Check This Out: All We Left Behind

022Welcome back to Snow Country (how appropriate with the WordPress snow). Glad you’re here to join me in welcoming to the blog the fabulous Ingrid Sundberg. Her YA novel, All We Left Behind, debuted on December 1, thanks to the publisher—Simon Pulse.

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Ingrid’s agent is Melissa Sarver White at Folio. For a synopsis of All We Left Behind, click on the publisher above. Now let’s talk to Ingrid!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Ingrid: 1. My natural hair color is light brown.
2. I wore fairy wings at my wedding.
3. I love mint chip ice cream.
4. I grew up in the land of snow and lobsters: Maine.

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El Space: What inspired you to write All We Left Behind? It’s very intense. I can’t help thinking about the quote by Akira Kurosawa on your blog: “To be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes.” Why is that important to you?
Ingrid: The Akira Kurosawa quote is one of my favorites, because I didn’t “crack the nut” of this book until I was willing to really look at the dark parts of this story. It finally broke open when I was willing to honestly see what Marion and Kurt needed and put my personal discomfort and authorial agenda aside. It’s so easy to pretty things up and not “go there.” But when we avert our eyes, we’re protecting ourselves, rather than looking at the truth.

All We Left Behind is the result of an abandoned screenplay, and an abandoned novel. I lifted the characters from those previous projects and started over. The common link that inspired all of them is Marion’s attempt to navigate her sexual awakening in a culture that views sex in such extremes. Be sexy, but don’t be a slut. Sex is taboo, but it’s also where girls are told to find their worth. Sex is the most intimate experience you can share with someone, but treat it like it’s completely worthless and casual. Those contrasts are fascinating, but they’re also real obstacles that girls have to face today.

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El Space: All of your characters are very memorable and vivid. How did you come to create your point of view characters—Kurt and Marion?
Ingrid: Kurt came about as an exercise at Vermont College. In an early draft of this book Kurt was a throw-away character that dumped Marion and then disappeared. As an exercise, my adviser had me write my scenes from the POV of the other characters—not my protagonist. This was really difficult. I realized Kurt was this paper-thin character I was using as a chess piece for my plot. Once I had to develop him into a real person, he came alive. He was so vivid and compelling that I couldn’t stop writing in his voice. He took the book in a whole new direction. A better direction! It was awesome.

Marion on the other hand has been with me for over 10 years. She was the center of a previous screenplay and novel. I’ve spent draft after draft, new direction after new direction, trying to figure out how to write her story and do it justice. She’s haunted me. I’m so happy I finally found the story she wanted me to tell.

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El Space: Music plays an important role in this story. What was on your playlist as you wrote this book?
Ingrid: This is going to come as a surprise, but I can’t listen to music when I write. I find it really distracting. Thus, there’s no playlist for this book. In fact, I had to poll my friends to come up with songs my characters would talk about in the book. I’m not a music person at all! I spent three days listening to all the songs my friends suggested on YouTube so I could figure out what Kurt and his mom would be into.

A couple of my favorites were (1) “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake—this is the type of song I see Kurt playing with his mom—(2) “Drifting” by Andy McKee. Watch this YouTube video and you’ll be mesmerized by the physical way Andy McKee plays the guitar. This is how I imagine Kurt’s mom playing her instrument. There’s a little bit of genius and escape in the way she plays.

El Space: You mentioned some characters from fairy tales in the story. How did these familiar stories influence your writing?
Ingrid: I feel like fairy tales create a “dream” for young people, and girls in particular. We’re told that we will one day meet our charming prince and magically live happily ever after. That story is reinforced over and over again in media. In a way, we start to feel entitled to that dream. And then we feel betrayed or like there’s something wrong with us if we don’t find our prince.

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This really shows the power of storytelling. How many of us believe that hard work will pay off in the end, or that love will conquer all? But is any of that really true? Or is it a story we’ve heard in books and television? I find I’m interested in the juxtaposition of fairytale themes against the harsh reality of the world we live in.

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El Space: A controversial Bustle article gave seven reasons for writing a YA novel. I won’t ask you for seven. But I’d like to know how you came to write for young adults.
Ingrid: I definitely didn’t write a novel I could buy the perfect shoe/dress combo for my book launch on Saturday, Dec 5th (as implied by reason #7 in that article). In fact . . . I have no idea what I will wear.

I actually started out writing dramatic screenplays when I was getting my MFA in screenwriting from Chapman University. One of my first screenplays was a college drama called Virgin, and that screenplay was the seed for All We Left Behind. The character of Marion was the star of that film. The path to YA came from learning that Marion’s story was extremely internal and thus hard to communicate visually as a film. We often complain that a movie isn’t as good as the book, but we forget that movies are a very specific form of storytelling that simply can’t communicate in the same way as a novel.

Once I discovered the story was too internal for a film, I switched to novel writing. Hence the second MFA in novel writing from Vermont College. Novels are a whole different beast than screenwriting! I also got a lot of feedback that the story’s themes would be better suited in high school than college. So, I made the leap to YA and I love it!

El Space: Which book authors or screenwriters inspire you?
Ingrid: I love that you asked about screenwriters as well as authors! My few of my favorite screenwriters are Sarah Polley (Away from Her; Take This Waltz), Alex Garland (Sunshine; Never Let Me Go), Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter), and Aaron Sorkin (West Wing; The Social Network). They all have such different voices, but you can really “feel” their voice in a film.

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Sarah Polley and Aaron Sorkin

I’m also really inspired by authors who take risks or are masters of language. The ones that jump to mind are Laurie Halse Anderson, Jeanette Winterson, and Beth Kephart. They all make me fall in love with words over and over again.

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El Space: What are you working on now?
Ingrid: I’m working on a few different projects, but none of them are fully formed enough to say exactly what they are. I’ve got a Peter Pan project, a fantasy concept about Greek Muses, and a summer romance with lots of kissing! I don’t really like defining my novels before I know what they are. I’d hate to tell my readers I’m working on XYZ, only to later tell them that project died in the beautiful flames of revision. 🙂

El Space: Thanks Ingrid for being my guest!

Ingrid: Thanks for having me on your blog! It’s been a blast!

Looking for Ingrid? Look here:
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
Pinterest
Website

All We Left Behind is available here:
IndieBound
Amazon
B&N
Book Depository

But comment below to be entered into a drawing to win a free copy of All We Left Behind. Because I will feature another book giveaway this month, I will announce the winner of both books on December 14.

Book covers courtesy of Ingrid Sundberg and Goodreads. Prince from ebay.com. Maine map from ezilon.com. Sarah Polley from imdb.com. Aaron Sorkin from ibtimes.com.

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.