I was born and raised in Michigan, the youngest of three, in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. I grew up in a mid-century modern neighborhood full of creative characters and told anyone who would listen that I was going to marry Roald Dahl. I attended public schools with gray tile floors and had amazing teachers who inspired me. I then went off to Hillsdale College to study opera but changed gears, majored in International Finance, and lived in Europe. While in Paris I decided I wanted to live my life as a pretentious bon vivant so two weeks after graduation I moved to Los Angeles and began working in the music industry. For nearly fifteen years I survived the earthquakes, the fires, the smog, and polished my defensive driving skills on the 405. Then one Friday, while staring at a package of hot dogs in the grocery, I had an epiphany that I needed to move to Tennessee.
So I did.
Although I continued my music work in Tennessee, the beautiful scenery and pace of life allowed me to slow down, take a breath, and read. I contemplated becoming a hermit in the woods behind the library but was quickly reminded by my parents that I was in danger of becoming a dowdy old maid with no one to discuss books or music with. Since Roald Dahl had inconveniently kicked the bucket, I decided I needed to find a beautiful boy and get married.
So I did.
I now live in a treehouse in the hills of Tennessee. In addition to music and writing, I enjoy serving on the Board at the University, collecting eccentric art, and pondering life’s mysteries over long meals with my friends and family. I have a passionate love for paper and vintage ephemera. I’m quite good at crying, dancing like a strumpet, laughing too loud, and traveling. In my travels, I have visited 42 countries on six continents. My adventures have inspired dozens of stories and seeing that I am fond of both sitting and being melodramatic, my husband suggested I become an author.
So I did.
Between Shades of Gray was my first published novel and was inspired by my father who escaped from Lithuania when he was a young boy. I cried a lot while writing the book and will probably get teary discussing it with you. I am intensely proud to be Lithuanian, even if that means I have a name no one can pronounce. My second book, Out of the Easy, combines my love for New Orleans, historical scandal, and the idea that we are most perfect in our imperfection. Salt to the Sea is my most recent effort and shares the story of the refugee evacuation through East Prussia and the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Writing the novel has thoroughly reinforced every phobia I’ve ever had about sailing and cruise ships.
I love my job. I love hidden history. I love meeting readers. My books are published in over forty-five countries and I’m on a mission to tour every one of them.
So that’s a bit about me.
A lovely librarian emailed me for information and suggested I write a bio.
So I did.
Q: How do you pronounce your name?
A: Ready? Here ya go – Roota Suh-pettys
Q: Your name is Lithuanian. Why don’t you speak Lithuanian?
A: My father was born in Lithuania and immigrated to the United States with his family after fleeing from Stalin. He met a beautiful American woman in Detroit. They fell in love and got married. Being American, my mom did not speak Lithuanian. So they spoke English in the house and hence their children are not fluent in Lithuanian.
Q: What inspired you to write “Between Shades of Gray?”
A: During a trip to Lithuania I visited my father’s cousin. I asked if she had any photos of my father or grandparents. “Oh, no,” she replied. “We burned them all.” She then proceeded to tell me that for nearly a decade the family thought my grandfather was dead. I was shocked, but I knew that my family’s history was not unique. There are millions of people whose lives were taken or affected during the Soviet occupation. Yet very few people know the story. I wanted to write a novel to honor the people of the Baltics and also to illustrate the power of love and patriotism.
Q: What sort of research did you do in writing “Between Shades of Gray?”
A: I took two research trips to Lithuania while writing the novel. I interviewed family members, survivors of the deportations, survivors of the gulags, psychologists, historians and government officials. The experience was life-altering. I spent time in one of the train cars that was used for the deportations. I also agreed to take part in an extreme simulation experiment and was locked in a former Soviet prison. Let’s just say the experience left me certain that I never would have survived the deportations.
Q: How much of “Between Shades of Gray” is real?
A: The characters are fictional, but their circumstances and many experiences described in the novel were based on actual stories told to me by survivors.
Q: Why did you choose New Orleans as the setting for “Out of the Easy?”
A: New Orleans is unlike any city in America. Its cultural diversity is woven into the food, the music, the architecture — even the local superstitions. It’s a sensory experience on all levels and there’s a story lurking around every corner.
Q: Are the characters in “Out of the Easy” real people?
A: All of the main characters are fictional, but the character of Willie was inspired by New Orleans madam, Norma Wallace.
Q: How did you research “Out of the Easy?”
A: I took several trips to New Orleans and spent many days at the Williams Research Center in the French Quarter. I combed library archives and newspaper archives, reading stories about the time period. I walked Josie’s paths that I describe in the book and interviewed residents of the French Quarter who had an intimate knowledge of the underbelly of the city in the 1950’s.
Q: What is your writing process like?
A: I wouldn’t call it a “process.” It’s more stream of consciousness. Unfortunately, I don’t have large blocks of time to sit and write. I snatch bits and pieces when I can, which often means in traffic, on planes, or very early in the morning. I always carry paper and pen with me. I often write dialogue longhand. I’ll see a scene (as if I’m watching a movie) and the characters will just start talking. I recently wrote several chapters of my latest book while sitting on the edge of the bathtub. Sometimes, while on long drives, I’ll write by recording myself speaking the narrative and dialogue into a recorder or my cell phone. So essentially, I just let it flow, whatever comes to mind. I’m a big reviser. In fact, maybe I’m more of a reviser than a writer.
Q: What sort of advice do you have for young writers?
A: 1. Join SCBWI and attend to some of their conferences. www.scbwi.org
2. Join a critique group. It will help your writing immensely. Having several people read your work and give you feedback can be very enlightening. It’s also fun to share your writing journey with other writers.
3. Get your heart broken, thrown on the ground and stomped on a few times. Take a whirl at being an outcast, a total loser, or being publicly humiliated. Although painful at the time, it will provide great material for future books.
4. Read. Good writers are great readers. Read hundreds of books. Seriously.