Ruta Sepetys Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Ruta Sepetys
Photo: Magda Staroweiyska

Ruta Sepetys

How to pronounce Ruta Sepetys: Roota Suh-pettys

An interview with Ruta Sepetys

Ruta Sepetys discusses the inspiration for her new book, Out of the Easy, which allowed her to indulge her love of history while researching New Orleans' dramatic past.



Ruta Sepetys discusses Out of The Easy

How did you create Josie Moraine?

Years ago I was part of a mentoring program for young women. I met girls who were swept into the dysfunctional current that surrounded their home life. But I also met young women who made difficult decisions and divorced themselves from a negative environment. That's incredibly hard. Those girls inspired me. They taught me that we can learn to fly, even if we're born with broken wings. The idea of that broken, yet beautiful bird became Josie Moraine.


Why New Orleans?

My introduction to New Orleans came through a vintage pair of opera glasses I received for my birthday. The glasses, still in their original case from the jeweler in New Orleans, were engraved and dated as a gift from someone named Willie. I'm nuts about history, so I hired a researcher to trace the origin of the glasses. I learned that Willie was a woman in the French Quarter. And the jeweler who sold Willie the glasses? Poisoned. He ate a dozen oysters in the Quarter and kicked the bucket. My fascination with New Orleans was born.


And what about brothels?

One rainy day in Los Angeles I jumped into a book store to avoid getting wet. I saw The Last Madam: A Life in the New Orleans Underworld by Christine Wiltz on display. I snapped it up. The book chronicled the life of New Orleans madam, Norma Wallace. I read it in one sitting, fascinated with every detail. Fast forward twelve years and I was standing under the Spanish moss in front of Christine Wiltz's home in New Orleans. We spent a long day discussing madams, gangsters, and how Norma ran her business. Meeting Christine was such a highlight and inspired me on so many levels!


How did you research the book?


I took several trips to New Orleans and spent many days at the Williams Research Center. I also combed library archives. I walked Josie's paths that I describe in the book. Christine Wiltz connected me with people who had intimate knowledge of the underbelly of the city. My meetings were both fascinating and terrifying. I couldn't sleep at night. Scandals, murders, crooks and crime–all beyond your wildest imagination. And as a writer, I loved it!

The most incredible part of my research was being allowed into Norma Wallace's former brothel. I based Willie's house on Norma's. Standing in Norma's old bedroom, I imagined how Josie would bring Willie her coffee, where she'd count the money. I saw the girls' rooms upstairs, the hiding places, and the escape route through the courtyard when the cops would show up. I could hear the voices of the characters in my head so clearly. I hope their personalities come across in the book.


Why 1950?

I chose the historical setting of post-war America because it's complex and often misunderstood. Following WWII, the U.S. experienced unparalleled prosperity. But "The American Dream" for some became the quiet nightmare for others. Societal pressures to conform were severe and deep tensions developed across social, racial, and gender lines. People escaped these pressures in various ways and the alluring "come hither" of New Orleans was one of them. But for some, "The Big Easy" was more than they could handle. People kept a lot of secrets back then. Illness and family troubles were often hidden from the public. Sometimes, what looked perfect on the outside was quietly rotting on the inside.


Did the time period inspire the creation of the characters?

Well, the more I researched the time period, the surface sparkle faded to reveal a fair amount of pain. Learning of that pain helped me create characters like Willie, Patrick, Jesse, and Josie, who are all full of secrets, yet also quietly full of love. I then tried to contrast that pain with people like Cokie, Forrest Hearne, Charlotte, and Miss Paulsen – beautiful souls whose kindness and encouragement plant seeds of hope that eventually sprout courage.


And why Smith?

When I was fourteen I visited my older sister who was doing her undergrad at Smith. I was impressed not only by the incredibly intelligent women, but by the varied backgrounds they came from. My preconceptions had been all wrong. The diversity made an inspiring impression on me, so much so that decades later I wove it into this novel.


So how would you sum up the book?

I'd say it's a story about decisions and how they shape our destiny. Teenagers are constantly facing difficult decisions and are often worried about being perfect. But some of the most interesting people are those we can't categorize. Those are the characters I love to create, those who remind us that beauty can be perfect in imperfection. So I put a character who is perceived as broken in a situation of decision making. Sometimes, small acts of kindness and respect can impact young people more than we'll ever know. It could be a teacher, like Miss Paulsen, who believes in a student. Or it could be a David Copperfield, like Forrest Hearne, who inspires someone to dream big. Right now there's a teenager somewhere who is about to put on shoes that will take them in the wrong direction. We all know how easy it is to make bad decisions. But who knows, maybe they'll decide to put on the brown loafers…and step out of the easy.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Books by this Author

Books by Ruta Sepetys at BookBrowse
The Fountains of Silence jacket Salt to the Sea jacket Out of The Easy jacket Between Shades of Gray jacket
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Ruta Sepetys but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • Marcus J. Guillory

    Marcus J. Guillory

    Marcus J. Guillory is one of the most talented emerging writers in America today. His short stories have been published in Outcry Magazine, Secret Attic (UK), and Dogmatika Magazine, among others. Guillory has also produced ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Out of The Easy

    Try:
    Red Now and Laters
    by Marcus J. Guillory

  • Monica Hesse

    Monica Hesse

    Monica Hesse is the national bestselling author of the true crime love story American Fire and the Edgar Award-winning young adult historical mystery novel Girl in the Blue Coat, which has been translated into a dozen ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    The Fountains of Silence

    Try:
    Girl in the Blue Coat
    by Monica Hesse

We recommend 14 similar authors

View all 14 Readalikes

Non-members can see 2 results. Become a member
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Big Vape
    Big Vape
    by Jamie Ducharme
    In Big Vape, TIME reporter Jamie Ducharme studies the short but inflammatory history of Juul. Her ...
  • Book Jacket: Love and Fury
    Love and Fury
    by Samantha Silva
    Mary Wollstonecraft is best known for being an early advocate for women's rights and the mother of ...
  • Book Jacket: Walking on Cowrie Shells
    Walking on Cowrie Shells
    by Nana Nkweti
    The stories in Nana Nkweti's dexterous debut collection examine the raw alienation of being ...
  • Book Jacket: The Personal Librarian
    The Personal Librarian
    by Marie Benedict, Victoria Christopher Murray
    The Personal Librarian drew a robust positive response from our First Impressions reviewers, ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The War Nurse
by Tracey Enerson Wood
A sweeping novel by an international bestselling author based on a true World War I story.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Forest of Vanishing Stars
    by Kristin Harmel

    An evocative coming-of-age World War II story from the author of The Book of Lost Names.

  • Book Jacket

    Lady Sunshine
    by Amy Mason Doan

    One iconic family. One summer of secrets. The dazzling spirit of 1970s California.

Win This Book!
Win Gordo

Gordo by Jaime Cortez

"Dark and hilarious ... singular and soaring ... Hands down, top debut of 2021."—Literary Hub

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

N Say N

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.