The morn­ing after the 2016 elec­tion, I sat on the floor of my bath­room wait­ing for the show­er to warm up, and thought to myself, I have to get fit. So I can sur­vive the camps.”

It was a dev­as­tat­ing thought. I am sit­ting at my com­put­er writ­ing this for you because my great-grand­par­ents escaped from East­ern Europe. The fam­i­ly mem­bers who did not leave per­ished at Babi Yar. Buchen­wald. Dachau. And at oth­er mas­sacres and pogroms through­out East­ern Europe.

The camps have not come for me (yet). But every­thing else I feared would hap­pen has hap­pened at a more accel­er­at­ed pace than even my worst night­mares. And for those more mar­gin­al­ized than me — peo­ple of col­or, Mus­lims, immi­grants, Lati­nos — the effects of the cur­rent administration’s poli­cies have been even more severe­ly and swift­ly felt. These are facts.

I got off the floor. I show­ered. I got to work. What else could I do?

At the time, I was writ­ing the sec­ond book in my Bal­loon­mak­ers series. In this series, blood mag­ic becomes a way to free peo­ple from places of oppres­sion to places of free­dom, start­ing with the Holo­caust. In the first book, The Girl with the Red Bal­loon, which came out just over two months before the elec­tion, a Jew­ish teenag­er from our time, Ellie Baum, acci­den­tal­ly time trav­els to 1988 East Berlin where she’s pulled into a con­spir­a­cy of his­to­ry and mag­ic. How she got there, and the mag­ic that’s being cre­at­ed, is relat­ed to how her grand­fa­ther escaped a death camp.

The sec­ond book, the one I was writ­ing, The Spy with the Red Bal­loon, was about two Jew­ish-Amer­i­can sib­lings, Wolf and Ilse, being pulled into WWII and find­ing their mag­ic to be an impor­tant asset. In my orig­i­nal pro­pos­al for this book, nei­ther Ilse nor Wolf knew about their mag­ic at the start of the sto­ry. Wolf became a pilot, and Ilse went to Oak Ridge to work on the Man­hat­tan Project. I had Ilse dis­cov­er her mag­ic at about the same time Wolf was shot down and impris­oned in Berga, a con­cen­tra­tion camp where hun­dreds of Jew­ish or Jew­ish sus­pect­ed Amer­i­can POWs were held.

In anoth­er world — the one where Nazis were not prais­ing the pres­i­dent on Twit­ter, where Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty cen­ters weren’t receiv­ing bomb threats, and Mus­lims were not being banned from enter­ing the coun­try — that’s the ver­sion of the book I would have written.

But I didn’t write the book in that world.

I wrote it in ours.

I sat down to write Ilse’s half of the book, and the words came. But every time I need­ed to write a chap­ter about Wolf, I froze. I was sick to my stom­ach. I could not write a con­cen­tra­tion camp, or even read about it for research, while I feared being in one, or wit­ness­ing oth­ers being tak­en to them.

By late Feb­ru­ary 2017, I was star­ing defeat in the eyes. I could smell its breath. It looked like a dead­line, and a quar­ter of a nov­el that wasn’t work­ing, and a top­ic I couldn’t even think about. I had to email my agent, and then my edi­tor to say I’m strug­gling. The book I pro­posed isn’t the book that I can write, not any­more. I talked with writer friends and came up with a new plot, one that felt doable while tack­ling the same themes, issues, and rela­tion­ships as the first plot. It was still about World War II and the Man­hat­tan Project. It was still about sib­lings. It was still about Wolf and Ilse and the lim­i­ta­tions and ambi­tions of mag­ic users in this world.

But instead of being trapped in a con­cen­tra­tion camp, Wolf is now a spy behind ene­my lines, steal­ing Germany’s nuclear secrets and destroy­ing their labs so they can’t build the nuclear bomb first. I gave Wolf the free­dom of move­ment and choice; I gave him the agency to do what I need­ed to read char­ac­ters doing. He punch­es Nazis. He kiss­es some­one he loves, regard­less of what soci­ety says. He finds him­self and who he wants to be in the world despite of, or because of, the con­flict and upheaval around him.

I wrote the book I need to read right now, an anti­dote to the polit­i­cal real­i­ties of our time. I wrote about queer Jew­ish teens fight­ing for the world they want over the world they live in, about a girl who strug­gles with the moral­i­ty of what she’s sup­posed to be doing and her sense of patri­o­tism, about a boy who is fero­cious­ly loy­al and sin­gle-mind­ed, and believes that prin­ci­ples still have a place in a time of war.

And though I some­times won­der what the oth­er, alter­nate-world ver­sion of The Spy with the Red Bal­loon looks like, I am proud of what it became.

Kather­ine Locke lives and writes in Philadel­phia, where she’s ruled by her feline over­lords and her addic­tion to chai lattes. She writes about that which she can­not do: bal­let time trav­el and mag­ic. When she’s not writ­ing she’s prob­a­bly tweet­ing. She not-so-secret­ly believes most sto­ries are fairy tales in dis­guise. Her Young Adult debut, The Girl with the Red Bal­loon, won a 2018 Syd­ney Tay­lor Hon­or Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries and a 2018 Car­olyn W. Field Hon­or Award from the Penn­syl­va­nia Library Asso­ci­a­tion. You can find her online @bibliogato on Twit­ter and Instagram.