Ask the Author: Ruta Sepetys

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Ruta Sepetys Hi Linda!

I so enjoyed using a multi-person narrative. It was a challenge at times during "Salt to the Sea," but overall, I really loved the process and the flexibility it gave me to be in someone else's head every chapter.

I wrote the book in the exact order that you read it, swapping voices each chapter. But sometimes I would go back and read through only Joana's chapters, for example, to make sure that they had continuity and flow. I found that helpful and did it often. That might help you make sure the voice is consistent too.

Thanks for asking!
Ruta Sepetys Dear Natalie,

Thank you for your kind words! To research "Salt to the Sea" I traveled to six different countries tracking down information and testimonies. My advice for research would be to try to interview people who either experienced the time period or historians who have spent years researching it. Sitting down to speak to someone can sometimes yield more dynamic results than just reading about a piece of history. Once you have received testimonies and information you can then consult a historian or academic about the information you've received to evaluate the accuracy.

I hope that helps!
Ruta Sepetys Hi Jan!

I do Skype visits from time to time, you can inquire about events (including Skype visits) on my website: rutasepetys.com

Thanks for asking!
Ruta Sepetys Dear Melissa,

Thank you for your kind words!

Your questions would be answered in a sequel - one I hope to be able to write one day! Until then, the continuation of Lina and Andrius's lives belongs to your imagination :)

I don't have plans to visit Mexico anytime soon, though I would love to!

Thanks for asking!
Ruta Sepetys Dear Olya,

Thank you so much for reaching out! My research always reminds me that all stories have two sides, and that war has no real victor. One of my favorite characters to write in "Between Shades of Gray" was the character of Kretzsky, the Soviet guard. Kretzsky was conflicted and forced into a difficult situation. But amidst all of that, he displayed true courage— showing kindness in an atmosphere of cruelty.

Thank you for your suggestion!
Ruta Sepetys Hi Jillian,

Thanks for your kind words!

Alfred was kind of a wack-job. In order to write his character, I studied Adolf Hitler as a youth. Hitler wrote lengthy letters to a girl but never mailed them, he had a difficult relationship with his father. Hitler also had a fascination with hands so I included that via a manifestation on Alfred's hands.

For me, Alfred was also a study of visibility. He was rejected and invisible for much of his youth, but when Alfred put on a uniform he suddenly became/felt visible (even if only in his own mind) and that visibility then mutated into a sense of power. Alfred felt that he was superior and entitled to possess beautiful, innocent things - like the butterflies pinned to his closet wall - and Hannelore.

I hope one day to write a sequel where Andrius and Lina reunite. I'm crossing my fingers that I'm actually able to!

Some of my favorite books are:
• A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
• All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
• All the Truth That's in Me by Julie Berry
• How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff


When I feel a bit “stuck” I leave my computer and take a walk or listen to music. Engaging another part of my brain for a few minutes seems to work the knots loose. Any form of exercise or physical activity also helps.

Thanks for asking!
Ruta Sepetys Hi Jessica,

In terms of advice, I always suggest that writers think back on their own experiences of love, loss, joy and even humiliation. Those triumphs and scars are part of our individual emotional truth and if we write about them - and through them - the work will have a feeling of authenticity. Also, don't forget about rhythm in your writing. Read your work aloud, listening for rhythm and flow. If you stumble as you're reading aloud, revise the sentence.

I hope that helps!
Ruta Sepetys Hi Derek!

For research I first read all of the nonfiction sources available. I speak with academics and historians. I then travel to the country where the story takes place to research the landscape, the culture, and the people. I generally interview many people while researching a book. I then weave stories from many people together into one character so that way I'm representing a larger human experience and not just one person.

Thanks for your great questions!
Ruta Sepetys Dear Shauna,

You are correct in your research, the book was largely inspired by my family's history. Writing "Between Shades of Grey" and "Salt to the Sea" was quite emotional and challenging because of the subject matter of them both, however, I didn't use my family's testimony in "Salt to the Sea."

