Vesper, what is your writing ritual?
Since I just finished another manuscript, I’ll tell you how I did that! I get all the “heady” stuff (admin, emails, calendar) out of the way in the morning. While I make and eat breakfast, I read a bit of the Bible, then listen to part of an audiobook, either by a language master like Dostoevsky, or a book that’s part of my research. My husband builds me a fire, I make a cup of tea, light a candle and say a prayer over my work day. I hole up in my comfy chair with a basket of research books, and get to writing. I try to write “blind”—not looking at the screen so I can work in a more stream-of consciousness way. And I try to work on my art, whether it’s illustration or sketchbook work, as much as possible to keep that part of me thriving.
What did this book teach you about writing, or about yourself?
One of the most important takeaways for me was the importance of freedom of speech. When totalitarian movements or regimes like the Nazis begin to amass power, there’s a recognizable pattern. First, they attack language and speech codes. They then go after artists and intellectuals, because they want to remove the reflex, right or ability for individuals to think with nuance and critical thought. I became very dedicated to the First Amendment and resisting censorship as a result.
What do you hope readers will take away from WHAT THE NIGHT SINGS?
I hope readers will be inspired by Gerta’s story to go deeply into the question of who they really are, and who other people really are, without making easy assumptions. It’s so easy to think we are answering that question when in actuality we are only stating what we are—and as humans we have enormous capacity to change our minds. No one is as “other” as we make them out to be, and there is so much richness in really knowing people.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Follow your curiosity and dive deep into a subject you can’t get out of your mind. Journal, by hand, a lot. Listen to and trust the characters. If you’re stuck, close your eyes and let your characters just live their lives in front of you, then write what you saw. Do more thorough world building than you think you need. Get. Outside. Of. Yourself. Artists must surround themselves with—and get close to—people who think differently than they do so they can write a range of characters, not just multiple dimensions of themselves. And go for long walks without your phone. There is such a clean and beautiful world out there ready to speak to us and tell us its stories.
ABOUT THE BOOKWhat the Night Sings
by Vesper Stamper
Knopf Books for Young Readers
After losing her family and everything she knew in the Nazi concentration camps, Gerta is finally liberated, only to find herself completely alone. Without her Papa, her music, or even her true identity, she must move past the task of surviving and onto living her life. In the displaced persons camp where she is staying, Gerta meets Lev, a fellow teen survivor who she just might be falling for, despite her feelings for someone else. With a newfound Jewish identity she never knew she had, and a return to the life of music she thought she lost forever, Gerta must choose how to build a new future.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Have you had a chance to read WHAT THE NIGHT SINGS yet? Have you tried writing without looking at the screen? Do you surround yourself with people who think differently than you do? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!
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