the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Amanda West Lewis and THE PACT!

Posted by Tami Brown on Mon, Oct 10, 2016 @ 06:10 AM

Current student Amanda West Lewis is visiting the LaunchPad. Amanda is a member of the Dead Post-Its Society, graduating July 2017. Her new historic novel THE PACT, a follow up to her very successful first novel SEPTEMBER 17,  was published recently to great acclaim. Welcome, Amanda!

Cover.jpgAs the tide turns against the Nazis, a radicalized youth must come to terms with the waves of destruction that destroy the only world he knows. The Pact is a powerful novel inspired by a true story.

Peter Gruber is a ten year old German boy who, in May of 1939, is dealing with the drowning death of his closest friend, living with his mother in Hamburg. The novel follows his life through the war years and the ultimate defeat of Germany – and explores how an intelligent, sensitive youth responds to the propaganda and posturing of the Nazis. It also provides insights into the realities of living in a country at war, seen through the eyes of a boy who is drawn into the Hitler Youth and who has growing misgivings about what he is being told about his country and its destiny.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

The genesis of this book came from a revelation by a neighbor, Hans Sinn. I’ve known Hans for over 25 years, but I knew nothing about his background until one day about 15 years ago. We were sitting together by a lake, watching our children play in the water. The children were singing songs and playing games – the kinds of things kids learn at camp. My husband Tim (Wynne-Jones) innocently asked Hans if he had ever gone to camp. Hans replied, with a sad smile, “Yes. Hitler Youth camp.” It was quite a shock! Hans then went on to describe his escape from an SS training camp in Denmark. It was an amazing story, and perhaps even more striking to hear it while we were sitting beside a peaceful lake in Canada.

            However, it wasn’t until 2012, after I visited Mainz, Germany, that I decided to delve deeper. I had just finished my first novel, September 17, which was about a particular group of English children who were evacuated during the Second World War. After being in Germany, I realized that I knew nothing about the experience of German children during the war. It’s not something that anyone discusses. In fact there was a whole generation whose childhood experiences were silenced after the war. Today they are called the Kreigskinder – the War Children.

            So I began interviewing Hans. I spent over a year talking with him about his life before, during and after the war. I steeped myself in research, and slowly a fictional story began to emerge. I wouldn’t have tackled this story had I not started with Hans as a primary source.

The other huge thing was that Hans had photos. I’m most comfortable when I can use photos as ignition points. Here are a couple

that we used for the book, but there were many that helped me to set the stage.

Hamburg_0003.jpg                                Boys_on_hill.jpg

Tell us about how you sold this book. What was it like when you found out? Do you have an agent? Were there a lot of revisions along the way?

My first novel was published by Red Deer Press, so it was natural for me to go to them with this second. In fact, it was because of my editor at Red Deer, Peter Carver, that I decided to tackle this subject. We’d worked together really well on the first novel, sharing an obsession with the minutiae of daily life during the Second World War. When I floated the idea for he loved it because he saw it as a companion piece . That book was much harder because it had multiple viewpoints, and Peter gave me incredibly detailed notes about perspective, story arc and pacing. This novel was more of a challenge because the historical information I was trying to get across was less familiar, and also much more controversial. There were times when I was quite scared. But Peter helped me to keep focusing on the story and on the characters. He’d say: “How would they [the children] have known about this?” and that would get me back inside their heads. It is hard not to write about the war with what we know now to be true. I had to keep blocking off my “hindsight” brain.  

My first novel was second. In fact, it was because of my editor at Red Deer, Peter Carver, that I decided to tackle this subject. We’d worked together really well on the first novel, sharing an obsession with the minutiae of daily life during the Second World War. When I floated the idea for The Pact he loved it because he saw it as a companion piece September 17. That book was much harder because it had multiple viewpoints, and Peter gave me incredibly detailed notes about perspective, story arc and pacing. This novel was more of a challenge because the historical information I was trying to get across was less familiar, and also much more controversial. There were times when I was quite scared. But Peter helped me to keep focusing on the story and on the characters. He’d say: “How would they [the children] have known about this?” and that would get me back inside their heads. It is hard not to write about the war with what we know now to be true. I had to keep blocking off my “hindsight” brain.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?

Doing Internet research for this book was scary. Type the word Nazi into your search engine and you are going to get a lot of things you don’t want to know about. Checking and double-checking issues to do with education was fascinating, and trying to figure out the equivalencies in currency was a challenge. What was the cost of a cigarette? A day of care in a hospital? The daily wage of a worker?

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

I was in the midst of my second set of revisions when I came to my first residency at VCFA. I knew that I wasn’t going to work on this book at VCFA, but I had submitted the first 20 pages for my first residency workshop. There were some amazing suggestions that came out of that session, and both Cynthia Leitich Smith and Mark Karlins helped me to see some problems with the opening that I hadn’t been aware of. They helped me to get much closer to my protagonist, just by the way that they talked about him. But even more importantly, they took me and my work seriously. They helped me to believe that I could become a better writer. Also at that first residency David Gill gave his “Turn, Turn, Turn” lecture. He talked about a “significant and irreversible change.” I knew immediately where that was in the manuscript, and knew that I hadn’t made that moment do what it needed to do. I raced out of that lecture and re-wrote the turn of the book. I read it at the class reading session that night. My head and heart pounded all day just thinking about it. That lecture changed everything, because once I could see that turn, I could see where my protagonist was really going.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Don’t come here to write something that you are trying to get published. Come here to write, to experiment, to try things out of your comfort zone. Be prepared to play, laugh and cry. Know that you will be given more support than you ever imagined possible. Be brave. Say yes.

Thanks for dropping by the LaunchPad, Amanda! You can find out more about Amanda West Lewis and her books at her website www.amandawestlewis.com  and you can find her novel THE PACT in bookstores now.

 

Topics: young adult, 2016 release, historical fiction, Red Deer Press, Amanda West Lewis, YA

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