Hi guys! Today’s interview is the first one I have done is a while, but don’t worry- we’ll have some more amazing authors and fellow book lovers talk about their novels and other literature-related topics! Earlier in September, I had the wonderful opportunity to ask YA historical fiction author Gwen C. Katz a few questions about her debut Among the Red Stars, which I want to read so much because it’s set in World War II! I wasn’t able to get it posted last month, but I’m so glad I have the opportunity now to do so. I hope you enjoy!
About Among the Red Stars
World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.
Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines.
As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.
Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war.
1. Your debut YA historical fiction novel Among the Red Stars, which released last week on October 3rd from HarperTeen, follows the story of Valka as she joins the Night Witches, one of the Soviet Union’s all-female aviation groups. How much research did you have to do to make your book as historically accurate as possible? What are some of the most surprising facts that you have stumbled upon?
I think what surprised me the most was just getting a full sense of how narrow our traditional view of World War II is. The vast majority of American media is about white men from either America or Britain. We saw that this summer in Dunkirk. They ignored Britain’s South Asian soldiers; they ignored the nurses, both of whom were present in large numbers. But the war was much bigger than that. China, for instance, lost 20 million people, but when are we going to get a movie about heroic Chinese soldiers?
2. World War II historical fiction is one of my favorite genres! What inspired you to set your book in that time period? How did you find out about the Night Witches?
I found out about the Night Witches from my father-in-law. He’s a big World War I aviation buff and one time when we were playing Wings of War, I asked him if any female pilots had flown in World War I and he told me that Russia had female pilots. Naturally I had to go look them up, and I learned about their much more famous WWII counterparts. The rest, as they say, is history.
3. What was your character-building process for creating the three main protagonists—Valka, Iskra, and Pasha? Did you reflect any of their personality traits off you or anyone you know?
Valka’s attitude is definitely based on me! A lot of pilot/navigator pairs had this “odd couple” dynamic where the pilot was the daring one and the navigator was the sensible one. So that’s where Valka and Iskra came from. As for Pasha, I think YA really needs more boys who are quiet and gentle and not traditionally masculine. I’m very interested in all the men and boys who went to war who weren’t badass action heroes. What happened to them?
4. If you were able to travel back in time to anywhere in history, where would you go and what would you do?
It’s got to be the the 11th or 12th century. At that time, a giant trade network connected most of Asia, Africa, and Europe, and culture was flourishing pretty much everywhere. In the Middle East, scholars of the Islamic golden age were inventing everything from algebra to deodorant. In Italy, the maritime republics were flourishing. Southeast Asia was an important trade center, so it was also booming; the Angkor Wat was built at this time period. In Africa, the Shona were building Great Zimbabwe. It was a pretty great time to be alive.
5. In addition to being an author, how is it like being an artist, game designer, and retired mad scientist? What are some of your favorite projects that you have worked on in all three professions?
I used to be more of a polymath, but now that I’m a professional writer, I have a hard time justifying spending time on my other interests, which is too bad. For art, I really like illustrating my stories. For game design, I used to make interactive fiction and that was fun but really challenging. I wrote this surrealist game called The House of Fear where you have to turn into different animals and make alchemical potions to escape. It’s pretty awesome. When I was still doing chemistry, I worked at an art museum doing conservation, which was amazing. Conservators restore artwork and protect it from being damaged. I got to see a Rembrandt and a Van Gogh up close. Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
6. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?
I’ve been writing since I could pick up a pencil. It started with Super Pig the flying pig superhero and it’s just gone from there. I’m just full of stories and I can’t keep them in!
7. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?
Will I sound completely pretentious if I say the French Romantics? I went through a Les Mis phase in high school, and I think that’s the influence you see the most in my work. The Romantics wrote these books where there are big, momentous world events and tiny, insignificant people are sort of caught in the middle of it all. I love writing stories like that.
8. What is like being a debut author in 2017? Could you describe your feelings as your book is nearing its publication in a few weeks?
I don’t think anyone would have picked 2017 as their preferred release year! Like everyone else, I’ve been struggling with promoting my book in an atmosphere where it feels like everything else is way more important. But on the other hand, in the age of “fake news,” we need historical fiction now more than ever. As for my feelings, I’m not sure I can describe them! You’re on the edge of your seat, and yet months at a time can go by when absolutely nothing happens. It’s a feeling you can only get in a field as slow-moving as publishing.
9. How do you want Among the Red Stars to impact readers?
Back when I first wrote it, I hoped readers would enjoy learning about what teenage girls in the past accomplished and be inspired to think big about what they can accomplish. And I still hope that. But today, I think the more important message is about resistance. These are people who fought fascism with everything they had. I hope today’s youth will continue that fight.
10. Do you have any tips to any aspiring authors or writers?
There are no aspiring writers, only writers. If you write, you are already succeeding!
Thanks so much, Gwen, for coming onto the blog!
About the Author
Gwen C. Katz is a writer, artist, game designer, and retired mad scientist easily identified by her crew cut and ability to cause trouble. Originally from Seattle, she now lives in Altadena, CA with her husband and a revolving door of transient mammals. She is represented by Thao Le of Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.
Are you excited about Among the Red Stars? Do you love historical fiction novels?
Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!