|Ruta Sepetys, photo by Magda Starowieyska|
Ruta Sepetys is the author most recently of the young adult novel Salt to the Sea. It focuses on the sinking of the ship Wilhelm Gustloff during World War II. She also has written Between Shades of Gray and Out of the Easy. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Salt to the Sea?
A: My father's cousin knows that I love hidden history and underrepresented stories. She told me about the tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff and I was passionate to write not only about the single largest maritime disaster in history, but about the refugee evacuation as well.
Q: You write from the perspectives of four different characters. How did you settle on these characters, and what did you do to differentiate their voices?
A: As I was researching the novel, I traveled to many different countries. I quickly learned that even if human beings experience the same event, they all have different interpretations because we all look through our own unique lens. So I created characters to represent the various lenses I encountered.
Differentiating their voices was a true challenge and required a lot of revision. The individual voice of each character emerged through their motivation and heart.
Q: What type of research did you do to write this novel?
A: I spent three years researching. I started by reading all of the non-fiction available on the topic. After I finished, I traveled to six different countries and interviewed historians, families, and survivors connected to the history.
I also interviewed a few divers who had explored the sunken Gustloff. Their accounts were incredibly compelling.
Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: History provides a general framework for my writing so to some extent, I of course knew how the story would end. But with regard to the fate of the characters—that was a surprise. The creative process is exciting to me and I always like to leave room for things to change as I'm drafting a novel.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: At the moment I'm hard at work on a novel set during the Franco dictatorship in Spain. I've spent years researching and I'm so excited to finally be in the drafting stage.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Salt to the Sea could be considered a companion novel to my first book, Between Shades of Gray. I've threaded a couple characters together in both books.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb