Hello everyone! It’s Daniela! For today’s interview, I’m joined by the wonderful Katherine Locke, lover of chai lattes and Twitter addict. She is the author of The Girl With The Red Balloon, which is a super magical story that you don’t want to miss. Good news is, it's available now at bookstores! Maybe you’ve already heard of Katherine as she is also the author of an adult romance series and writes weekly blogs on her website. I’m honored to be conducting this interview because she is an amazing writer, but I don’t want to keep you waiting so let’s get to today’s interview! Oh, and be sure to stick around until the end for a very exciting announcement and giveaway!
Daniela: Hi Katherine! Welcome to #BeyondTheBio. First of all, I want to say that The Girl With The Red Balloon is my favorite book of 2017. The gripping story along with the characters made it impossible to stop reading. Can you tell our readers a little bit about what they should expect?
Katherine: Oh my goodness, thank you so much! That means a lot, especially with how much great YA releases this year!
THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON is the story of Ellie Baum, an American teenager, visiting Berlin for a school trip and struggling with the guilt of enjoying Germany while her grandfather is a Holocaust survivor. Ellie sees a red balloon, which reminds her of her grandfather’s stories of escaping a death camp, and reaches for it. When she grabs the string, she’s yanked through time to 1988 East Berlin where an underground network is using magic balloons to help people escape over the Berlin Wall to freedom. But balloons aren’t supposed to go through time. Something’s gone wrong. And Ellie wants to get home.
Ellie’s point of view is woven together with her grandfather’s, in a ghetto in 1941-1942, and Kai, a Romani teenager living behind the Berlin Wall to try and protect his sister from the watchdogs of magical use. After another time traveler shows up dead, Ellie, Kai, and Kai’s best friend Mitzi have to figure out who is tampering with the balloons before it’s too late.
That’s the summary, but overall, I think of it as the story of three teenagers grappling with history, hateful regimes, and the ways that history and hope can be woven together with magic. It’s a very personal story, and I hope that comes through on the page.
Daniela: Everything about the book was so unique, especially the concept. How did you come up with the amazing idea of magical red balloons?
Katherine: I wish I had a fancy answer for this one! I was driving one day, listening to the radio, and 99 Red Balloons came on the radio. I instantly had the mental image of a girl floating over a wall, holding onto a red balloon. I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And I chased my own imagination down the rabbit hole.
Daniela: Your book mixes real history with fictional magic in a way that totally works. How did you go about shaping the magic to the facts?
Katherine: I try to adhere to historical record wherever I can. So I always shaped magic and my choices to the historical record. I read about one unnamed eighteen- year-old boy who escaped Chelmno (one of few who ever did), and so I knew that Benno would escape from Chelmno. I traced his path backward from there to Lodz, and then to Berlin. I knew that I wanted people to escape over the Berlin Wall with magic balloons, but I made sure that I didn’t erase the other ways that people escaped over the Wall, because those are real people and they are still alive and they took enormous risks, risks that I can’t actually wrap my head around. Where I depart from history, I always try to put into an author’s note. It’s important to me that readers know that my books are based in history, not fantasy, not because fantasy is lesser (it most certainly is not) but because I don’t want these historical events to be forgotten.
Daniela: You write from three different perspectives, including my personal favorite, Kai. Which perspective did you find most difficult to write?
Katherine: I’m glad to hear you liked Kai so much! I loved writing Kai because he’s such a marshmallow. He’s not as tough as he wants to be. For me, the hardest perspective was Benno because his point of view is the most emotional for me. Like Kai, Benno just wants to protect his sister from people who wish to harm her, and he puts himself at great risk. Benno’s chapters are different, a shift in prose and tone, and it’s an unusual style for me.
Daniela: I don’t want to give anything away, but one of your characters is queer. Why was it important for you to include this character?
Katherine: I’m queer, queer people existed in East Berlin, and if there’s any wish fulfillment character I’ve ever written into a book, it’s Mitzi (I don’t mind spoiling it—her sexuality isn’t a plot secret!). She’s the heart of the trio in the 1988 timeline. She’s ferociously loyal and loving, the embodiment of friendship and bravery. She knows what she wants, is certain of her convictions, and helps other people find their way. She’s a lesbian, yes, but that’s not all she is. I love her for that.
Daniela: Your novel was a learning experience for me which is what I loved most. A lot of parts were heart-wrenching and eye-opening too. Why did you choose to write about this part of Jewish history?
Katherine: This is a great question. I’m Jewish, so the Holocaust is a part of my identity. I’m really fascinated, on a personal level and an intellectual level, by the ways that collective memory work on our personal identities. And by that I mean, how do the experiences we do not personally experience affect our worldviews? How did being a granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor change the way Ellie viewed Germany, and the victims of oppression in East Germany? I’m interested in that, in almost all of my young adult work. But I also really really wanted to have a Jewish heroine in a time that wasn’t the Holocaust. We very rarely get Jewish heroines, written by Jewish people, having adventures, to be quite honest. Ellie is a Jewish heroine, even when she thinks she isn’t.
Daniela: Have you ever visited Germany or the Berlin Wall?
Katherine: I haven’t! Maybe I’ll go one day, but I haven’t yet.
Daniela: What other books would you recommend to people who love time travel and historical fiction?
Katherine: I love Connie Willis’s time travel books, especially DOOMSDAY BOOK. I’m also a huge huge fan of IRON CAST by Destiny Soria for historical fiction that dabbles in fantasy. It’s easily one of the most overlooked books of the last year and I hope more people pick it up. It has a great female friendship at its heart too.
Daniela: Before The Girl With The Red Balloon, you published an adult romance trilogy. What I want to know is, what inspired you to dive into the world of YA novels?
Katherine: YA is my first love. My adult romance is the anomaly for me, the break from my other books, not my YA from my romance. I wrote the first draft of The Girl with the Red Balloon before I wrote Second Position. Second Position was the book I wrote between revision rounds on Red Balloon! YA has always been my heart. The books are full of heart and hope and demands. I love what YA can do, and I love the fierce readers.
Daniela: Lastly, I was really excited to learn that you have finished a second book about balloon makers. Is there anything you can share with us about book #2?
Katherine: Yes! I’m SO excited to share this with you (and this will be the first place it’s public!). The second book in the Balloonmakers series is called THE SPY WITH THE RED BALLOON. It’s about two Jewish siblings, Ilse and her brother Wolf, who are each recruited to do magic for the Manhattan Project, the WWII top secret program to build an atom bomb before the Nazis did. Ilse’s working at Oak Ridge, TN, and Wolf’s behind enemy lines in Europe, and they each discover a spy in their midst. There’s magic, and espionage, and explosions, and grappling with love and friendship in a time of war. And it’s about two siblings torn in different directions, bearing the war, or not bearing it, in their own ways. It’s honest, hopeful, and very queer. I hope you love it! It’ll be out Fall 2018 and as soon as I have more information, dates and covers and cover copy, I’ll have that up on my website.
That’s it for today’s interview with Katherine, but don’t leave just yet. We’re teaming up with Katherine to give away a signed copy of The Girl With The Red Balloon, plus a bookmark and character art print. Just click on the image below and enter to win a copy for your bookshelf or classroom. The contest ends on Tuesday, September 26th, and the winner must live in the United States. Good luck! Be sure to come back again next week when Kevin will be interviewing Armand Baltazar about his new book, Timeless: Diego And The Rangers Of The Vastlantic.