Author Q & A with My Real Name is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih #travelingsistersread @taralynnmasih

Norma and I along with a few of our Traveling Sisters recently read My Real Name is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih. During our discussion, Debra @ Open Book Post arranged with Tara Lynn Masih to provide our group with some book discussion questions. We were also given the opportunity to provide Tara Lynn Masih with some questions we had for her. The thought-provoking questions and Tara Lynn Masih’s wonderfully detailed answers to our questions that she shared with us really enhanced our reading experience.

Thank you, Tara Lynn Masih, for graciously answering our questions and giving us the opportunity to be one of the first reading groups to read and discuss your book. Thank you for also giving us the opportunity to share the Q & A here on our blog.

Thank you to Debra for arranging this experience for us!

Is It harder as an adult to write and remain true to the thoughts and feelings of a young girl?

That’s a very good question. I admit I struggled now and then with language and word choice. I wanted to capture the sound of a narrator for whom English was not their first language, why I chose a simpler tone, but I didn’t want it to be too young and simple (BTW, the audio narrator, Suzanne Toren, captures her voice beautifully). I wanted more depth to the narration so used words that might have been above Hanna’s age. On the other hand, I have a very good memory, which goes back to when I was crawling. I think having that kind of memory helps me recall what it’s like to be a sibling/daughter/girl on the edge of womanhood.

Why did you decide to write this book as a Y.A. novel?

I wanted the story told to the next generation. Holocaust survivors are sadly leaving us daily. I don’t want their stories to disappear. And teens are so impressionable. If you can instill empathy early, you’ve won something big for society.

Can you tell us how you learned about the real-life family that lived in the caves and what your research involved?

I saw a documentary based on their experience during WW II and about the caver, Chris Nicola, who discovered them, titled No Place on Earth. It’s very powerful and I highly recommend it. Getting hold of Esther Stermer’s rare biography was crucial. Beyond that, the research was too extensive to list here. It was done over 6 years and involved online research, history books, memoirs, interviews with survivors, and discussions with museum curators. I believe there is information in this book that has not appeared yet in fiction.

What were some challenges you faced while writing this story?

I had no idea what I was getting into in terms of the complex history of that part of the world. The U.S. has a very brief, simple history by comparison. All the changes in regimes and governments, the borders and country renames, the politics, etc., were very hard for me to follow. Luckily one survivor from that area was able to explain it to me in laymen’s terms. I had to completely rewrite the opening for historical accuracy as I’d gone off base.

Upon completion, did you feel like it was a book of nonfiction as much as it was historical fiction?

I don’t feel that way, but I know some people feel like that opening is a bit less novelistic than they are used to. But it was important to set the stage to understand what Hanna’s family had been through over the century, beyond and before WW II even started.

While writing an emotional story like this does it take a lot out of you while writing it or do you have to distance yourself from the subject matter?

This is another very perceptive question. The research was very hard on me. Being a writer I’m a hypersensitive person, and the atrocities committed by both the Russians and Germans were at times almost unbearable to read. I had nightmares early on. I was depressed. There was information I wish I had never discovered. But the importance of the story kept me moving forward. I am now utterly exhausted, and it’s taking me some time to come back from the “darkness” of the era.

What was the hardest scene in the book to write and what was your favorite scene in the book?

My favorite scenes to write were the ones where she interacted with Leon and Alla. The hardest one to write was when the Tzeler shows up at their cabin. That was tough emotional terrain and hard to get right. Hard to know how to depict the family reactions so that they would be believable. I hope I got it right.

What is the significance of the section of vignettes that begin with “Tell me a story…”? These stories are technically being told to Hanna, but it feels more directed toward the reader.

As I wrote the novel, I began to realize that the Holocaust is made up of millions of stories. And that each individual has multiple stories from within their community and personal histories. While the book started as a story being told to the reader, it also became the smaller stories that were told to make sense of their plight and their Jewish history. Story is also a way to teach the younger generation through fables and folklore, which fascinates me. I wanted some of these fables to show what the older generation thought was of primary importance to pass on. It was also, simply, a way to pass the time in the darkness. Don’t we all tell stories to our children before they slip off to sleep, to get them prepared for that temporary darkness so they won’t be afraid? Storytelling is universal and I wanted to show that.

How was Hanna developed? Did she grow and change as she wrote the story or while she was researching the story?

Hanna definitely grew with research. I’m an instinctive writer so had no outline going into this. I let her dictate where she was going to go and what she would do. As you write and get to know characters more deeply, they kind of take over. And research can direct twists and turns.

Throughout the book, the characters (and therefore the reader) clings to small bits of hope such as leaves, morsels of food, and small rays of light. Does the survival of the Slivka/Stermer families have as much to do with hope as it does with strategy and luck?

