I was lucky enough to conduct an interview with Jeanne Moran, who has officially become one of my favourite authors of all time. She is the author of Risking Exposure, which continues to be one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve ever read. Furthermore, she generously offered TWO free ebook copies of the novel to give away.
This young-adult book focuses on a German girl, Sophie, who becomes disabled after contracting polio, and her newfound realisations about Nazi Germany’s social structure. It is a coming-of-age story at its finest.
Included in this post is:
- The giveaway
- The fantastic author interview
- A couple of words from me, detailing why Risking Exposure is a tale worthy of reading
To enter the giveaway, simply click here.
JEANNE’S WONDERFUL INTERVIEW:
1. What did the research process of Risking Exposure involve? What was the hardest part?
Like many writers, I work a full-time job and have adult responsibilities, so I fit in my passion to write whenever I can. Honestly, finding time to research and then write a novel-length piece was difficult. But I’m an absolute dork – I love research and can easily get lost in a stack of newspapers in a library for hours. I love that sense of immersing myself in the time and place I’m researching. The hardest part of researching RE was knowing when to stop! But it’s also important to know that many facts I found in my readings about Nazi Germany were quite disturbing. A number of times, I had to put the research aside until I regained my bearings.
I read 60+ books, plus magazine and newspaper articles and I watched dozens of documentaries. But I also did some less typical research. I bought a 1938 Sears Roebuck catalog and a 1930s German camera to authenticate my details. I found a video on You Tube which was taken during the actual procession which plays prominently at the end of the novel. I went to the Library of Congress in Washington DC, where I donned white gloves and handled actual Nazi newspapers and photographs. I scanned and photographed dozens of them for my research use. I traveled to Munich Germany (yes, I went there!) and walked the streets where Sophie, my fictional protagonist, would have lived, figured out where she would have gone to school, to church, etc. While there I also visited the Munich city archives. Get this – the librarian allowed me to handle and copy 1930s Munich city maps and photos, actual photos of the places in the book taken during that time period. Can’t get more authentic than that!
2. Are aspects of the novel based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
All four of my grandparents emigrated from Germany between the two world wars, and while I grew up first one and then the other grandmother lived with us. So my German heritage was all around – the boisterous songs, the rich language, the ethnic food, and the beautiful photos of the land of my grandparents’ youth. My younger sister Joyce was born with multiple disabilities, and she was an enormously positive influence on my life. (Risking Exposure is dedicated to her.) Because of what I learned from her about joy and patience and the value of human dignity, I became a physical therapist. I’ve worked most of my career with children with disabilities. Supporting them and their families is a life-long passion for me.
As an adult I learned about a Nazi-era pogrom in which people with disabilities were exterminated. The seeds for Risking Exposure came from my attempt to mix the oil and water of these disparate feelings – pride in my German heritage and the horror of realizing that people with disabilities (like my sister and my patients) were also Nazi targets. The story in Risking Exposure is fictional, but it resulted directly from my question – ‘What would have happened to Joyce or my patients if they had lived in Germany then?’
3. How did you come up with the title?
The book had several working titles, but none of them captured what I considered to be the essential elements of the story. I read a number of blog posts and articles about creating the perfect title, and found this recommendation – take your book’s Story-in-a-sentence (sometimes called your logline) and the middle paragraph from your standard query letter. Then jot down all the nouns and all the verbs. Try combining noun-verb pairs.
So here’s what I got:
When fourteen-year old Hitler Youth member and amateur photographer Sophie Adler contracts polio, she unknowingly begins a journey from which there is no return, one that moves her from Nazi insider to Nazi target.
Reluctant to be seen apart from the crowd in pre-war Munich, Sophie avoids trouble by hiding a forbidden friendship and blending in with the crowd. Once she’s hospitalized, she uses her photography talent to document the humanity of those hospitalized with her. Propaganda posters misuse her photos to mock her fellow patients, and finally Sophie understands the need to act. But what can she do from a wheelchair in the hospital? Hidden photographs, secret visits, false accusations, and arrests culminate in a final scene in which Sophie must find the courage to speak and photograph the full truth, risk exposure, and get her film out of Germany.
Verbs: contracts begins moves seen avoids hiding blending uses document misuse mock understands act do culminate find speak photograph risk get
Nouns: Hitler Youth member photographer Sophie Adler polio journey return insider target crowd Munich trouble friendship crowd talent humanity posters photos patients wheelchair hospital visits accusations arrests scene courage truth exposure film Germany
- Hiding truth
- Accusing photos
- Avoids exposure
- Find courage
- Exposure risk
- Risking Exposure
For me, Risking Exposure captured exactly what I wanted. It speaks to Sophie’s personal journey of learning to accept being noticed and the risk inherent in that. And since exposure is a photography term, it also speaks of her use of that medium.
4. What inspired you to write about a perspective less explored (that of people with a disability during Nazi Germany?)
Books, TV, and films have lots of superheroes. Superheroes are great fun; we love that ultimate power and triumph. But what makes a character compelling to me as a reader is their vulnerability. I can relate. Whenever people act heroically, either in a story or in real life, I wonder – would I have done that? I adore stories where unlikely heroes reach deep within themselves and find courage they didn’t know they had.
When I started searching for a book about people with disabilities in the Nazi era, all I found was victim accounts. I wanted to read a story where the potential target stood up for his or her own dignity, but I found none. The great author Toni Morrison suggests, “If there’s a book you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” So I did just that.
5. What message did you hope to get across to your readers?
I hope that readers pick up on a couple things. One, that the persecution of people in Nazi Germany wasn’t limited to political enemies and people with Jewish heritage. Persecution reached citizens across all racial, religious, and political boundaries based on their lack of perceived ‘value’ to the Reich. People with disabilities were targeted, including patients in mental health hospitals and facilities for children with severe disabilities. Other groups targeted include people who were deaf, homosexual, Gypsies, and Jehovah’s Witness.
