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Lithuanian Women With Wings Struggle to Survive

| Format: Written | Contributor:

 Above Us Only Sky by Michele Young-Stone

An Authorlink interview with Michele Young-Stone,

Author of Above Us Only Sky

By Diane Slocum

All Prudence Vilkas knows about her heritage is that she was born with wings. They were removed at her birth, and only a few years later, her mother removes her more completely from the Vilkas heritage by running off from her husband. Only much later, Prudence learns of her Lithuanian grandfather and German grandmother.

Above Us Only Sky
by Michelle Young-Stone
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The Vilkas story covers generations of heartache beginning with the Russian Czar’s Cossacks deporting Lithuanians from their homeland. After about two generations, some return, only to be brutalized by the Soviets, who are then followed by World War II Nazis. Learning the Vilkas stories of survival, and loving her grandfather, fill empty places in Prudence’s life and she learns she is not the only bird woman in the family.

“. . . many Baltic folktales revolve around vast-winged birds.”

AUTHORLINK: How did you get the idea to write about women with wings?

YOUNG-STONE: I have always loved birds, and then I had this idea/image of a teenage girl climbing onto a school bus with homemade cardboard wings with craft-store feathers glued onto them. She was born with wings. They were her birthright. While I was writing the novel, I kept finding injured birds. Some of them, I was able to save, but not all of them. Additionally, as I researched Lithuania, I discovered that many Baltic folktales revolve around vast-winged birds.

“. . . I wanted to tell not only the Lithuanian story, but a piece of Germany’s story, of Russia’s story, of the displaced person and the immigrant’s story.”

AUTHORLINK: Where did you get your interest in Lithuania?

YOUNG-STONE: I knew a man who lived in Lithuania when the country was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1940. His family was one of thousands persecuted by Josef Stalin. Later, the Germans broke their pact with the Soviets, invading Lithuania, and the man I knew fled with the German army. This idea of a small country with a distinct national identity sandwiched and caught between two evil forces fascinated me. In the United States, I’d learned about the Holocaust. As an English teacher, I taught the Diary of Anne Frank; I researched the concentration camps where artists were held. I couldn’t perceive an evil that rivaled the Nazi’s brutality; I knew very little about the genocide inflicted by the Soviet Union against her own people and neighboring nations. When I started digging and discovered that there were no trials for the millions who were tortured, murdered and worked to death, I knew that I needed to tell the story. I don’t write history. I write fiction. Thus, I wanted to tell not only the Lithuanian story, but a piece of Germany’s story, of Russia’s story, of the displaced person and the immigrant’s story. It’s all part of a larger story.

AUTHORLINK: Why did you decide to blend the fanciful with brutal reality?

YOUNG-STONE: Brutality is raw, and should be viewed through a lens. I don’t think of magical realism as being anything but one of many ways to perceive reality. It’s altered or twisted, completely subjective, like all reality. Anyone who is imprisoned dreams of freedom. The prisoner dreams of birds, of being able to fly away. As I was writing my book, I realized that even a person born with wings may not be able to fly. I had this image of a bird’s egg cracking open, the soul escaping in the cold Siberian air. We escape through art and our imaginations. The mind is the most powerful lens.

AUTHORLINK: What did you do for research?

YOUNG-STONE: I read newspaper articles, nonfiction, and autobiographies. I watched documentaries and firsthand accounts on YouTube.

“My stories always come out crazy, all over the place, and then I have to figure out how to put them together in a way that makes sense. “

AUTHORLINK: Since the story is non-linear and follows several protagonists, how did you figure out how to piece it together?

YOUNG-STONE: I have no idea. My stories always come out crazy, all over the place, and then I have to figure out how to put them together in a way that makes sense. By the time I’m finished with a novel, I can’t remember how it first came together. With this book, the early drafts were nothing like the finished product.

It was important to me to show that the Russian people suffered as much as their invaded comrades. I wanted to make sure that I included multiple perspectives. First and foremost, I concentrated on character.

AUTHORLINK: You packed a lot of stories and history into a relatively short book. Did you have to do much editing from first draft to final manuscript?

YOUNG-STONE: You bet. I rewrote the novel multiple times, cutting scenes, adding new scenes, and changing point of view and perspective. My finished novels never come easy.

AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?

YOUNG-STONE: I am working on a book currently titled G, about Gloria Ricci, a young woman who grows up with ghosts after her mother’s twins die at birth. As Gloria searches for love in the 1960s and 70s, she finds it first in another young woman and next in a gay young man, neither way acceptable in American society. G spans post WWII America up to the 1980s. It is a story about ghosts and love, about cities and young girls burning in the 1960s. It is a novel about breaking free from one’s wretched past. …It’s a big book.

About the Author:

Michele Young-Stone quit teaching to follow her dream as a writer. Her first published novel is The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, followed by Above Us Only Sky. She lives in North Carolina’s Outer Banks with her husband and son.

Diane Slocum
Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum

Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.