Hope in essence is what keeps all human beings alive. Hope takes different forms for different people. It’s in places and objects and religions and philosophies. While Holocaust survivors often point to luck as the key to their survival, researchers will tell you that those who found a way to keep going all believed in something bigger than themselves. Hanna gathers hope from friends, nature, her family, Joan of Arc’s story, and from some spiritual place within.


Have you read this title? Want to read it? Drop us a comment! We would love to hear from you!

Sneak Peek Sunday: Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent #travelingsistersread #BookBloggers @lizzienugent @SimonSchusterCA

We are joining Christina @ Recipe and a Read and Kim It’s All About The Thrill with this Sunday Sneak a Peek where we take a look inside a highly anticipated upcoming group read and give a little sneak peek into our thoughts or where we take a look into one of our group discussions.  To see what other books we are excited about pop on over to Christina and Kim’s sneak peeks by following the links.

This week, we are featuring a peek into a title that hasn’t been released here in Canada until November 27, 2018. As soon as Norma received a copy of Lying in Wait from Simon & Schuster Canada she was very excited to get reading it, however, I can be a stickler when it comes to the Traveling Sisters schedule for upcoming reads and it wasn’t quite on the calendar just yet to read. After waiting long enough she accidentally started reading before it was scheduled, put up the threads and the group just took off from there and the discussion is still ongoing with Traveling Sisters joining in.

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent

From Goodreads

From the international bestselling author of Unraveling Oliver, an “unputdownable psychological thriller with an ending that lingers long after turning the final page” (The Irish Times) about a Dublin family whose dark secrets and twisted relationships are suddenly revealed.

My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.

On the surface, Lydia Fitzsimons has the perfect life—wife of a respected, successful judge, mother to a beloved son, mistress of a beautiful house in Dublin. That beautiful house, however, holds a secret. And when Lydia’s son, Laurence, discovers its secret, wheels are set in motion that lead to an increasingly claustrophobic and devastatingly dark climax.

For fans of Ruth Ware and Gillian Flynn, this novel is a “seductively sinister story. The twists come together in a superbly scary denouncement, which delivers a final sting in the tail. Brilliantly macabre” (Sunday Mirror).

Lying in Wait starts off with one the best first lines we have ever read and we were immediately drawn in right from that very first line.

On to a sneak peek into this group read.

Web_L339-3_brunette_brown eyesFrom Norma’s review

Oh my goodness, LYING IN WAIT by LIZ NUGENT was an absolutely fantastic and unputdownable read that had me totally consumed with curiosity right from the moment I read that killer opening line. I was hooked and the suspense was so intense that I was flipping through those pages as fast as I possibly could.

LYING IN WAIT by LIZ NUGENT is an engrossing, dark, disturbing, and dramatic read here that in my opinion had all the elements to make this the perfect psychological thriller. The storyline, the characters, the suspenseful writing, and that totally shocking ending that definitely ruffled some of my feathers made this an all-around fulfilling read.

Web_L423-2_blonde_brown-eyesFrom Kristin’s review

NUGENT’s name deserves to be known. Her storytelling is top-notch, her characters deliciously demented, and the trail of her plot, seamless as it glides with a fluid grace leaving behind subtle hints like shadowy footprints that will tie everything together with expert precision.

img_6596From Christina’s review

Nugent’s story-telling ability really shined in a way that had me rapt from the start. At every new twist or turn, there was a burning need within me to figure out how this piece would fall into place with what the reader already knows to have happened. There was a subtlety here that really spoke to me, nothing was sensationalized or needed to be. These were facts that Nugent was giving to us at a steady pace that created a heady, dark and sometimes comedic atmosphere that draws the reader into the web and traps you there.

Web_L121-2_blonde_blue-eyesFrom Rose’s review

Much like the disturbed soil on its cover, Lying in Wait is rich and layered, with the constant sense of something wicked growing from its seemingly dormant roots.

I thought the characters were brilliantly developed, and though I was struggling with it around the halfway point, I’m glad that I stuck it out. Karen was such a breath of fresh air in contrast to the dank depths of Lydia’s non-soul, and that juxtaposition had me emotionally glued. Laurence was definitely the wild card: he was problematic in his own ways, but much of that spawned from the fact he was raised by the devil incarnate. It was interesting to watch him grow and see his true intentions come to fruition. For Rose’s full review

After reading Lying in Wait we are now fans of Liz Nugent and have added Unravelling Oliver to our list for an upcoming Friends Group read.


Have you read this one? Want to read this one?  Have you read any other books by Liz Nugent?  Drop us a comment!  We would love to hear from you!