Thursday, February 11, 2016

Interview: Kathy Kacer, author of Stones on a Grave, a 2016 Sydney Taylor Honor Award book

Please welcome author Kathy Kacer to Randomly Reading today.  Kathy is a prolific writer of both fiction and nonfiction with a focus on the Holocaust.  Her books have won a number of awards, including the 2016 Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Teen Readers Category for her most recent book, Stones on a Grave.  

Welcome, Kathy and thank you for agreeing to answers a few questions about yourself and your work.

Let's begin with the basics, shall we?  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to become a writer.  And, of course, what being awarded this 2016 Sydney Taylor Honor Award means to you? 

Kathy: I live in Toronto, Canada – married with two grown children. I always loved to write, but never pursued it as a career choice. I became a psychologist and for many years, I worked with troubled teens and their families. I loved that work – found it fulfilling and challenging. But at a certain stage in my life, I found myself drawn back to writing. I wanted to do more of it, and not just as a hobby. My first book, The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, was published in 1999. I’ve gone on to write nineteen more! I have to say that I never imagined I would have this full second career. 
I’m also the child of Holocaust survivors, so it’s no surprise that all of my books focus on that time in history and on the stories of survivors. Several of my books have been named Sydney Taylor “Notable” books. This is the first time I’ve had a book that was awarded the “Honor” prize. And it is an honor indeed! It makes me aware that so many more young people will hear about my books, read them, perhaps learn something more about this important time in history, and remember this time and these stories for the future.  

The main character in Stones on a Grave, 18 year old Sara Barry, lived in an orphanage where she was part of a group who had grown up together, and who were thought of as her "special Seven" by the woman who ran the home, Mrs. Hazelton.  Sara's story is part of a series of seven books and each one follows what happens to the girls when they leave the orphanage.  Could you explain the genesis of Stones on a Grave and how it fits into the Secrets series?
Kathy: The main character in Stones in a Grave, 18 year old Sara Barry, lived in an orphanage where
she was part of a group who had grown up together, and who were thought of a her “special Seven” by the woman who ran the home, Mrs. Hazelton.  Sara’s story is part of a series of seven books and each on following what happens to the girls when they leave the orphanage.  Could you explain the genesis of Stones on a Grave and how it fits into the Secrets series?
There are seven authors (I’m one of them), each of whom has written a book in the Secrets series. The books are “linked,” meaning that the seven girls all know one another, come from the same place, and set out on similar quests. My character, Sara, is one of the seven. The girls have all been raised in an orphanage in a small town. It is 1964 and the orphanage has burnt down. Each of the seven oldest girls is given a chance to go out into the world and discover where they came from and the circumstances of their births, and they are each given clues to help them in their journeys. 
The beauty of being part of this series was that each one of the authors was able to write in the style and genre that we loved and worked in. There is a fantasy story, mystery, humor, historical fiction, etc. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to create a story that had a link to the Holocaust (since that’s the writing that I do). Sara receives three clues to her background: a document saying that she was born in a DP camp in Germany at the end of the war and her mother was Jewish (until that moment, Sara has never even met a Jewish person); a medical certificate saying that she was fit to come to North America at the end of the war as an orphan; and a necklace with a gold Star of David. Using those three clues, Sara travels to Germany to find this mysterious doctor and find out who her parents were and why she was given up for adoption.

Kathy Kacer
I know historical fiction may be fiction, but it still requires a lot of research.  Could you tell us a little about the research process you used and any challenges you faced while writing Stones on a Grave?
Kathy: Like many writers, I love doing the research for my books. And there is always a lot of it to do! In this case, I had wanted to write about the DP camps in Europe that were established after the war to house those surviving Jewish refugees who were sick, alone, and had nowhere to go. Through the research, I learned about Fohrenwald – where it had been, who had lived there, etc. It seemed like the right place to set Sara’s journey. 
One of the problems of doing research (and loving it so much), is that it can often become a great reason to avoid writing!! I have to remind myself to put the research aside and get to the writing. I probably “over-research.” I have to pick and choose the pieces that will be relevant to the story I am writing. I often say it’s like carrying a backpack with me. I can open it up and pull out pieces of information whenever I need them.

I have to admit that I wasn't surprised by the revelation of who Sara's grandfather was, but I was definitely stunned when she was told who her father was.  I'm curious about what prompted your decision about him.

 Kathy: I have to admit that I hadn’t fully expected that decision myself! Isn’t that the beauty of being a writer and letting the story take you where it needs to go? The decision around Sara’s mother was quite simple. I thought that many people would guess the relationship between Sara and the doctor (and therefore the relationship with her mother). But I struggled to figure out what had become of Sara’s father. I wanted the revelation around her father to be something bigger and more dramatic. And then one day, I was talking with someone who was telling me the painful story of having a relative who had been raped in the concentration camps. And it struck me that this was the story line I was looking for. It’s a shocking one, for sure. 

Some people have said "no more Holocaust stories," that there is more to Jewish identity than
that particular part of Jewish history.  But clearly, given you prolific and varied oeuvre of stories about the Holocaust, would you mind sharing your thoughts about why you feel it is such an important topic to write about. 

 Kathy: Yes, I hear people talk about “Holocaust fatigue” as well. And believe me, I don’t think I ever set out to become a writer of only Holocaust stories! But every time I think I’ve written the last story I’m going to write on this topic, another remarkable one comes to me and I feel compelled to tell that one as well. And because I speak to so many survivors and I see that this is an aging community, I am also aware that the window of opportunity to find these stories and write them down is closing quicker than I had ever imagined. So I choose not to listen to those who say it’s enough. I am resolved to writing about this history for as long as there are survivors who are willing to talk about it – and perhaps beyond that time as well. I have a big audience out there who seems not to tire of this material. That too is gratifying and encouraging.

Thank you, Kathy, for your thoughtful responses.  You can find more about Kathy and her books at 

And Readers, be sure to check the 2016 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour to visit other stops on the tour.

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