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Take Five Q & A with Kathryn Lasky, Author of THE EXTRA & Giveaway
Oct 7th, 2013 by Liza Wiemer

17262281Take Five Q & A

with Kathryn Lasky, Author of

THE EXTRA

& Giveaway (US Only)

Is the chance to serve as an extra for Hitler’s favorite filmmaker a chance at life — or a detour on the path to inevitable extermination?

About the book:

One ordinary afternoon, fifteen-year-old Lilo and her family are suddenly picked up by Hitler’s police and imprisoned as part of the “Gypsy plague.” Just when it seems certain that they will be headed to a labor camp, Lilo is chosen by filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl to work as a film extra. Life on the film set is a bizarre alternate reality. The surroundings are glamorous, but Lilo and the other extras are barely fed, closely guarded, and kept in a locked barn when not on the movie set. And the beautiful, charming Riefenstahl is always present, answering the slightest provocation with malice, flaunting the power to assign prisoners to life or death. Lilo takes matters into her own hands, effecting an escape and running for her life.

In this chilling but ultimately uplifting novel, Kathryn Lasky imagines the lives of the Gypsies who worked as extras for the real Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, giving readers a story of survival unlike any other.

About the author:4735

Kathryn Lasky has written award-winning books for children across all genres, including the Newbery Honor book Sugaring Time and the New York Times best-selling series The Guardians of Ga’Hoole. She is also the author of the novel Chasing Orion and numerous illustrated nonfiction titles. Kathryn Lasky lives in Massachusetts.

Click here for Kathryn Lasky’s website.

Available October 8, 2013.

Purchase the novel here:

AMAZON

BARNES AND NOBLE

Question and Answer:

Q: Almost all Holocaust books are told from the Jewish point of view, which obviously is extremely important since six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. What attracted you to a Holocaust story about a gypsy family?

A: I really feel that sometimes a writer has to slip out of one’s own skin and assuming the perspective of another to really begin to understand something. Now I am Jewish and several of my distant cousins and their parents were Holocaust victims. But I had no desire to write from a Jewish point of view. Jews were not the only victims. I am very uncomfortable with this notion that Jews somehow ‘own’ the Holocaust. The Nazis cast their nets wide. Gypsies suffered, homosexuals, people with mental retardation and birth defects as well. Because of the Holocaust we have a shared cultural context if not a genetic one with all of these people. Suffering has and should unite us.

I think from stepping out from a familiar, a comfortable point of view there can come a power. The best Holocaust novel I ever read was Sophie’s Choice, narrated by a gentile man. So why did I find this gentile voice so moving? It is mysterious like art itself. But I think it is the choice that William Styron made to use the young, naïve Southern male as the narrative channel for this story of ultimate horror that gave it a kind of distance and brought with it an innocence that, in the end, made it so resonate with so many people. Three years ago my book Ashes came out. It is set in Berlin in the early 1930’s during the rise of Hitler and I made I made a similar decision about the point of view. I told the story from a gentile girl’s perspective. I felt that I could write a more insightful and ultimately powerful story if it came from an unorthodox angle. You know how artists are sometimes told to turn their pictures upside down and see how it looks, how it works. Well this is my version of that and by turning to an unusual point of view I often discover things I never thought were there.

Q: What did you find most surprising as you researched this novel and how did it influence your storyline? 

A: Well the story in and of itself was the most surprising thing of all. I mean this was a story that had fallen between the cracks of history. I discovered it while I was researching my novel Ashes. It had what I call a real WOW factor. So my first task was just getting over the ‘oh wow-ness’ of it all and thinking how am I going to make this a really compelling story. Then I sort of stumbled (and it is always just stumbling when you start a novel) but I had stumbled, lurched whatever upon a pretty cool possibility. It glittered like a brilliant diamond on the rather dull mental landscape of my mind and it was the essential paradox of this situation. In the middle of a world war this treacherous woman Leni Riefenstahl is making this corny, romantic film and using slave labor. They have built a Spanishy looking village in the Tyrol of Austria and then they go to the famous movie studio in Berlin. The Roma extras, the gypsy people, are locked in a barn at night in the Tyrol and then in the sound studio in Berlin. It is a dramatic clash of realities. It is truly staggering. There is the flawless nature of the unreality of the film world bumping up against the horrible reality of the extras who were to become known as ‘film slaves’. It was almost as if ‘reality’ and ‘unreality’ became two additional characters in the narrative.

Q: When it comes to your characters, what do you draw upon more: people you know, your imagination, or research? And how does that help make for strong characters? 

A: All of the above and more. Leni was easy as I watched the movie Tiefland in which the Roma people served as extras and she starred and of course there are thousands of pictures of her on the internet. I was really intrigued by he eyes. They are very close set and there is something feral about them. She is quite beautiful. For Django there and Lilo I looked at a lot of photo books about the Roma people. I sort of through some mysterious kind of visual osmosis absorbed their feature, their bone structure and painted a picture in my mind. I usually do begin with a face. Often it might be a movie star’s face. I draw a lot on the pitch and the cadence of people’s voices that I know or I have heard somewhere. Cadence is very important to me in writing dialogue. And then yes there is a lot of research. Tons of research. But there is also something else and file this under imagination.  For I do feel that we all have characters running around inside of us that we would like to be, or perhaps at least like to explore and see what their potential is. It’s a kind of healthy version of multiple personality disorder that authors should cultivate.

The parts that are truly me in a character are the person’s weaknesses not their strengths. It is the impatience, the fears. It is vulnerability rather than fortitude. It’s impetuosity rather than clear logical thinking. And perhaps most important of all it was that constant (and not uncommon) feeling of being left out, as a young kid, as a teenager, that has been a real force in forging my characters. Kids feeling alienated or freaky is where young adult novels really begin. Then you take all that stuff inside you and transform it so it will become solid narrative and not one long whine. No one likes whiney characters.

Q: I saw on your website that you encourage those who want to become published authors to read, read, read all types of genres to help learn about plot, character development, story structure. Are there any other key elements that you feel make a story stand out? If so, what is it and why?

A: I think the single most important element in a story is voice. It is stupid when people say about an author ‘oh she has a great voice’. An author has to have many voices because each book and each character in a book demands a different voice. If we are going to fall in love with a book it is going to be because we fall in love with the characters. Well, no one should fall in love with Leni Riefenstahl but you have to come to believe her voice.

Q: If there were any request you could ask of your readers before they begin reading THE EXTRA, what would it be?

A: A reader should just be able to plunge right in and read the book. Just remember you don’t have to be Jewish to read a Holocaust book that is about other victims of the Holocaust. If we hope to prevent such a tragedy in the future we must realize that we are all part of one world. No one ‘owns’ the holocaust.  The Armenians suffered a horrendous genocide in the early part of the last century. In the last decade there have been the genocide in Darfur in the Sudan and then the Tutsis in Rwanda. No one is ‘special’ when it comes to genocide.
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