Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Q&A with Melissa Kaplan



Melissa Kaplan is the author of the new novel The Girl Who Tried to Change History. Also an advocate on food security and hunger policy, she lives in Washington, D.C.


Q: What inspired you to write The Girl Who Tried to Change History, and how did you create your character Vivienne?


A: I’ve always been a huge fan of World War Two historical fiction, which is my favorite literary genre. For years, I dreamed of writing a WWII historical fiction novel, but I could never quite find the right hook.


Then one day, I was sitting in a café, daydreaming, and somehow the idea came to me—what if someone approached me and offered me an opportunity to go back to that time period and try to change the past?


It sounded so strange, even to me, that I resisted the idea for years--it felt too science fiction-y, and I’m not a science fiction writer by any means. But something about that idea kept a hold on me over the years, and eventually, I decided to go for it and begin writing to see where the premise would lead me.


I think Vivienne began based at least in part on myself; certainly I see my own love of history and youthful idealism reflected in her. But she kind of grew into her own creation as the story progressed.


I really enjoy her voice, her sense of self-awareness on some levels, which co-exists with her recklessness. I mean, I don’t think I’d have the courage to go back in time and carry out the work she does if given the option, so maybe it’s recklessness, maybe it’s bravery—but I admire her, flaws and all, either way.


Q: How did you decide on the rules for time travel that you used in the novel?


A: I wanted to keep the time travel element as simple as possible, in order to maintain the focus of the story on what happens to Vivienne once she’s actually living in the world of 1939-1940 London, and what occurs after she returns to 2009.


I created basically one rule—that time travel was only possible within a limited window; a range of approximately 80 years total from the year it was invented, 1976 (which is the year I was born, hence why I chose it as a base date). In the world of the story, people can be sent forward into the future from 1976 until 2014, and back into the past no farther than 1938.


I chose that parameter because, after all, if time travelers could go back to any point in history, the logical answer to the question of “How do we prevent the Second World War?” would likely involve assassinating the men responsible for starting it, which was not an option I wanted available because then there would be no story at all.


I wanted a tale of people working within limited parameters at the very outset of the war, and doing their best to make incremental change to the future within those restrictions.

Q: How did you research the story, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: Having spent a lifetime reading about and studying WWII, I felt like I’d done a lot of my research unintentionally before I started writing!


My book-specific research was mostly fact-checking and making sure I didn’t include details in the story that would have been out of place in 1939 London. I lived in London for a year and love the city, so I had to constantly check that I wasn’t including aspects of my own experience there that weren’t accurate reflections of the city in its WWII-era incarnation.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I had an idea of what I wanted the novel’s ending to be, but I mostly let the story lead me as I wrote it.


The character of Molly is based, very loosely, on some elements of my grandmother’s biography, though she’s a purely invented character. So as I wrote more and more of the book, I felt the story becoming about Molly, and her life path and ultimate destination, as much as it was about Vivienne. But I like how those two stories came together at the end.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m very excited about my next project! I’m currently working on my second novel, which is also historical fiction of a sort. However, it doesn’t fit neatly into that category because it’s an alternate history narrative—the fictional story of a real-life, well-known couple that envisions how their lives would have turned out if one event in their story happened differently.


I can’t share much more than that right now, but I’m having a lot of fun (and, I must say, also shedding a few tears) as I write it.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I hope your readers will enjoy my book, and if they want to follow me on social media, my Instagram is mkap59, and The Girl Who Tried to Change History has its own Facebook page. I also have a website,, which I plan to update with more information once the novel comes out!


In addition to writing, I also love traveling and find that I get some of my best creative inspiration while on vacation (I guess it’s the whole getting away from day-to-day responsibilities that helps clear my mind for creative ideas!). I have a trip to Greece planned later this summer after my book release, and I’m already getting excited!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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