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