By KELLY DE LA ROCHA
SCHENECTADY — When she was 12 years old, Anne Blankman fell in love with Anne Frank.
“I just felt like she and I could have been best friends if we had known each other,” Blankman said.
She recalled reading Frank ‘s book, “The Diary of a Young Girl,” and the devastation she felt when she discovered that the teenager’s life had been cut short during the Holocaust.
That experience provided the spark for a lifelong interest in World War II and a seed for Blankman’s first book, “Prisoner of Night and Fog” (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins), which was published this month.
Blankman’s fascination with Frank led her to research World War II at the Schenectady County Public Library, checking out books on Nazis and the French Resistance.
“I’ve been hooked ever since then,” she said.
Serena Butch, the library’s assistant director and youth services coordinator, remembers seeing Blankman there. “She used to come to our programs when she was growing up. She would always come in for suggestions and I remember her plowing through books at the library,” she recounted, noting that Blankman also served as an intern there.
Blankman graduated from Niskayuna High School in 1997 and went on to earn degrees in history and English from Union College and a master’s degree in information science from The University at Albany.
Now a resident of Yorktown, Va., she works as a librarian, but she said she has always wanted to be a writer.
“I’ve loved it ever since I could hold a pencil,” she said.
The motivation to write a novel didn’t strike at once, though.
“It really wasn’t until I had a daughter that I just stopped being afraid of rejection,” she recounted. “And I had this story idea that just completely set my mind on fire and I said, ‘I have to do this.’ “
That story idea came from the nonfiction book, “Hitler and Geli,” by Ronald Hayman. The book introduces readers to Hitler’s niece, who lived with him in Munich during the late 1920s and early 1930s, when the Nazi party was emerging from political obscurity.
Inspired by story
“I was completely fascinated by her story — what it must have been like to be growing up within the Nazi elites’ inner circle — especially as a young woman, because the Nazis were so hyper-masculine and they were so violent, especially at this point in their political history,” Blankman said. “After I finished the book, I couldn’t get her out of my head.”
Blankman’s musings produced Gretchen Muller, the fictional main character in her novel. Gretchen lives with her “Uncle Dolf” — Adolf Hitler — sheltered from the dangers of 1930s Munich. She grows up believing her father sacrificed his life to shield her uncle from bullets fired during Hitler’s 1923 attempt to overthrow the German government. But one day, a young Jewish reporter shows up with evidence that her father was actually a murder victim. Gretchen suddenly finds herself questioning everything she thought was true, and falling for the young reporter, too.
“I realized that I could basically weave this murder mystery around all these real events within Hitler’s life and the early beginnings of the Nazi party and I would have this novel that was a murder mystery, that was a forbidden romance. It’s a coming-of-age story, it’s all of these different things wrapped into one,” Blankman said.
The newly released young adult romantic thriller has a starred review in Publishers Weekly and has received other enthusiastic feedback as well.
“I think it’s going to have broad appeal because it does touch on so many of the genres,” Butch said.
Working on sequel
“Prisoner of Night and Fog” took Blankman about two years to write. She’s now putting finishing touches on a sequel, which is slated to be published in the summer of 2015. Her contract also includes a third book, which she said will be a stand-alone novel set in a different time period. She also has ideas for companion novels to “Prisoner of Night and Fog.”
Blankman will return to the Capital Region this week to speak about her novel, at Union College and at the main branch of the Schenectady County Public Library.
“It’s going to be very meaningful for me to be back there,” she said, of the venues where she will be speaking. “It kind of feels like coming full circle or coming home, so I’m really looking forward to it.”