We’re having a banner week at YA Fusion—best-selling author Ruta Sepetys is back to answer questions and give away of copy of her newest offering, Out of the Easy.
When YA Fusion last talked to Ruta, her award-winning debut, Between Shades of Gray, was racing up the charts.
Since then, Ruta has had her nose to the promotional and writing grindstones. I’m not sure if there were actual nasal sparks flying, but knowing Ruta I wouldn't be surprised. She’s made multiple trips to Europe for book signings and lectures, appeared at conferences, and written Out of the Easy. Here’s the new book’s scoop, straight off the jacket:
It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street.
To that I would add that this is a well written and delightfully paced character-driven adventure with a splash of mystery and romance in a fun historical setting. Let's get Ruta's take on the book.
Ruta, thanks for hanging out with YA Fusion, we really appreciate your time. Start at the beginning, please. Was there a light bulb moment for Out of the Easy's story and setting?
RS – There was definitely a “light bulb moment!” My introduction to New Orleans came through a vintage pair of opera glasses I received for my birthday. The glasses were still in their original case from the jeweler in New Orleans and they were engraved and dated as a gift from someone named Willie. I’m nuts about history, so I hired a researcher to trace the origin of the glasses. I learned that Willie was a woman from a brothel in the French Quarter. And the jeweler who sold Willie the glasses was poisoned. He ate a dozen oysters in the Quarter and kicked the bucket. You can’t make that stuff up. My fascination with New Orleans was born!
So... the brothels of New Orleans. Research must have been interesting. Got a good conversation starter you can share?
RS – Oh my gosh, there were so many incredible research moments. But the most exciting part of the research process involved visiting the former brothel of New Orleans madam Norma Wallace. Willie’s house in the book is based on Norma’s. I was able to go into the house and see exactly where everything took place. It was both fascinating and unsettling.
Out of the Easy has some similarities with Between Shade of Gray—they both have a first person, past-tense female lead who starts off unusually young for a YA, and they both have a strong historical context—but the books are very different. For one thing, the historical element of Between Shades of Gray is more central to the story. In some ways, it is the story. With Out of the Easy, though, the characters are central and the history is context. Did the process feel different to you while you were doing it?
RS – The process of writing the two books was extremely different – especially on an emotional level. Writing Between Shades of Gray was very difficult because I knew that what I was describing had actually happened but was kept secret for over fifty years. The pain and suffering was very real. Writing Out of the Easy was full of joy. The characters made me laugh and cry but it was a celebration of identity in a very positive way.
Josie, the heroine of Out of the Easy, is very together and capable, yet she still has strong needs and vulnerabilities. How conscious were you of balancing her strengths and weaknesses?
RS – I’ve met women like Josie Moraine so the character is very real to me. I wanted her surroundings to be a major hurdle that challenged both her strengths and weaknesses. I definitely evaluated that balance as I read my drafts.
The character Jesse builds nicely as the story progresses. He’s a lot of fun, and I get the feeling you enjoyed writing his scenes. As he would say, you like him.
RS – I stole Jesse's lines straights from my husband. Yes, I am mad bonkers in love with the hubs.
Please tell us a bit about your writing process. How much do you outline, and how defined are the plot and characters before you start writing?
RS – I wish I had a specific process. For me it starts with the characters, what they are striving for, and what sort of moral decision I can push them to. I don’t create a detailed outline but I make notes on the specific characters and a loose breakdown of action.
You had a career in music management before becoming a full time writer. You’re still involved in music education, yes? Is there a crossover in the work experience?
RS – My experience in the music industry absolutely feeds my writing. I was fortunate to be around so many creative people. After twenty years, the artists encouraged me to leave the business side of the industry and pursue my own creativity. Yes, I’m still involved in music education, mentoring, and am on the board at one of the universities here in Nashville.
What’s next for you, Ruta? Touring? New book?
RS – Earlier this year I did an amazing ten-week international tour. I’m now taking the summer to work on my third book. I’ll be touring again September – November 2013 and then on the road again February – May of 2014. I’m really excited because I’ll be hitting Berlin, Krakow, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Tokyo, Bangkok, Budapest, Warsaw, as well as many US cities. It’s a dream and I am so grateful to my publishers and the readers! The full itinerary is listed on my website at:
Thank you for having me here at YA Fusion!!
Thanks again to Ruta for sharing her time and a copy of, Out of the Easy. Readers, if you don’t win this copy, visit a bookstore soon, you won’t be disappointed.
Please comment below to be considered for the drawing. Extra points offered for posting about the contest on Facebook or Twitter (please include mention of this in your comment). Email MUST be included in the comment to be considered. Open to US and Canadian entries only - apologies. Contest closes at midnight EST on 6/16/13.