Guest post | Anne Blankman discusses journalism, her dad and the inspiration for “Prisoner of Night and Fog”
June 9, 2015
I fell in love with Anne Blankman’s writing a little over a year ago when I read “Prisoner of Night and Fog” (instead of studying for my AP Euro exam). I was particularly fond of (in love with) Daniel, the love interest and an ace reporter whose beat is the National Socialist Party. One day, I worked up the nerve to start a conversation with Anne (via Twitter, as all great author-blogger conversations begin) and we really hit it off. Turns out she’s a major journalism nerd, too!
While I was reading “Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke” (and loving it!), I invited Anne to join me on my blog to talk about the reason she fell in love with journalism and its importance in the plot of her books. Turns out, her father was a journalist as well as the inspiration for Daniel.
So, without further ado, here’s Anne’s guest post:
One of the questions I get asked the most is, not surprisingly, “Where do you get your ideas?” For the first time ever, I’m revealing that some of the inspirations behind my debut novel, Prisoner of Night and Fog, and its just-released sequel, Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke, have nothing to do with World War Two. In fact, two topics that influenced these romantic historical thrillers are the KKK and the Unabomber. Yup, you read that right. The Ku Klux Klan and the homegrown American terrorist known as the Unabomber directly inspired me when I was drafting Prisoner.
Before I was born, my dad was an investigative reporter. He worked at a few New York papers and at the Minneapolis Star, where he met my mom, then a fresh-out-of-college reporter herself. One of my dad’s assignments was covering KKK meetings in the Northeast. Years later, he would share stories with me and my brother about those KKK meetings. They were orderly, quiet. Just a group of people gathering in city parks. If you didn’t listen to what they were saying, you could convince yourself they were an ordinary organization.
“What they were saying was despicable,” my dad would tell me and my brother. “But for me, the worst part was seeing children at the meetings. Toddlers. Elementary school age kids. They were repeating the same things they heard their parents saying.” He would hesitate. “I’ve never been able to stop thinking about those kids. They never had a chance to learn to think for themselves.”
Later, I remembered those stories and used them to craft my protagonist, Gretchen Müller, the teenage daughter of a Nazi martyr and the Nazi Party’s golden girl. In my mind, she was like those kids in the park—raised in hatred, molded by racism. I wanted her to have the chance to look at the world with new eyes…just like I hope those kids in the park did.
About twenty years after my dad reported on KKK meetings, we were living in upstate New York. One spring afternoon my mom and I were driving home from a movie when we saw TV news vans clogging a street near our house. It was obvious something big had happened.
When we got home, my dad was waiting for us at the back door. “The FBI has captured the Unabomber,” he said quietly. “It’s David Kaczynski’s brother.”
Shock slammed into me. Even though I was just a kid, I knew vaguely who the Unabomber was—an anonymous killer who mailed bombs to his victims, who were killed or maimed when they opened the innocent-looking packages. What my dad was telling us, though, seemed impossible: Our kindly neighbor was not only his brother, but he and his wife had figured out that Ted Kaczynski was the murderer and had turned him in to the FBI.
You couldn’t have imagined two siblings more different: one was a brilliant mathematician who had allegedly slid into mental illness and had killed three people and injured dozens more, the other was a sweet, quiet social worker. Long after the trial was over, I thought about those two men, marveling that two siblings who had grown up in the same family could turn out so differently…and with such tragic results. It wasn’t until years later, however, while I was brainstorming ideas for Prisoner of Night and Fog that I realized I wanted to weave those two brothers into my story. Gretchen and her brother, Reinhard, were born.
And that’s my exclusive “scoop” for my favorite Nerdy Journalist and her readers! Thanks so much for having me!
You’re welcome, and thank YOU for writing such a wonderful guest post!
About Anne Blankman
Anne Blankman may have been meant to be a writer because her parents named her for Anne of Green Gables. She grew up in an old house with gables (gray, unfortunately) in upstate New York. When she wasn’t writing or reading, she was rowing on the crew team, taking ballet lessons, fencing and swimming. She graduated from Union College with degrees in English and history, which comes in handy when she writes historical fiction.
After earning a master’s degree in information science, Anne began working as a youth services librarian. Currently, she lives in southeastern Virginia with her family. When she’s not writing young adult fiction, she’s playing with her daughter, training for races with her husband, working at her amazing library branch, learning to knit (badly), and reading.
Anne Blankman is the award-winning author of PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book of 2015. She was named a 2014 “Flying Starts” author byPublishers Weekly. The sequel, CONSPIRACY OF BLOOD AND SMOKE, came out on April 21, 2015, and a standalone novel will be released in 2016. Anne is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary.