Check This Out: Paper Hearts

Hello! With me on the blog today is the awesome Meg Wiviott, a friend from VCFA here to talk about her young adult historical verse novel, Paper Hearts, which debuts today! Woot!

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Meg is represented by Janine Le at Sheldon Fogelman. Paper Hearts was published by Simon & Schuster. Here is the synopsis.

Paper Hearts

Amid the brutality of Auschwitz during the Holocaust, a forbidden gift helps two teenage girls find hope, friendship, and the will to live in this novel in verse that’s based on a true story.

An act of defiance.
A statement of hope.
A crime punishable by death.

Making a birthday card in Auschwitz was all of those things. But that is what Zlatka did, in 1944, for her best friend, Fania. She stole and bartered for paper and scissors, secretly creating an origami heart. Then she passed it to every girl at the work tables to sign with their hopes and wishes for happiness, for love, and most of all—for freedom.

Fania knew what that heart meant, for herself and all the other girls. And she kept it hidden, through the bitter days in the camp and through the death marches. She kept it always.

This novel is based on the true story of Fania and Zlatka, the story of the bond that helped them both to hope for the best in the face of the worst. Their heart is one of the few objects created in Auschwitz, and can be seen today in the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre.

Now, let’s talk with Meg!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Meg: (1) I was born in New York City. (2) I love cats. (3) When not writing or reading I spend my time knitting, weaving, or doing needlepoint. (4) I would like to be able to teleport, because I hate flying.

El Space: I’d love to teleport as well. Please tell us how you came to turn the true story of Fania and Zlatka into the novel Paper Hearts.
Meg: I first heard about the heart when I read online about a documentary, The Heart of Auschwitz (Ad Hoc Films 2010), in which the filmmakers try to find the women who signed it. I then visited the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, where the heart is on permanent display, and met with one of the filmmakers. Then I knew this story needed to be told.

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I first wrote it as a non-fiction middle grade, but knew the story needed to be for older readers. I shoved the story in a drawer for a year and worked on other projects, but continued to keep the story in the back of my mind. When I returned to it, I decided to tell it in verse, which gave me the emotional distance I needed as a writer—Auschwitz is a horrid place to go to every day. I resisted turning it into fiction, but had to in order to make it a complete and full story. So, while everything that happens in the book did not necessarily happen to the girls, all of it still happened. All of it is real.

El Space: How much research did you do?
Meg: Tons! The heart—pun intended—of the story came from Fania and Zlatka’s Shoah Testimonies. I also relied on the film. To learn about the world in which the story took place, I read extensively about Auschwitz in general and the industries who contracted with the Third Reich to use the prisoners as slave laborers. I then began to narrow my interests to survivor stories from Auschwitz, the orchestra, the Sonderkommando, and the Union Kommando. There is an extensive bibliography in the book, but I don’t think even that lists all the books I read.

El Space: You’ve written a picture book, Benno and the Night of Broken Glass, which also has a tie to the Holocaust. What do you hope children, and now teens who read the story of Fania and Zlatka, will take away from your stories about this important, but devastating historical event?
Meg: Benno and the Night of Broken Glass tells the story of Kristallnacht, which marks the beginning of the Holocaust, through the eyes of a cat.

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My goal as a writer is to tell a story as historically accurate as possible. But I want to be as gentle as I am honest. I can only hope that a reader will take something from the story so that someday, when she encounters injustice/discrimination/hatred, she will stand up and say, “This is not right.”

El Space: How did you make the choice to write for children and young adults?
Meg: I’ve always written. I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to write for children and young adults, it just seems to be what comes out of me. Someone wiser and pithier than I said that we write at the age of our inner selves. Obviously, my inner self is not an adult.

El Space: What advice do you have for budding historical fiction authors?
Meg: Be honest to the history and to your characters. Do not impose your twenty-first century ideas on someone who lived in a different time and place.

El Space: What books or authors inspire you?
Meg: Any well written book is inspiring. When I was a kid, my favorite books were Where the Red Ferns Grow [Wilson Rawls] and My Side of the Mountain [Jean Craighead George].

