Today we celebrate the release of PAPER HEARTS, a young adult novel by Meg Wiviott.
An act of defiance.
A statement of hope.
A crime punishable by death.
Making a birthday card in Auschwitz was all of those things. But that is what Zlatka did in 1944 for her best friend, Fania. She stole and bartered for paper and scissors, secretly creating an origami heart. Then she passed it to every girl at the work table to sign with their hope and wishes for happiness, for love, and most of all, for freedom.
Fania knew what that heart meant, for herself and all the other girls. And she kept it hidden, through the bitter days in the camp and through the death marches. She kept it always.
Paper Hearts is based on the true story of Fania and Zlatka, the story of the bond that helped them both to hope for the best in the face of the worst.
Welcome, Meg. What was the spark that ignited this book?
I read an online article about the release of the documentary film, “The Heart of Auschwitz” in November 2010 and was immediately intrigued. In January 2011, before going to my fourth Residency at VCFA, I visited the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, saw the Heart on display, and then met with one of the filmmakers, Luc Cyr from Ad Hoc Films. Then I knew Fania and Zlatka’s story had to be told.
Who was your favorite character to write and why?
I can’t say that she was my “favorite” but writing Fania’s voice was easier than Zlatka’s. I am not sure why, perhaps it was simply because I could hear her more clearly in my head. For researc
What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?
I relied heavily on the film “The Heart of Auschwitz” in which both Fania and Zlatka appear. Fania speaks in English while Zlatka speaks in Spanish with subtitles. I also had several conversations and emails with Fania’s daughter, so perhaps I felt closer to Fania for those reasons. Perhaps, also, I see more of myself in Fania than Zlatka.
I originally wrote this story as a middle grade nonfiction during my fourth semester at VCFA. After putting it in a drawer for a year, I decided it needed to be written for older readers, so I began writing it as a “traditional” young adult novel. I was committed to telling the story as honestly and accurately as possible, including the gruesome truths of Auschwitz. Prose quickly became restrictive, so I switched to free verse. The problem was (see answer below) I knew nothing about poetry—reading it or writing it. I had a lot to learn.
What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?
Caroline Carlson, one of my classmates at VCFA and one of my early, early readers, kindly suggested that if I was going to write in verse it would be a good idea for me to read some verse. That was when I stopped writing and started reading.
Tell us about something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work.
I have a bulletin board where I keep images, notes, maps, photos relating my to my wip.
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
I had the pleasure of working with Sharon Darrow, Alan Cumyn, Shelley Tanaka, and Rita Williams-Garcia. I was working with Shelley when I first started researching this story. Her advice was, as always, invaluable. Rita was my advisior when I wrote the first, and now forgotten, middle grade version.
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
Before I attended VCFA, I heard people say that it "changed their lives," and I thought, really? But I can say that it did change my life. Not just my writing life, but my life. The bonds made at VCFA are forged in communal bathrooms, in shared dorm rooms with uncomfortable twin beds and no privacy, in the dining room over questionable cafeteria food, in lectures, in readings, and in the late hours in wine pit. They are forged in something stronger, more subtle, more durable than iron. They last a lifetime. And how can such friendships NOT change one’s entire life?
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?
Thanks, Meg, for joining us at VCFA Launchpad today.
Meg Wiviott graduated from VCFA in July 2011 and is a member of the class of The League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwiches. You can find her online at ehr website. and on facebook. She also blogs at Through the Tollbooth, a VCFA alumni blog.