Second, I hope that readers understand that there is no way we who were raised with freedom of speech and without overt threats from our government will ever know what it’s like to be raised in a police state. It’s easy for us to stand here in 2014 and look back on those years and say, “Wow, those German people should have done something. They should have seen what was happening and prevented it from escalating the way it did.” We can’t possibly imagine what it was really like. We should be grateful down to our toes that we don’t have to find out.
I also hope readers will come away from the book feeling empowered. If a young girl with a disability who was targeted by her own country can do some small thing to fight injustice, we can too. We all need reminders that, even though we can’t fix everything, we have the power to act and positively influence our corner of the world.
6. What books have most influenced your life most?
I adore books in which unlikely heroes make a difference in their corner of the world. And of course, those heroes can be found in all genres. Laura and The Little House on the Prairie books got me interested in historical fiction when I was young, and I’ve been hooked on historical fiction since. Frodo and The Lord of the Rings books tweaked my imagination and opened me to the rich world of fantasy and sci-fi. Shabanu in the book by the same name by Suzanne Fisher Staples introduced me to the wonder of experiencing the life of a young girl from another culture while unveiling the similarities to my own life. I read 50 or more books a year, so I could ramble on!
7. Do you have any current projects?
It’s funny. When I was done with Risking Exposure, I honestly never wanted to read anything about Nazi Germany again. Ever. But in a few months time, my characters started whispering. Scenes from my ‘deleted scenes’ file popped into my mind, unbidden. And of course, readers (including my own mother!) started asking me, “What happened to Sophie? Did she and her friends survive the war?” And I knew what happened to them. The rest of the story had been in my heart all along. So I’ve researched the next six months of 1938 and early 1939 as the setting for a sequel for Risking Exposure. I’ve plotted it out, and am currently writing the first draft. With all fingers crossed, I hope to have it finished by the end of the calendar year. That would get it out to beta-readers sometime next spring. Let me know if you want to volunteer!
8. Do you have any advice for other writers?
Read a lot. Write a lot. After you’ve written something, put it aside for at least two weeks. Then pull it out and re-read it. By then you’ll no longer be in love with your words and you will see the piece with new eyes. That will give you a good place to begin your editing and rewriting. And remember, writing IS rewriting. No one gets it perfect the first time. Or the second.
9. What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
I had published articles and short pieces in national magazines but before RE, I had never attempted a novel-length work. I took two novel-writing courses a couple years apart, both of which helped enormously at different stages of the novel’s development. But most of all, I knew I would need to be passionate about my subject matter to sustain me on the long journey of writing and rewriting. I started jotting down ideas for this novel about six years ago, and originally planned for it to be part historical fiction, part fantasy. I wrote each planned scene on an index card, and taped each card in sequence on the long roll of postal paper which was my storyline. I planned to take down one index card, put flesh on that scene through narrative and dialogue, then flip it over – scene written. Do that a few dozen times, and my novel would be done. Right?
By scene 2, my characters felt restricted by the plot. By scene 3, my characters began to rebel. I had an especially hard time with the fantasy elements I’d planned. They just didn’t work. By scene 4, my characters were on strike, so I ditched the plotline and sketched out full character arcs to allow them room to breathe and grow. The plot reorganized itself from the changes I wanted to see in the characters over the course of the novel. The fantasy elements went into a ‘deleted scenes’ folder.
Conventional wisdom for writers is that we don’t really get to the heart of our story until we’ve slashed and edited the entire novel at least once or twice. That is certainly true for me. There are as many pages in my ‘deleted scenes’ folder as there are in the final version of RE, so I essentially wrote twice as much as I needed to write. But I was passionate about my story, so I kept at it.
10. Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Because I’m in the first draft, my current work is a bit rough. But I will tell you that the sequel is not told in Sophie’s voice – it’s told by her best friend Renate, Rennie. The story is set in motion when Rennie finds out that Sophie is missing from the hospital.
MY OWN WORDS ON RISKING EXPOSURE:
I’ve always been fascinated with Holocaust fiction, ever since I took modern history last year.** The idea that something so horrific can happen so close to my time –merely last century– terrifies me. A lot of my to-read list consists of Holocaust fiction and non-fiction; they terrify me, persuade me to reflect, and most of all, to think.
My acquaintance with Risking Exposure, one of my favourite books of all time, began when I was scrolling through ohfb’s daily free Kindle books. Upon clicking through lists, my eye caught on a beautifully designed cover, of a girl on crutches and the symbol of Nazism displayed blatantly on the front cover. What’s more, the plot explored another perspective of Nazi Germany, whom were also targetted, but probably as not well-known: those with a disability.
I lost myself in an abundance of pages, of words, of facts in a time different from my own, yet so eerily familiar. Sophie’s reactions, life, ideas reflected my own, and I found myself connecting with all the characters from an emotional standpoint. Although Risking Exposure is classified as young-adult fiction (possibly due to its young protagonist), it is a story valuable to all age ranges. The messages are subtle, complex and unavoidable. Older audiences may pick up on certain themes and aspects that add to its overall depth. And, finally, Risking Exposure’s conclusion will resonate with the reader long after they’ve finished.
When I put it down, I did the one thing every book incredible compels me to do: I thought.
**NOTE: I am, happily, taking modern history again this year! I’m not entirely sure if this was a good decision (since it’s a LOT of work), but I love learning about it. I’m worried about the assessment, though. A lot of effort needs to be placed, that’s all. 🙂