Schulman, L. B. Stolen Secrets. Boyds Mills Press, 2017, 304 pp.
The Whole Megillah (TWM): How did you come up with the idea for this book?
L.B. Schulman (LS): After listening to an interview on the radio, I realized that before we knew it, there wouldn’t be any firsthand witnesses to the Holocaust alive anymore. A year or so later, I saw an age-progressed photo of Anne Frank that showed how she would look today, if she had lived. I brought these two pieces together in a contemporary and historical mystery that I’m so proud to have pulled off with the help of my amazing editor, Mary Colgan.
TWM: How did your interest in genealogy impact the writing of the book?
LS: Having my DNA done at ancestry.com helped connect me to my Jewish relatives. I was also surprised to discover how many Jewish people are related to each other. In fact, my dad and my husband’s mother turned out to be fourth cousins. For this reason, I believe that most Jewish people have lost relatives in the Holocaust, whether they know them by name or not. Livvy, my main character finds out that she may be Jewish, and it changes how she feels about herself, her feelings about the Holocaust, and her community, much as my own DNA research changed my perspective.
TWM: Why was it important for you to posit that Livvy’s grandmother could be Anne Frank?
LS: I was intrigued with the idea that Anne Frank might have never died, having hid her existence for the sake of keeping memories of the Holocaust alive for the rest of the world. It would be both a lie and a selfless decision. As an author, I love exploring conundrums like that.
TWM: What were your challenges in writing this book?
LS: One challenge was keeping Oma’s identity a secret when she was in so many scenes. Alzheimer’s was the vehicle I chose for this, as the tragic symptoms worked to conceal the answers to the mystery. Her memory issues and erratic behavior allowed my main character to explore and find the answers on her own.
TWM: What were your satisfactions in writing this book?
LS: I researched this thoroughly and had experts (yourself included, thanks!) to look over my work, so I feel it is as historically accurate as I could get in a fiction book. This made me proud, as I want the book to be a teaching vehicle for teens, as well as entertainment. I also enjoyed my characters, especially Franklin D. who serves to lighten moments and keep readers laughing.
TWM: Let’s turn to Boyds Mills Press senior editor Mary Colgan. Mary, what attracted you to the manuscript?
Mary Colgan (MC): When I received Stolen Secrets on submission, it kept me glued to the page from beginning to end. I was immediately taken with Livvy—her strength and independence, as well as the vulnerability she worked so hard to keep hidden. Her complicated relationship with her mother felt authentic and relatable and I was on Team Franklin D. from the moment he opened his mouth. And all this is on top of an absolutely brilliant concept, something I knew would be met with gasps when I brought it to an acquisitions meeting. I loved how Stolen Secrets would spur many young readers to think about Anne Frank and the Holocaust in a new, deeper way, connecting the past directly to their present lives, just as it happens for Livvy. I appreciated that it was an important and meaningful book, as well as a compelling, can’t-put-it-down read. And I also loved how Stolen Secrets didn’t simply rest on its concept. Lisa wove together two beautifully layered stories—Adele’s in the past, filled with thorny questions about morality, shame, and forgiveness, and Livvy’s in the present as she wrestled with moving across the country, dealing with her mother’s addiction, all the trials of being the new girl at school, and then stumbling upon an infinitely complex family mystery. I was gobsmacked by how Lisa managed to weave these threads into an extraordinary tapestry when they could easily have ended up a tangled knot. I knew we had found a true talent of a writer and I’m so very proud to have had a hand in this phenomenal novel.
TWM: What books and authors inspire you?
LS: I have such a hard time with this question because all authors and all books inspire me—for different reasons. I admire the separate pieces of a novel—beginnings, endings, characters, pacing—as much as the whole work. There is something to be admired in every book.
TWM: Do you have a critique group? Could you talk about that?
LS: I have been together with my critique group for 12 years. We have had many ups and down together but have continued to help each other every step of the way. They serve as both my critiquers and my cheerleaders. Much like a marriage, I love them at times and want to run screaming away at others. In all seriousness, they helped so much with this book. They read every chapter several times and always showed up to give me their best opinions. They should each be on the byline, to be honest.
For more on L.B. Schulman, visit her website.
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