Among the Red Stars will be out in just under a month now, so I’m thrilled to have author Gwen C. Katz on the blog today to talk about this wonderful new YA historical fiction novel as well as the incredible women who inspired it.
I paired Among the Red Stars with this Shooting Star Merlot. Not only does this wine make me think of the the women from Aviation Group 122 soaring across the night sky, but with its tannins and rich flavor profile, it certainly packs a punch, just as the Night Witches did.
*All wine recommendations are for those of legal drinking age only.*
About the Book
Title: Among the Red Stars
Author: Gwen C. Katz
Pub. Date: October 3, 2017
World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.
Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines.
As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.
Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war.
Author Interview with Gwen C. Katz
1. Most of the the amazing airwomen featured in Among the Red Stars are real people. Was there one woman in particular that you most enjoyed researching and learning about?
I really love all of them, but the lovably nerdy Zhenya Rudneva (called Zhenechka in the book to differentiate her from the other Zhenyas) has a special place in my heart. Her diary entries are filled with a very sweet innocence that you don’t expect from someone fighting a war.
2. Do you know if any of the Night Witches are still alive today and, if so, have you gotten to meet any of them?
The last living Night Witch, Yevdokiya Pasko, died this year on January 27 at age 98. As far as I know, the last living member of Aviation Group 122 is Galina Brok-Beltsova, who was a navigator in the female day bomber regiment, the 125th Guards. She’s 90 years old today, and like Valka, she enlisted when she was just 18. I deeply regret that I’ve never had a chance to meet any of them, but most of them lived very quiet lives and never traveled outside Russia.
3. There is such an incredible cast of characters in this book. Out of all of them, who was your favorite to write about?
People who create conflict are always fun to write. The Kazarinova sisters aren’t true villains, per se, but they get to work at cross purposes with the protagonists, so they get to provide a different perspective to the story, and I enjoy that
4. It appears that Pasha has Synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which some people can hear colors or see sounds. In some situations, like when playing music, it seems like that condition could be quite wonderful and beautiful, but on a battlefield, I imagine it would only add to the horror of the situation. What inspired you to make that condition part of his story?
I’m a synesthete myself. It’s a condition I haven’t seen a lot in fiction and I thought it was a great way to literally visualize what Pasha was experiencing. I’m a color-grapheme synesthete, a common type where I visualize words and letters as different colors, but I made Pasha a chomesthete, someone who perceives sounds as different colors, because that struck me as the most emotionally rich type.
5. I loved the bond and loving relationship between Valka and Iskra, as well as the sisterhood and camaraderie that existed between all the women of Aviation Group 122. Were those bonds inspired by any real life situations you’ve been in?
My sister and my friend Katt are both people who have been in my life from day one and I could not imagine life without either of them, and I think I drew from those relationships a good bit. But I think the “bond of sisters” formed by facing death together is probably something you can’t truly know unless you’ve been in that situation.
6. This book include so many wonderful details about the time period, the living conditions of the Night Witches and the soldiers, and the planes. How much research did you have to do to bring this story so fully to life?
Learning Russian was an absolute necessity. I’m lucky that this is a very well-documented period of history and several of these women wrote memoirs, but most of them haven’t been translated into English. Reading about their experiences in their own words provides a lot of detail and perspective you don’t get from purely factual accounts.
7. For readers wanting to learn more about the incredible women in this book, what resources would you recommend to them?
My favorite book about Aviation Group 122 is A Dance with Death by Anne Noggle. She was herself a Women’s Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) during World War II and in the 90s she went to Russia and put together this book of memoirs. For a more informational book, Wings, Women, and War by Reina Pennington is excellent. But Elizabeth Wein is writing a nonfiction book about Aviation Group 122 right now, so all these books may soon be superseded!
8. I adored this book, and I can’t wait to hear about what you’ll be writing next. Do you have any current projects in the works that you can tell us about?
Yes! My new project is about lesbians who served in the Women’s Army Corps. For many young lesbians in the 1940s, the army was the first place where they met other women like them and came to terms with their sexual identity, but they faced court martial and severe punishment if they were found out. This is another World War II project, but it will have a very different feel from Among the Red Stars.
9. If there is any one thing that you would like readers to walk away with after reading Among the Red Stars what would that be?
Follow your dreams!
Among the Red Stars is a gripping new YA historical fiction novel based on the true story of the indomitable and inspirational airwomen the Nazis dubbed the Night Witches.
This story of a group of young women risking everything to fight against the Nazi regime is exactly what our world needs right now. This book is a very timely reminder of all the sacrifices men and women across the globe made to try to put an end to genocide and hate.
I absolutely fell in love with the characters in this story. Valka is such a smart and fierce young woman, and it was so inspiring to watch her fight to achieve her dreams and to protect the country she loves. Most of the other airwomen in this story are straight out of the history books. Gwen C. Katz did such a phenomenal job incorporating their stories into this book. I was utterly captivated by each of them and would highly recommend hopping online as you’re reading this book and learning more about these astounding women as you go.
Among the Red Stars also incorporates some important messages about friendship and the importance of women loving and supporting other women, and it includes all these vital messages and themes within a plot that is action-packed, fast-paced, and wholly entertaining.
This book is historical fiction at its finest. It not only is a wonderful story in and of itself, but it introduces you to some incredible women from history and inspires you to learn more about them. One of the things I love about historical fiction is that it opens the door for learning and personal growth if readers take the time to dig deeper. I’m so glad I got the opportunity to do so, because my reading experience with this book is one that I will never forget.
This book is perfect for fans of Code Name Verity and will certainly be enjoyed by readers of all ages.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*
About the Author
From Gwen C. Katz’s website
Gwen C. Katz is a writer, artist, game designer, and retired mad scientist easily identified by her crew cut and ability to cause trouble. Originally from Seattle, she now lives in Altadena, CA with her husband and a revolving door of transient mammals. She is represented by Thao Le of Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.
Will you be picking up a copy of Among the Red Stars in October? What are some of your favorite YA historical fiction novels?