As promised, here is a behind-the-scenes conversation with Anne Blankman, including advice to new novelists and a second chance to win the ARC of Prisoner of Night and Fog. Congratulations to Leanne Ross, who won last week's giveaway through Talking Story.
Carol: Your characters are so deep and were very real to me as I read your book. What helped you in the process of character development?
Anne: Thanks! My process was very different from that of many fiction writers--the majority of my characters were real people, so I did a huge amount of research rather than a ton of brainstorming. I read everything I could get my hands on--biographies, memoirs, psychological profiles, you name it. I studied Hitler's autobiography, Mein Kampf, and his early speeches. Understanding his thoughts and his methods for presenting them was vital. Primary sources, such as old maps and photographs, helped me envision the setting. I also watched Nazi-era propaganda films, such as "Triumph of the Will."
Hitler was the hardest character for me to write. It would have been very easy to turn him into a caricature--a one-dimensional villain, gloating malevolently and rubbing his hands with glee. I felt a tremendous responsibility to present him as accurately as possible, not only because he was a real person but out of respect for his millions of victims.
The more I learned about him, though, the more I realized how complicated and multi-faceted he was. In fact, the major Hitler biographers present different versions of him. According to some, he was a misguided monster who truly believed genocide was the best solution to solve the world's problems; in others' opinions, he was a fraud who didn't even hate the Jews but used anti-Semitic rhetoric as a platform to launch him into power. I knew if I wanted to flesh out Hitler into a fully realized character, I needed to draw my own conclusions about him. I read the biographies by Ian Kershaw, Alan Bullock, John Toland, Joachim Fest, and Hugh Trevor-Roper and other important works such as EXPLAINING HITLER by Ron Rosenbaum and what many consider to be the definitive book on Hitler's psychology, HITLER: DIAGNOSIS OFA DESTRUCTIVE PROPHET by Fritz Redlich.
Carol: I was impressed with how you wove your backstory in, even as the story pushed forward. I think that is a problem many new novelists have. Was that challenging to do? How did you know where to begin the book?
Anne: At first, I didn't know where to start the book! As writers, we always hear that old chestnut about starting in the middle of the action, so that's what I did--originally, the story opens when Gretchen is waiting to meet with a mysterious Jewish reporter who claims to have information about her father's death. Perfect, I thought. An exciting and intriguing opening scene--what's not to love?
The answer is, a lot! :) Happily for me, that original version snagged both my dream agent and a fabulous three-book deal. When I got my first edits, though, I realized how many problems there were in my opening scene. My editor explained, in her very sweet, tactful way, that starting the story after Gretchen has already begun questioning the Nazi Party felt like a missed opportunity. She suggested starting the story a little earlier so readers could get a sense of where Gretchen's coming from--what her beliefs are, what her daily life is like.
It's tempting to start your story with your character's major problem, but ultimately that doesn't allow your readers to connect with your protagonist--they're too busy trying to catch up with the plot! Rather than beginning with your story's big obstacle, I suggest starting with something smaller--an inciting event that leads to the big obstacle.
Carol: I’d love to more about the process of “assembling” this book. What was the genesis of the novel as well as some of the different stages in your thought process as you wove it together? How many drafts? What changes did you make in those drafts? What input did Tracey or your editor have in shaping the book?
Anne: The idea to this story came to me a couple of years ago. I'd just had a baby and I knew I was going to be home a lot and I'd better start reading quality non-fiction so my brain didn't dissolve into sleep-deprived mush. I'd been fascinated by World War Two for years, so I picked up a book on Hitler and his beloved half-niece, Geli, by Ronald Hayman. After I finished reading it, I couldn't get Geli out of my head. What had her life been like, sharing Hitler's luxurious Munich apartment while he campaigned for the presidency? How had he treated her? What had she really believed?
The lure of writing about a girl ensconced in the Nazis' hyper-masculine, violent world was irresistible. I needed the freedom of having a fictional main character, though, so Gretchen Müller was born. But how, I wondered, can Gretchen figure out what the Nazis really stand for? How can she break free? Once I had my answers, I started writing.
I have no idea how many drafts I've written in total--they've blurred together, partly because I was a walking zombie new mom! I do remember that the first draft was 200 pages long. Seriously. All I did was get the story--the basic mechanics of the plot--on paper.
Tracey Adams (who I met at at the mid-Atlantic SCBWI conference) loved the manuscript--I think she suggested one word change and then sent it on sub about three days after I signed with her--but my editor, Kristin Daly Rens, had lots of ideas. She's one of those wonderful editors who asks you questions that help you think about your story in new ways. She's a careful reader and constantly pushes me to dig deeper into the story and the characters. I'm incredibly fortunate to get to work with her.
Carol: I can picture this as a movie. Is there any talk of this, or is that too soon?
Anne: I'd love to see PRISONER made into a movie. Fingers crossed!
Carol: What's next?
Anne: I'm working on the sequel. Gretchen and Daniel are the main characters again, and it takes place right after Hitler's appointment to the chancellorship. Once again, it's full of murder, intrigue, romance and danger. I'm not allowed to tell more, not even the title! :) Ooh, I can give one hint though--readers should pay close attention to everything Hitler says to Gretchen in the first book. His advice becomes vitally important to her survival.
