I’ve interviewed historians, novelists, biographers, and many other types of writers for my WomensHistoryReads series, but today’s Q&Q&Q&A is a first for me: interviewing a “verse novelist!” Kip Wilson’s White Rose is a debut YA novel-in-verse about Sophie Scholl, a young student who fought the rise of the Nazis with passionate political activism and, unfortunately, paid a high price. Early reviews have been excellent and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. White Rose is slated for release on April 2, 2019.
Greer: How would you describe what you write?
Kip: Content-wise, I tend to be drawn to tragic stories that feature courageous young women, which is a pretty accurate description of Sophie Scholl and WHITE ROSE. In general, I’m fascinated by the first half of the twentieth century, an era still rife with such stories yearning to be told. Most all of my projects take place during this time.
Beyond this, as a verse novelist, my writing is necessarily sparse. I need to be able to distill what might be a page or even pages of prose into key phrases, emotions, and images. This might not seem like a good fit for historical fiction—often known for lengthy description and detailed settings—but I’ve found that verse allows me to go deeper into the protagonist’s head and emotions. The brevity of poetry lends itself really well to tragic situations, and the whitespace helps balance the heaviness of the words on the page, giving the reader room to breathe.
Greer: What’s the last book that blew you away?
Kip: I recently read FLYGIRL by Sherri L. Smith and it was amazing in every way (starting with the gorgeous cover). FLYGIRL tells the story of Ida Mae Jones, a white-passing WASP during World War II. When we look at some of the difficulties women faced throughout history, we have to remember how much more difficult all of these things were for women of color, and this novel does an excellent job of placing the reader in that exact situation, highlighting the triumphs along with those difficulties. The story is based on what real WASP went through during training and beyond, along with the racism POC faced both in the military and civilian life. Ida Mae and the other characters are so rich and nuanced—I’d follow them anywhere.
Greer: Play matchmaker: what unsung woman from history would you most like to read a book about, and who should write it?
Kip: I would love to read a novel about Freddie Oversteegen, her sister Truus, and their friend Hannie Schaft, Dutch resistance fighters during World War II who seduced and killed Nazi soldiers. I think bestselling author Marieke Nijkamp would do a fantastic job researching and writing their story.
And a question for you: we hear about certain women from history again and again while others have all but faded into the archives. How do you find the ones you think aren’t overdone but might garner enough interest from readers? For instance, how did you come across Kate Warne and decide that GIRL IN DISGUISE had the makings of a compelling story?
Greer: I love this question! I hope that one day there are so many books about Kate Warne that when a new one comes out, people groan and say, “Oh, not another one!” But we’re a long way from that, aren’t we? Kate’s an interesting case because there’s just so little in the historical record about her. Which is a common problem with researching women in history. But even with World War II history — arguably the most popular era for historical fiction in our time — there are women who have inspired a handful of tales, like the Russian night bombing squadron known as the Night Witches, and some whose names are still rarely heard, like Nancy Wake, the White Mouse. And records really can’t be an excuse there. I literally just learned last week that Christian Dior’s sister Catherine Dior was a spy for Polish intelligence and was imprisoned in a concentration camp before being freed and testifying against her Nazi captors. Now isn’t that a story we should know? I think nearly any story can be compelling if told expertly, but there are definitely some that are easier to tell than others. I’m just glad that we’re writing in a time where people are open to historical fiction as a way of learning more about the past. I think it’s an amazingly powerful tool.