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The books I’ve read recently that particularly inspire me are coincidentally all written by VCFA grads: Melanie Crowder’s Audacity, Heather Demetrios’s I’ll Meet You There, Catherine Linka’s A Girl Called Fearless, and Dana Walrath’s Like Water on Stone. These books are all beautifully written and tell important stories—the kind of stories I wanted to read as a child, the kind of stories I aspire to write now.

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El Space: What are you working on next?
Meg: My current WIP is another YA historical novel set in 1944 in Los Alamos, tentatively titled Hiking with Oppenheimer.

Thanks, Meg, for being my guest!

If you want to learn more about Meg, check out her website and Facebook.

You can find Paper Hearts at
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indiebound

I’m giving away a copy of Paper Hearts. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. When you comment, you might share something a friend did to cheer you up. Winner to be announced on September 8.

Author photo and Paper Hearts cover courtesy of Meg Wiviott. Other book covers from Goodreads and npr.org. The heart from telefilm.ca and mhmc.ca.

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54 thoughts on “Check This Out: Paper Hearts

  1. Thanks for this, I have never heard about the story of that card before. Some years back I read a book by Primo Levi-it was a really difficult read, trying to internalise the treatment inflicted by the Nazis on the Jews/disabled/anyone else who didn’t ‘fit’.

  2. Unlike Andy, I like a bit of light Holocaust reading, on Holiday – my favourite is Return to Auschwitz, by Kitty Hart-Moxon. Especially the bit at the end of the book where she stops a group of women kicking a guard to death and says “Haven’t you learnt anything yet?” (Paraphrased) Very profound. The heart is amazing, isn’t it. A person once paid off a large fine for me – although I deserved the fine, it moved me to think he thought I was worth it. That brought about a change in my behaviour that no punitive measure could.

    • I haven’t read that book. I’d like to read it! That’s a great line.
      And how wonderful that someone paid your fine! It’s interesting how an act of grace can change a life.

  3. Great interview, Meg and Linda! And I’m a fan of anyone who loves cats, knits, and would prefer teleporting to flying 🙂 Meg, both of your books sound amazing. I have a nephew who teaches high school history and is a scholar on the Holocaust. I’ll be sharing this post with him.
    As far as someone doing something for me (sorry, Linda, I’m writing on my iPad and can’t see the last few lines of your post): let’s just say my faith in people was reawaken recently when I left a ring in the ladies room at work. This ring is very valuable but not just in terms of $$. Anyway, I was convinced I’d never see it again (surely, whoever found would think they’d won the Lottery). But the very next morning, it was returned to me. Another woman spotted my ring and held on to it until she could find the rightful owner. There are good people other there 🙂

    • That’s awesome, Marie! So glad your ring was returned.

      Your nephew is a Holocaust scholar? Wow. I remember having to write a paper on concentration camps when I was in high school. That was intense!

      • Scott has been interested in the Holocaust since he was in high school. He has said the movie Schindler’s List moved him to try and understand what happened and why it happened. He teaches high school social studies and this year was selected as a U.S. Holocaust Museum Fellow. I am very proud of him (and that’s an understatement ;)). Interestingly, my husband also went through a period of intense study of the Holocaust, from an engineer’s point of view. Someone (engineers) had to design and build those crematoriums. I’ve only studied the Holocaust at a distance, a safe distance.

      • Wow! Congrats to your nephew. I’m glad to see that the movie made such a huge impact on his life.
        Did your husband have to travel to see some of the sites in Europe? That would be difficult emotionally, if so.

  4. This is now on my MUST-READ list. And thank you for the link to the Shoah Foundation site. Good stuff there! I love this line: “Obviously, my inner self is not an adult.” Haha, Meg! Mine isn’t either.

    Linda – you asked for something cheery a friend did…? She emailed, “want to get coffee this afternoon?” We met at the art museum cafe and talked while overlooking a reflecting pool and sculpture garden, and I was struck by the beauty of the place and the care and thoughtfulness that went into designing it. I drove home feeling grateful and grace-filled.

