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Dear Kim (and friends),

Today's post is a package within a package within a package.
I bring you a
book review,
and giveaway,
all wrapped into one post.

Katherine Locke saying all the good things at SCBWI's Fall Philly.

On the blog today we welcome Katherine Locke, author, cat wrangler, and YA book advocate. Recently Katherine and I connected on stage at the annual Fall Philly SCBWI Conference. We talked activism, writing, and I fanned all over her new book, The Girl with the Red Balloon.

Prior to Philly, I followed Katherine’s blog, reading her posts about character and writing, and her journey to publication. I also participated in monthly GAY YA (now YA PRIDE) book talks on Twitter where she sometimes moderated, and often participated, I also followed her on Twitter for her insights into this crazy *** world.  Then, just prior to her book's release YA Reads connected us via their 2017 Debut Author Bash so that we could host a giveaway of The Girl With the Red Balloon here. 

I mean, even for me, that's a lot of background, just to say, I completely love the book and am likewise a huge fan of all of the work that Katherine pours into our book community. 

The Girl with the Red Balloon is a magical book that explores multiple points of view and multiple historical shifts in a beautiful time-traveling love story. Ellie Baum accidently floats back into 1988 East Berlin where she meets a cast of strong characters. (More on them in the letter below.) While historical, the story parallels much of today's racial, religious, and political bigotries. Katherine Locke finds a way to infuse the story with love, hope, and a much needed dose of activism.

Katherine was happy to participate in an interview "INK SISTER" style. 
Our pen pal exchange below.


(To Katherine...)

Dear Katherine,

Congratulations on the release of THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON! This book was at the top of my list for months leading up to the release. I devoured the hints you left on your blog about the book, and followed along with you on your journey to print. You had me eager to know your characters, especially Ellie Baum.

Even with all of my pre-release anticipation for Ellie, your story crafted a character beyond even my wildest hopes. There was something so pure about the way you created Ellie’s connection to her world, even in time travel, in falling in love, in gaining understanding about her family, Ellie’s emotions always felt genuine. In the wake of feeling so much at once, Ellie found purpose and resilience. I wonder, did Ellie come to you first or were you interested in writing about these historical periods? Hearing a talented author’s process is always a gift.

Historically you managed to take us from contemporary time to 1988 East Berlin to Poland 1941 seamlessly. Was your work on each time period done through educational research or had you uncovered true narratives from the time periods? Specifically I wonder about Mitzi’s story? Her character really stood out to me. The way she lent herself to both Kai and Ellie was perfect, and she provided humor and emotion in all the right places. In selecting your multiple points of view, was there ever a time that Mitzi’s voice was considered? Or do we need to wait for Book Two to hear from her?

Speaking of Book Two, let’s dig into the pages that you leave us with in Book One… Without giving away too many spoilers, how many boxes of tissues did you use writing that last scene? (Readers should know to bring their own box to the ending of the book.)

If your readers hadn’t already completely fallen for the Kai/Ellie relationship, those last few pages gave their love major CRUSH status. I also CRUSHED pretty hard on your words! There are so many lines I could pull from that chapter. Phrases about love and forgiveness, activism and friendship. Can we pay tribute though to these spectacular lines: “… People who had done brave things before the time I was in, and people who had done brave things after I was there, and all of the people yet to come. Injustices are counted by acts of courage. We create Brave wherever we are brave.”

It is such a brilliant passage summarizing your story, and feels timeless, which seems poignant in a time travel book. Do you hope that your work inspires the Brave in your readers today? Has this book inspired Brave in you?

Congratulations again on crafting such a beautiful story of hope. We can’t wait for Book Two!

Much Love,

P.S. Write back soon!


(Katherine writes back...)

