ALAN: Yes, Scholastic approached me. Jack and his wife Ruth took his story to Scholastic, and they immediately saw that it would make a great book. But neither Jack nor Ruth are writers, so Scholastic asked me to write the book. Once I heard Jack’s account of his time in the camps, I couldn't resist—it was such an incredible story! In particular, I liked that he survived. So many stories of the Holocaust of course did not end so well. And I knew that for writing middle grade, that would be important.
CAROL: What was you process for writing the book? I assumed you interviewed Jack at least once.
ALAN: I worked on the book for a while before I ever met Jack in person, using what he and his wife had told Scholastic about his experiences in World War II and doing a lot of research on the concentration camps on my own. Then, about halfway through writing the first draft, I got to fly to New York and meet Jack. We spent the afternoon at the Holocaust Museum in Manhattan, where some artifacts of Ruth's time during the war are on display.
Jack's memory isn't what it once was, and he wasn't able to remember the answers to some of the questions I had for him. But later, when he read my first draft of the book, a lot of things came back to him. I think he needed the world of the book to help jog his memory. Writing this book became a real process of discovery as Jack and I uncovered some memories he didn't know he had. I'm pleased that I was able to write something that brought the past to life again for him, even if a great deal of that past was painful.
CAROL What did you do next? I assumed you consulted other books on the Holocaust. Or did you interview other survivors? What stands out as the most helpful "other" source of information?
CAROL: This is a novel and you make it clear in the back that it is a work of fiction. I don't know if you are able to distill how you wove together Jack's story with other information about the Holocaust, but your process interests me. How did you know when to take liberties with Jack's story? Perhaps an example or two might be helpful.
CAROL: Do you consider this a collaborative work? Did Jack read any of your drafts and/or have input into them?
CAROL Have you done any public appearances with Jack?
CAROL: How has writing this book affected you both personally and professionally?