  5. Thanks for the introduction to Meg, L Marie. I’ve never heard of the paper heart story either but look forward to reading it. As for someone doing something nice….earlier in the year I was part of a “pay it forward” moment at a coffee shop drive through. The car in front of ours paid for our coffee, we then paid for the car behind us. That made my whole day!

  6. Such a splendid interview and insight into Meg’s writing and process. Thank you both.
    I just finished the audio book of Kristin Hannah’s “The Nightingale”, which deals with the Nazi occupation of France and all its horrors, including the camps. I needed a few days to breath when I finished. I know I will read “Paper Hearts”. I did not know about this, so grateful for the introduction. Courage comes in so many forms.
    When a college freshman with only pennies to rub together, the binding of one of my shoes, penny loafers, pulled apart. Tape held it together, but, not an easy task in winter. We had “secret Santas” in December as Christmas approached. I awoke one morning to find my shoe stitched, both shoes in the pair polished, and a bright new penny in each slot.

    • What a great story, Penny! Secret Santas as so much fun. We used to do that at my office and at college. I miss that! 🙂
      That book you just finished sounds great. Reminds me of All the Light We Cannot See, which also deals with the Nazi occupation of France.

      • I have. It is YA. It is excellent. I did not see “it” coming. Totally surprised, couldn’t put it down, and it still haunts me. I have not read the sequel. I did a review of it a few years ago, L. Marie, and I cannot recommend it enough. There are many difficult scenes, but, it is so compelling.

  7. I’m so excited to read Meg’s newest. And this story sounds like a terrific – if heartbreaking – read. You don’t need to enter me in the drawing, because I’ll be buying it for sure! Thanks for the great interview and feature.

  8. “Do not impose your twenty-first century ideas on someone who lived in a different time and place.”

    I love this advice. To me, that’s one of the hardest parts of writing fiction based in times past and when it’s done right, it shows!

  9. What an amazing story. I’m sure doing that research was intense at times. But it’s a story that indeed deserves to be told so kudos to the author.

    By the way, I haven’t had a chance to get to my P.O. Box yet, but as soon as I do, I look forward to those daisies!

  10. I’ll be in Montreal in December. I must make time to go see that paper heart for myself. Congratulations on your books birthday, Meg! And thank you, Linda, for another informative interview.

  11. Thank you for introducing us to Meg, L. Marie. Her novel sounds terrific. As always, an excellent interview.
    Many, many years ago, when I was flat on my back, following back surgery, my father came over and cooked me grilled cheese every day, for lunch. He wasn’t much of a cook at the time, so it was special to me.

  12. Ooo. I bet my teen would love this. All my kids have loved stories of heroism in WWII since we got them The Miracle at Mareux a few years ago (a movie based on Twenty and Ten, which is based on a true story). Last year, my eldest read a book called The Candy Bomber about the food drops that U.S. and other countries made over East Germany after the war. One of the pilots, as implied by the title, was blessed to be the guy who got to drop candy.

  13. “I decided to tell it in verse, which gave me the emotional distance I needed as a writer, Auschwitz is a horrid place to go to every day. I resisted turning it into fiction, but had to in order to make it a complete and full story. So, while everything that happens in the book did not necessarily happen to the girls, all of it still happened. All of it is real.”

    LEST WE FORGET.

    Will read this one for sure.

    • We have to keep telling the stories of horrors like this so we as a people won’t keep making the same mistakes over and over.

      Poetry is a great tool for telling a story! I’ll read it too, Laura.

      • Unfortunately there are those who deny the reality of this event which makes pieces like this one even more timely. What I particularly like is the fact of it being told in poetry and to an intended younger audience.
        BTW: I always am struck by the depth of your posts…thanks again.
        peace

      • I’ve heard of people who denied that the Holocaust happened. I have no idea why they do in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. 😦

  14. Great interview! I was already looking forward to reading this book, but I’m even more eager to check it out after learning more about the heart and Meg’s process of figuring out the best way to tell the story. Thanks, Meg and L. Marie!

  15. Pingback: What Do You Take Seriously? | El Space–The Blog of L. Marie

  16. Pingback: Paper Hearts | Lifeonthecutoff's Blog

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