world in some form, and I can't pick just one. There have been so many. If i had to choose that left an impression deeper than pure enjoyment it would have to be All Different Kinds of Free by Jessica Mccann and The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. I don't know there's just something about those books....

Kristin Lenz said...

Great interview! I picked up Ruta's book after hearing her editor speak at the SCBWI-MI conference in September. I can only imagine how difficult it was to write Shades of Gray. Thanks for the other book recommendations too, Ruta, including the shout-out for Michigan author Laura Kasischke.

Cass (Words on Paper) said...


Just got to say, I love reading interviews with authors whose books I loved. It's killing me that her next book is coming out not next year, but the year after! Sounds great, and I have no doubt it'll be just as beautiful and inspired as she described.

Joyce Lansky said...

Between Shades of Gray is a wonderful book and a MUST READ for everyone. Thanks for the contest. I already have my copy. I think her book is worthy of a Newbery!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this! I'm grateful to Ruta for sharing her process. Especially interested to learn about her editor suggesting injections of hope. There are difficult balancing acts in all novels, and I appreciate knowing how other writers work it out.

Thanks for the giveaway!

J said...

Oops! The above was published anonymously, but it was me -

Tosha Sumner said...

I enjoyed the interview. You've convinced me to add this book to my wishlist. :-)

Kurt Hampe said...

I finished Shades just a few days ago and recommend it. As advertised, it is heartbreaking and hopeful, but also addresses neglected history.

The intensity of the story builds well. Chapter 1 is surprisingly young and fluffy, but each subsequent chapter adds a little weight until it's so heavy that something has to give.