On March first, New York Times bestselling author, Ruta Sepetys, visited Book People. She was enthusiastic and had a smooth radio voice (when she was younger she was trained to be an opera singer). Ruta visited Book People to talk about her new book, Out of The Easy and she also told the audience riveting stories.

Ruta traveled to New Orleans for research, and she met up with the author of a book about the Madames of New Orleans, the owners of brothels. While there, the woman she was speaking with set her up with a meeting with the mob, who, unbenounced to Ruta, were not exactly the safest people to be around. So Ruta spent eight hours in a car with a mobster who had cut of someone’s fingers in order to settle a debt, and when Ruta asked if he’d shot someone, he replied, “What, today?” Those stories have made Out of The Easy the book we now know.

But her stories didn’t end there! Some of the best ones were about Between Shades of Gray, Ruta’s debut novel and the one that put her on the radar of readers and critics around the world. One story she told was about a 16 year old girl from Lithuania who had a 17 year old boyfriend. The boyfriend was sent to a gulag, and the girl was sent to be interrogated by the Soviets. During the interrogation the girl needed to go to the restroom. There was a window in the restroom, and she realized she had a better chance of surviving if she jumped out of the window, and when she jumped she broke both her legs and her back. One of her neighbors nursed her back to health, and for 10 years they lived together. The neighbor fell in love with her and they got married, but under one condition; if the girl’s boyfriend came back she would divorce him and live with her boyfriend. 15 years later her boyfriend came back and she divorced her husband and married her boyfriend. This story, of undying love that kept people going, is what inspired some of the romance in Between Shades of Gray.

People doubted the success of Between Shades of Gray because it dealt with heavy topics and the book was for a young adult audience. Ruta claims she wrote the story the way she would have written it for an adult, but teens love the novel. Ms. Sepetys believes that every person has a story, and that telling your story is important. Until she wrote Between Shades of Gray, she didn’t really know who she was or where she came from. Her research for Between Shades of Gray was learning about her Lithuanian family. She says that the difference between writing Between Shades of Gray and Out of The Easy, is that Between Shades of Gray is a book she needed to write, and Out of The Easy is a book she wanted to write.

When we asked Ruta about how writing for young adults has been she said, “Absolutely phenomenal. It has been the most rewarding audience. They process things with a completely unfiltered emotional truth. And books that we read when we’re thirteen or fourteen years old, we’ll remember them forever.”

Josie of Out of The Easy was inspired by a group of women Ruta worked with who as Ruta said were, “Women whose only way of survival was if they left their families.” She went on to describe how we as humans aren’t programmed to be able to leave our families behind, but, “the girls that were able to get out of their families became so successful, and that’s what sort of inspired Josie Merraine.” Josie wants to go to college and become a woman completely unlike her mother.

“My writing process has mainly one rule, not to hesitate, which was a piece of advice the author Walter Dean Meyers gave at a workshop. He said, “Don’t wait for the muse to come. The muse may not come.”’ So her process is to keep writing, even if it’s junk, and somehow the beautiful words of Between Shades of Gray and Out of The Easy came through. She’s a binge writer, because she works a full time job in the music business, she’ll write 15 hours (!!) in one day to make up for her time.

Out of The Easy was inspired by many things. From the pair of opera glasses she received as a gift that she traced back to the original owner, Willie (recognize that name, anyone?) to Josie’s inspiration and the incredible experiences she had doing research for this book, Ruta has created a story that is unforgettable. We (Erin and Willa) had an unforgettable night filled with stories, laughter, and smiles that we hope all of you could experience through this coverage! Go out and find Out of The Easy or Between Shades of Gray (we highly recommend both) – they’re absolutely amazing!
~post by Erin and Willa