Dear Alison,
Thank you so much! It’s so fun to hear from people who really connected with The Girl with the Red Balloon, and especially with Ellie. Ellie and the book idea came together at about the same time. I had a mental image of a girl going over a wall with a red balloon and I chased that daydream down the rabbit hole during my commute. By the time I got to work, I knew that it was the Berlin Wall, and that she was Jewish, and that she’d felt like a sidekick, someone who didn’t get to have her own adventures and someone who actively avoided them. It’s much more fun for me as a writer to send a character who is remarkably ill-prepared for an adventure on one instead of a character who has been waiting her whole life (unless I’m going to invert everything she was prepared for…now there’s an idea!)
            So story and character came together at the same idea, and exploring Ellie helped me crack the story. My first draft was 93,000 words and only three sentences survived that draft. It’s pretty wild, isn’t it? Writing can be such a fascinating process. Every book I write feels like learning how to write all over again. That first draft was also set in 1988 Berlin but it began in January 1988 and I moved it to Spring 1988 so that Ellie could overlap with one of my favorite facts I found during research: Bruce Springsteen played a concert in July 1988 in East Berlin. He was the first Western artist to play on the East side of the Wall and it was such a big deal at the time. And the whole show is on Youtube! I was raised on Springsteen and I love his writing in particular, so obviously, I had to change my whole book’s timeline to fit that concert.
            I admit every time I watch that youtube video, I look for Mitzi. I love that girl so much. Her character really emerged out of this strong counterculture and punk movement in the late 1980s in East Germany—quite a feat under a tight-fisted government—and conversations with European friends who urged me not to tell the entire story from the outsiders—Kai and Ellie. It’s part of what I wanted to explore—East Germany came into existence because of WWII which came into existence because of Germany’s actions and choices. But did East Germans ‘deserve’ what happened in East Germany? How could I tell that part of the story, to show Germans who loved their country, grappled with their painful history, opposed the East German government, and believed in a better future? Mitzi lent her voice to all those people. She’s also the heart of the trio. She’s ferocious in her loyalty, unending in her kindness, and demanding in her justice. If I look up to any of my characters, it’s Mitzi.
            That being said, while I briefly considered adding Mitzi as a point of view character, this is definitely Ellie’s story and I didn’t want to lose that. So you won’t hear from her in Book 2 either because Book 2 (The Spy With The Red Balloon)…drum roll, please…is set 45 years earlier with a whole different cast of characters! They’re companion books, not sequels. The Spy with the Red Balloon is about two Jewish American siblings, Ilse and Wolf Klein, who must use all their wits and magical skills to thwart Hitler’s attempt to build an atom bomb and root out a traitor deep within the heart of the Manhattan Project. My favorite part about SPY, other than writing a close sister-brother relationship because banter between siblings is always super fun, is that there’s a pretty big cast. Ilse works in a lab with four other people (Lola, Polly, Stella and George) and Wolf is going into enemy territory with three others (Lily, Max and Topher). They all have really distinct roles and personalities and I really fell in love with my big cast. And if you loved Mitzi, you’ll love Lola and Lily in SPY!
            I know that for some readers (maybe you, Alison!) that the ending of GIRL came as a bit of a shock, especially when you find out that there’s not a direct sequel. But the ending of GIRL might not be as open-ended as you think it is. If you liked the ending of GIRL and don’t want your experience of it to change, skip what I’m about to put in brackets! Just read over it really quickly and pretend it didn’t happen. But if you’re like WHAT? BOOK TWO ISN’T A SEQUEL? I HAVE QUESTIONS! The brackets are for you. [Reread the last chapter, and then reread the first chapter. See something you might not have thought was significant during your first read? J]
            The book has always ended like it does. And I’m really proud of that ending. Ellie’s thoughts on activism and bravery and courage in the face of oppression have also always been there, though I admit they’ve taken on a special meaning in the last year for me. I hope that my readers realize that everyone can resist oppression, bigotry, hate, and fascism in their own ways. That bravery is contagious and so is resistance. When you stand up to racism, bigotry and hate, even if in the moment whoever you’re facing does not change, someone else sees that and learns from your language and your courage how to be brave themselves. We create bravery. We are bravery.
            Oh my gosh. I’ve written so much but I have so many thoughts! We’ll have to write to each other more often, Alison, or continue this conversation! I can’t wait to hear from you. Thanks so much for having me and for loving The Girl with the Red Balloon.
            Yours in friendship,

            Katherine Locke

We are thrilled to offer a signed copy of The Girl with the Red Balloon to one lucky reader. Please comment below with your email address (and any other fabulous comments that you have for Katherine). The WINNER will be selected from on Monday, December 18. Your book will be shipped by February 1, 2018.

Much Love,

Thanks again to YA Reads for connecting Katherine to INK SISTERS WRITE!!


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