Thank you Anne for sharing all of this backstory with my readers. Prisoner of Night and Fog (Harper Collins) will be available in April but it can be pre-ordered here. For a chance to win the ARC, just follow these rules:
1. Leave me a comment by January 25, with your email address if you are new to this blog.
2. For an additional chance to win a copy, share this blog post on your favorite social media site. Let me know what you did.
3. If you are a new follower of my blog, I'll enter your name twice.
4. If you are a new follower and post to social media, your name goes in THREE times!
4. If you are a new follower and post to social media, your name goes in THREE times!
I'm very excited about this book! My husband's grandmother was from Belgium(she passed a little over a year ago) and hearing her recollections of WWII were amazing to hear. She lived right on the border, and actually worked in Germany. Great interview, Carol and Anne!
Oh, and I Tweeted this(that sounds so weird...) =) Here's the link: https://twitter.com/leandrajwallace
Hand in the air! Hand in the air! Please note, I am first in line, here Carol.
Oh, that's not how it works,is it?
Anne, I just really want to know your own conclusions about this complicated man.
Thanks Leandra and Joyce. You're on top of the list!
Leandra- I know how precious these WWII recollections are. I have a few from my parents too.
I am so impressed with the amount of research Anne did for this book. Very smart idea to link her story to a real historical figure as compelling as Hitler and then present her version of his character. Sounds like an amazing book! Great job, Anne. Thanks for the interview, Carol!
Another wonderful book by a fellow OneFourKidLit member. I can't wait to read this and thanks for the great interview.
It is awesome reading about the research Anne put into this book! I absolutely love reading and learning about World War 2 and this book sounds fascinating! I am super excited to read it! And am definitely even more curious now that I've seen her mention book two! Fabulous interview and thanks for the fantastic giveaway!
I tweeted the link here: https://twitter.com/read_livegreen/status/425811525320712193
And I'm also a new follower! (I really like your blog, by the way!)
I've had my eye on this one for months... It sounds incredible. Thanks so much for the giveaway!
Thanks so much for having me, Carol! And thanks to everyone for the lovely comments.
This book is right up my alley! Everything that I love about a book seems to be in this one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Shared on twitter: https://twitter.com/embookbutterfly/status/425824951011008512
I need this one so bad!
(Oh and I am a new follower :-)
This book sounds great! Wizard interview. I loved hearing about the process behind this book, and I thought it was really interesting to hear about Geli--I'd never even known of her before this.
I'm glad I stumbled across your blog! New follower. (:
I have GOT to read this book. Wonderful interview full of great tips. Thanks for posting this and for the chance to win this book. I posted your link on Facebook.
I'm so excited for this book! I've read a few books about WWII and I'm always interested in reading more. This books sounds amazing and I've wanted to read it since I first heard about it.
Thanks to so many of you for leaving comments last night. How fun to open up email and find 3 new followers! (If you followed and tweeted I entered your name 3 times!!) This is a HOT giveaway--thanks to Anne and Tracey Adams!
Historical YA fiction is too rare! I can't wait to read this one!! :)
Thanks, Courtney. You're in!
FOlks--please leave me your email address if you are new to this blog! I want to be able to contact you if you win!
Absolutely amazing. I can't say it enough- I'm so excited to read this one. The interview completely confirmed what I already suspected ... Prisoner is going to be epic.
Thanks, Em. Got your email address! And yes, A. Lynden. It is that good.
Beccaboo97200@att.net (I'm new to this blog) and super extremely unfathomably excited for this book to release!!!!!!!! Anything WWII related is definitely something I HAVE to check out!!! Plus that cover is simply beautiful!!
I followed you via gfc and email!! :)
AND tweeted (https://twitter.com/PIVOTBOOKREVIEW/status/426104187718348800)
Thanks for the giveaway!!
-Becca @Pivot Book Reviews
I'm SO CRAZY looking forward to this book!
Thanks Kimberly and Becca. Becca- you are entered three times. Welcome to my blog!
Pretty new follower to your blog and loving it so far!
Thanks, Susan. I hope you will continue to love the blog in weeks to come!
And yes, your name is in twice, Susan!
Thanks, Cali, for tweeting and following. I'll enter your name three times!
Thanks for a chance to win! I'm a new follower by GFC - Susan Terendy. My email is sueterendy(at)hotmail(dot)com
I tweeted: https://twitter.com/suekitty13/status/426175682184364032
Thanks, Susan. You're in 3 times!
This sounds like a very interesting book. I can't wait to get a copy. I have read many versions of Hitler and will enjoy reading a new approach.
I have shared your blog on Facebook.
Good job with your blog, Carol!!
Thanks, Sheri. You're in twice!
I want this book so bad!!! It sounds AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING and Anne is such a great person. Fingers crossed! Here's my email: fictionthenewreality (at) gmail (dot) com and I followed your blog! :) (new follower hehe)
Thank you for the giveaway, Joyce!
Thanks for joining the fun, Jayne! Unfortunately, I had picked a winner about an hour before you posted your comment. But now you're a follower--and there will be more giveaways to come!
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