GC: In Between Shades of Gray Lina, the main protagonist, is a young artist shipped off to Siberia to survive in the harsh grasp of Stalin's military, the NKVD. Did Lina's passion for artistry grow with the story, or was it always a cornerstone for your debut novel? What sparked the interest of using an artist in your novel about the genocide of millions?
RS - While researching for the novel, I learned that many Baltic people expressed their pain through art and music and actually buried their work to hide it from the Soviets. That intrigued me. When I started the book, my agent and I discussed adding extra dimension to Lina somehow. So I chose to make her an artist. Also, my father is an artist and I thought it might be a nice tribute to him.
GC: You have said before that your interest in telling the virtually unknown story of the Lithuanian captives during the Holocaust came from hearing your families stories. Was there any one moment, or one story, that captivated you most?
RS - There wasn't a particular story, just the surprise that this part of history hasn't been studied or discussed more. I realized that there must be so many heroes we've never had a chance to meet.
GC: Did you base any of your characters, either by name, by attitude, or by event, off of your family, or the refugees you met during your time researching in Europe?
RS - All of the characters are fictional, but their experiences are things that were described to me during interviews. In terms of names, Jonas was my grandfather's name and in creating the character of Jonas I did try to imagine what my grandfather would have been like as a small boy and that inspired the way I formed the character.
GC: You grew up with a very unique name- Ruta Sepetys- which is Lithuanian for 'Rue,' meaning the Rue flower and Polish and Hebrew for 'Friend'; did your name culture an early interest in your heritage, or make you feel especially tied to your families history and struggle? Would you, or have you, passed on the tradition an given your children names that reflect their heritage?
RS - Great question! And yes, my name absolutely played a large role in my identity growing up. Whenever people heard my name they'd ask, "What kind of name is that?" and I'd explain that I'm Lithuanian. So I've always felt connected to Lithuania. In fact, today I was boarding a flight from London and the gate attendant who scanned my boarding pass said, "Oh, Ruta Sepetys - you're Lithuanian!" It's an instant identifier. I am named after my father's sister and if I ever had children, yes, I'd love to give them Lithuanian names.
GC: What is next for you as an author? Are you interested in writing any other stories of survivors?
RS - I am currently working on another book for my publisher, also historical fiction but set in New Orleans in the 1950's. Since the release of 'Between Shades of Gray,' however, I've received many emails with requests to continue the story or write about the journey of another character.
GC: Thank you, Ruta, for stopping by!
RS - Thanks so much for having me!
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