While it was emotional, I felt inspired to tell the story. I knew so very little about my own family's history before researching the novel that once I learned about what had happened in the Baltics, I had to write it. There was very little information about the events available in English, so I wanted to make the history accessible, and to be a voice for those who will never have the chance to tell their own stories.

Thanks for asking!
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Ruta Sepetys Dear Dua,

Thank you for your question! I left the end of "Between Shades of Grey" vague intentionally as I would love to revisit Lina and Andrius, or a sequel where they reunite. I'm crossing my fingers that one day I'll be able to write it! Until then, their stories belong to your imagination :)
Ruta Sepetys Hi Lisa,

It's always so wonderful to hear from others with Baltic heritage or a connection to the Baltic experience.

My first bit of advice would be to dig through family archives, relatives, and friends to find photos, journals, or any personal mementos. A single photograph could unlock a whole story for you. If possible, I would also encourage you to interview any and all elderly family members left. Their story and memories are so important! You might also go to the library and use Ancestry.com online. Through Ancestry you can research the ship that your family came over on and even print the passenger manifest. Once you know the name of the ship, you can check to see if anyone on Ancestry has posted photos or stories from their experience on the ship. You can also research census reports of each household. Hope that helps!
Ruta Sepetys Dear Alyssa,

Thank you for your kind words, I am so grateful my books have helped inspire your passion for history!

I am drawn to hidden history and stories of strength through struggle, so I look for topics that contain those elements. Writing historical fiction is like being a detective. I love discovering secrets and lost heroes. Sometimes history can be perceived as boring. But through characters and story, historical statistics become human and suddenly we care for people we've never met, we can find their country on a map, and then—the history matters. Through historical fiction we can give voice those who will never have a chance to tell their story. That inspires me!

Thanks for asking!
Ruta Sepetys Hi Tony!

I have an ongoing list of 20+ ideas for novels. Whenever I finish a book, my agent and I decide together what I'll write next. Once it's decided, I spend 2-3 years researching and another 2-3 years writing and revising. I haven't ever been in a writing "slump" but there are times when I am so exhausted from traveling and touring that my mind is not fresh enough to write or create. When that happens I have to unplug, rest, and recharge.

Thanks for asking!
Ruta Sepetys Hi Suraj,

What a great question! I am drawn to stories of strength through struggle and stories about everyday heroes - normal people who, when thrown into impossible circumstances, choose hope and love. I love discovering secrets, hidden facts, and hidden heroes. Sometimes history can be perceived as boring. But through characters and story, historical statistics become human and suddenly we care for people we've never met, we can find their country on a map, and then - the history matters. Through historical fiction we can give voice those who will never have a chance to tell their story.

Thank you for asking!
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Ruta Sepetys Hi Miranda,

Thank you for your kind words! I don't know about getting in touch with individuals, but my website (rutasepetys.com) has several resources and discussion tools surrounding the events depicted in "Between Shades of Grey." Perhaps you could start there?

Thanks for asking!
Ruta Sepetys Hello Robin,

Thank you for your kind words about my writing. I am very excited for the movie, too! I am so grateful to have been a part of making the film and I have loved what I've seen, I cannot wait for it to release next year! Thank you for asking!
Ruta Sepetys Hi Derek,

I wanted to be an author when I was very young. I wrote my first book in third grade. But after a while, I lost my courage to write and feared I didn't really have a talent for it.

Prior to becoming an author I worked for twenty years in the music business. Through working in music I learned that failure is a prerequisite to success. Having the freedom to fail brought me back to writing.

I did not sell the book on a proposal. I wrote (and rewrote) "Between Shades of Gray" countless times before it was sold to a publisher. It was a journey that took many years, but I really enjoyed it.


Thanks for asking!
Ruta Sepetys Hi Ana!

I have so many favorite books! Some are:
• A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
• All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
• All the Truth That's in Me by Julie Berry
• How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff


Thanks for asking!
Ruta Sepetys
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