Exclusive Interview with Alan Gratz

Hi guys! To start off the New Year, I would like to share an interview with an author that has been raved about in my school! I have the amazing honor of interviewing the award-winning author Alan Gratz, author of Prisoner B-3087, which I loved so much! Hope you enjoy!

1. What is your book “Prisoner B-3087” about?image_cover_prisoner_print

Prisoner B-3087 is based on the true story of Jack Gruener, who as a boy survived ten different Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

2. Why do you like writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?

I knew I wanted to be a writer from a young age. When I was in second grade, I typed up a one-page newsletter and put it in mailboxes on my street. I wrote my first book in fifth grade, called Real Kids Don’t Eat Spinach. It was about all the food, video games, and movies “real” kids should like! I never published it. It’s still on a clipboard in a box at the back of my parents’ closet. I kept writing all through middle school and high school, and then studied creative writing in college. I’ve wanted to be an author for as long as I can remember!

3. Who are your favorite authors which have had an impact on you? Who has affected your writing style the most?
One of my all-time favorite writers is Raymond Chandler, who wrote mystery novels back in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. He was a direct inspiration for my mystery novels Something Rotten and Something Wicked. 

Photo by Wes Stitt

4. What are your favorite genres to read and write? What are you favorite books?

Well, I love murder mysteries–I read a lot of those. Besides Chandler, also like the mystery novels of Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, and Alan Bradley. Chandler’s The Long Goodbye is probably my favorite book ever. I’m also a HUGE fan of the Patrick O’Brian sea novels about Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin, which begin with Master and Commander.

5. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job for you?

I’m very lucky that writing is my full-time job! When I’m not writing (or doing other things about my writing career, like doing school visits or responding to interviews!) I love to read, travel, and play video and board games.

6. How was it like working with a Holocaust survivor? How did you meet Jack? I bet it was an honor for both him and you to have Jack Gruener’s story being told to the public.

Jack and his wife Ruth took his story to Scholastic, and they immediately saw that it would make a great book. But neither Jack nor Ruth are writers, so Scholastic asked me to write the book. Once I heard Jack’s account of his time in the camps, I couldn’t resist—it was such an incredible story! In particular, I liked that he survived. So many stories of the Holocaust of course did not end so well.    
I worked on the book for a while before I ever met Jack in person, using what he and his wife had told Scholastic about his experiences in World War II and doing a lot of research on the concentration camps on my own. Then, about halfway through writing the first draft, I got to fly to New York and meet Jack. We spent the afternoon at the Holocaust Museum in Manhattan, where some artifacts of Ruth’s time during the war are on display.    
Meeting and working with Jack was a terrific experience. I’m honored and proud to be a part of telling his story.
7. Since two of your books cover World War II, how fascinated with the Second World War are you? What do you think is the most interesting aspect of the war?projekt-1065-cover-2550px
I enjoy reading and writing about World War II. I think the most fascinating thing to me about the war is the rise of Nazi Germany. How could such a thing ever happen in the world? I hope students continue to study Nazi Germany for the rest of human existence, so we can hope to understand how it came to be and make sure something like that never happens again.

8. How much research did you have to put in to write this historical creative nonfiction novel? Did you also get to visit a concentration camp?

I had to read a lot of books to bring those camps to life–Jack remembered what happened to him, but wasn’t concerned with remembering what places looked like. He was too busy surviving. And no, I have not visited any of the concentration camps, though I hope to someday do so and follow in Jack’s footsteps.

9. Are you still fascinated, even to this day, that Jack was able to survive ten concentration camps over the course of over five years? Does it seem even miraculous to you at times? Many Jews have survived the Holocaust by hiding in buildings owned by families who actually see them as people, but even fewer have survived that long in those camps.

Yes, it does seem miraculous. Six million European Jews died in the Holocaust. Jack was very, very lucky.

10.  What is your reaction whenever one of your books is nominated and chosen to receive an award, especially by the ALA and YALSA?

Getting awards from the American Library Association and the Young Adult Library Services Association are among the highest honors anyone who writes for young readers can hope to receive, and I’m thrilled every time I get recognized by both organizations! That’s always a cause for celebration.

11. Whenever you experience a case of writer’s block, what is your go-to cure?

I used to suffer from writers block all the time — I’d be sitting at my computer, ready to write, and have no idea what I was going to write. The clock would tick away, and with it would go the time I had to write that day. Then I’d come out of my office mad that I hadn’t gotten words on the page. Then I learned to outline, and that’s made all the difference. I now outline every novel I write, chapter by chapter, before I ever write the first word. If I hear a scene in my head, I scribble it down — when the muse speaks, you listen and take notes! — but I never try to push past the inspiration in the outline phase.

Once I know in detail what is going to happen, I sit down to the keyboard and try to figure out how to tell it. Those are two very different processes, but most writers try to tackle them both at the same time. Separating them was a real breakthrough for me. I still get writers block (of a kind) when I can’t figure out what’s supposed to happen next during the outline phase, but at least then I don’t come out of my office thinking that I’ve wasted time by not getting words and paragraphs and chapters written. Once I have the outline finished, I never get writers block — which is important when you’re in a mood to knock out first draft pages. I look at my outline in the morning, read what’s going to happen, and then start writing it.  

12. Two of your novels are about baseball, so did you play baseball as a child? How were your experiences, and what was the funniest thing that happened to you in a game or practice?
You can’t write baseball books and not love baseball. (Well, I guess you could, but why?) So yeah, I’m a fan. But I’ve always been a greater fan than player. My greatest Little League moment: I misplayed a long drive to left field, then absolutely launched the ball, trying to throw a runner out at the plate. The ball sailed over the pitcher’s mound, over first base, over the fence, and into the bleachers, where it hit my little brother in the arm. All the runners scored. After the inning was over, the coach told me I had a good arm. He also told me not to come back.
13. What other works have you written? Which one is your favorite?image_cover_lo7-01_print

I’ve got twelve books out (so far), and of all of them, The League of Seven is probably my favorite book I’ve ever written. I came up with the idea for it by making a list of all the things I would have wanted to read about in a book when I was in middle school—airships, rayguns, brains in jars, Native Americans, giant monsters, clockwork robots, secret societies, submarines, and lots more—and then tried to figure out a story that used as many of them as possible. The League of Seven is the kind of book I would have loved when I was in middle school. (And still do!)

14. Do you have any tips to any aspiring authors or writers?

If you really want to be a writer, it’s pretty simple: you sit down at your computer and start writing. If you want to write well, I suggest you a) spy on your friends and family and listen to the way people talk, b) keep your eyes open and watch everything that happens in the world around you, c) always start in the middle of the action, d) make sure your story has a beginning, middle, and an end, e) read a lot and imitate your favorite authors. Note I didn’t say copy what they write—just how they write. And did I mention you actually have to sit down at your computer and start writing?

Thank you so much, Alan, for doing this interview with me!
If you want to follow Alan on social media, or if you want to check out his books, check out the links below!
Remember to look out for more exclusive interviews and giveaways this month!

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