Name: Ruta Sepetys
Hometown: Detroit, MI
Current Residence: Nashville, TN
Education: BS in International Finance from Hillsdale College
Favorite Read: Anything by Truman Capote
Author Crush: Roald Dahl but since he’s inconveniently dead, Jack Gantos.
Fiction How-To Book You’d Recommend: Old Friend From Far Away by Natalie Goldberg contains some excellent writing exercises.
Pet Peeves: People with no sense of humor. I love to laugh.
If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…Very depressed.
What You Have Lined Up Next: I’m currently finishing a 3 month book tour. Early next year I will tour Japan and Thailand and I’m very much looking forward to that. I just finished a rough draft of my third book. Historical fiction, of course!
Most young girls growing dream of being married to pop stars. You wanted to grow up and marry Roald Dahl!
Aim high, I say! Roald Dahl would get me into a chocolate factory or a giant peach. Pop stars would get me into jail.
You’re a big collector of eccentric art. Has anything in your collection ever sparked a book idea?
I have a collection of odd photographs – settings or situations that seem bizarre or inexplicable. Some of the people in the pictures have inspired characters.
Were there moments when you were writing Between Shades of Gray…when you got emotional about it?
It took me two years to write the book and I was emotional the entire time. I wanted to honor the people who experienced exile in Siberia and was worried that, as an outsider, I wouldn’t be able to capture the story effectively.
Now, you actually went to Lithuania to do research for the novel. Were you met with reluctance by the people and the family members you interviewed?
Not exactly reluctance, but hesitation. They had remained silent for over fifty years and weren’t entirely comfortable speaking about the experience. I’m so grateful to those who helped me. I would not have been able to write the book without them.
You carry paper and pen with you to scribble down book and plot ideas. Have you ever lost one of those plotting papers, or even a notebook with your notes in it?
Oh, yes! I once had a full page of notes about the brutal death of a mannequin. I searched everywhere for it. Then one day a letter arrived from a business associate. Somehow my sheet of notes about the murdered mannequin was attached behind a memo I sent to that colleague in the music business. He sent it back to me with a note that said, “You are thoroughly creepy, Ruta. I would not want to live inside your head.”
You are a big champion of critique groups.
I’ve been part of the same critique group for nine years. They see all of my writing first. I find it very helpful to receive independent feedback from five other writers. If they separately have similar comments, I know I need to make changes.
What are some things you wish you had known when you first started out writing?
That I’d be on tour four to six months each year. I had no idea that was even possible.
Middle schools and high schools are a big part of your author tours. What have you observed about how teenagers react to books and their reading habits?
I’ve noted that books that speak to human experience or strength through suffering affect young readers deeply. Difficult topics are not a hurdle. They are a very compassionate audience who want to build a hopeful future. Meeting the students on the road has been unbelievably fulfilling. I always leave a school inspired to write!
Did you have a hand in creating the discussion guide for Out of the Easy?
Yes, Penguin allowed me to be involved and I was able to discuss the questions and format with April Whatley Bedford from the University of New Orleans who created the guide. April has many years experience as a reading specialist and did a great job.