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This week author Jason K. Foster stops by my blog to chat about his latest book Hadamar: The House of Shudders, as part of the Books on Tour blog tour for the title.

Published by Big Sky, Hadamar is a historical fiction novel marketed as a YA/adult crossover. Please note: based on the numerous sections of the novel I have read, I would personally consider this an adult title, more than YA, due to the horrors depicted in it and the fact that so much of the story is based on real facts.

However, as we all know, different children have different likes and dislikes and can cope with different things in books, so I suggest parents, teachers, librarians, and others read the novel themselves and consider whether it is appropriate for the teens in their life or not.

Now, let’s find out more about what inspired Jason to write Hadamar, and some of the process behind writing and publishing it…

Welcome, Jason! Can you please tell us a bit about your book?

Die Schwarze Schande. The black shame.

Die Schwarz Schmach. The black disgrace.

Ingrid Marchand does not understand why they called her these names. To the people of the patriotic, southern German town of Mainz, Ingrid is a ‘Rhinelander bastard’; the child of a black French soldier and a German mother. To the Rhinelanders, Ingrid is a constant reminder of Germany’s humiliating loss in the First World War.

As the Nazis consolidate their power in their offices in Berlin two committees are created that will alter Ingrid’s life in ways she cannot imagine. The first is the Gestapo’s Special Commission Number 3 – ordering that all Rhinelander Bastards, and coloured German’s are to be sterilized. As a Mischlinge (mixed race child), Ingrid fulfils the necessary classifications and she is taken by the Gestapo to a hospital and her chance of ever having children is taken from her forever.

Meanwhile, in an office on Tiergartenstrasse 4, a street in Berlin, Hitler also signs off on the euthanasia program giving Nazis doctors free rein to remove Germany of their undesirables, to euthanize the mentally defective, the deaf, the sick, alcoholics, the insane, the crazy and, lastly, children of a different colour. They called it Gnadentod, a merciful death.

Every disabled child in the State is examined to determine whether they constituted Lebensunswerte Leben, life not worth living. The German doctors appear at the Marchand’s door, forcing Ingrid’s mother to sign her rights away. Ingrid is taken a mental institution, Hadamar.

Hadamar is a novel aimed at a YA/adult crossover audience with the intention of reminding us all that if we forget our past then we are condemned to repeat our mistakes in the future.

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What was the inspiration behind it?

Throughout my years of teaching it feels to me that children and young adults are fascinated by the Holocaust. Not because of the atrocities, but because they cannot understand how one group of people could brutalise and systematically murder another.

In 2015, I was teaching a Year 9 Gifted and Talented class. They raced through the curriculum, wanting to know more about Nazi eugenics policies. I freely admitted to them that my knowledge on this topic was limited. I would teach them more but I would need to do more study. As such, I came across the Aktion T-4 program: the official Nazi policy to provide Gnadentod (a merciful death) to the people they classified as Lebenunswerte Leben (lives not worthy of living).

The more research I did the more I realised there were many scientific and psychology articles and books on Hadamar and other institutions like it but there was little in the way of novelised storytelling and even less meant for a YA audience. Given the interest shown by the children in the children of the past: I knew this was a part of history that I needed to tell.

When beginning Hadamar I wrote a few sample chapters based on my preliminary research and decided to test it out on my target audience, giving chapters to several students from my class. Thankfully, their feedback was extremely positive, and I decided to write the remainder of the manuscript.

What came first, the story or the character?

This is a difficult question to answer in the sense that I wanted to have a character of African descent because I wanted to juxtapose that with the Nazi’s Aryan policies. After my research I knew the events that transpired at Hadamar but I also knew that this was the character I wanted to have throughout the story.

So, it was a combination of both. As the character in my mind grew in complexity, so I amended the story to suit. However, given that much of the novel is based on true events and I attempted to stick as closely to the facts as I could. Ingrid the character appeared in my mind first but her reactions to the events going on around her I fitted to the facts of the historical narrative.

What kind of research did you do for this book?

I was acutely aware of trying to get the book as historically accurate as possible. Hundreds of hours of research went into the planning stage and, the longer I went, the more I realised there was actually plethora of information available from American military documents, court trials, museums and even American footage on YouTube of their time in the camp.

Much of the historical detail comes from the United States Holocaust Museum and other Holocaust memorial websites. I also have extensive practise in academic research both through my own studies at university and from teaching students how to do so through teaching History Extension. Hence, I scoured numerous databases, such as JSTOR, trying to find anything I could.

Also available online was the American court documents and legal transcripts of the Hadamar Trial in PDF format which proved extremely helpful to get historical facts correct. The actual stock footage of the Americans arriving at the camp and some aspects of life in the camp has also been uploaded to YouTube. Equally, many historical photos are also available online. Lastly, I came across transcripts and audio recordings of some of the men who were the first to liberate the camp, particularly that of George Jaeger.

How long did it take to write?

From inception of idea to final drafting – it took about 3 years. I had an initial draft done in about six months but I realised I had not done anywhere near enough research and I needed to do more.

I would estimate that, by final drafts, I have done more than a dozen drafts and redrafts of the book.

I also had several quality editors work on the book and each time one of them went through and gave me advice I would have to rewrite and because I had an alternative set of eyes looking at the book they would pick up historical points that I needed to clarify of that they wanted to know more about. Therefore, I would have to go and do further research and, depending on what the point was, I might have to do more drafts.

What do you hope readers take away from the story after having read it?

In writing Hadamar I wanted students need to think about the importance of their own education. I wanted to highlight both the importance of children to a society but equally how a totalitarian society will attempt to indoctrinate its children so that future generations will grow up believing their twisted ideologies.

After reading the book, I want children and young adults to take what they have learned and apply it to their own world. To learn the importance of thinking for themselves, to understand that hatred in any form is never acceptable. No one is better or worse than others, especially not based on skin colour or physical or mental makeup. It takes all of us to make the world a better place. 

Hadamar is meant to shock its readers. Not to bring prominence to the horrors that occurred within the House of Shudders but to highlight that, when people stand by or blindly follow hateful ideologies, they give free reign to madmen to implement equally insane policies. No matter the excuses the adults involved in the Aktion T-4 program gave: there can never be a justification for a society based to exterminate its own children.

This is historical fiction, but do you see any particular parallels between the period in the book, and today? 

Although the book is marketed as historical fiction as I fictionalised the main protagonist – most of the book is based on historical fact. One of my main intentions was to show the parallels between the time period of the book and today. As Ingrid states in the prelude – ‘In recent times, America has become in many ways like Nazi Germany. The politicians have used mass media here in the same way the Nazis did – and an unpredictable man has come to power.’

Can you tell us about the process of getting this book published? 

I have already published three other books with Big Sky Publishing but the process was the same. People sometimes have the misconception that, just because you have published a book with a publishing company, they will automatically publish whatever you write. However, you still have to pitch the idea, write a synopsis, submit sample chapters etc.

Also, one slight problem with a female protagonist – I am not a female. So, fortuitously, I had Diane Evans at Big Sky and other female editors go through the book to give it the feminine touch. Several times she and others pointed out that women would not say or think in a certain way. 

 Want to find out more? Check out where else Jason is stopping by on his blog tour for Hadamar over the coming weeks:

AUTHOR  and ILLUSTRATOR INTERVIEW: Jacqui Halpin and Sandra Severgnini

AUTHOR and ILLUSTRATOR INTERVIEW: Jacqui Halpin and Sandra Severgnini