Thursday, August 26, 2010

Erin Bow Interview

Today's author interview is with Erin Bow, author of the upcoming book, PLAIN KATE!

1. If you could time travel for one year, which century would you go? Why?

Hmmm. Reading Connie Willis and her time-traveling historians has made me shy of time travel. It seems likely to get one killed. But if I could magically stay safe, there's much I'd like to see. The classicist in me wants to see Greece in the 5th century BCE, to meet Sophocles the great playwright, or Thucydides the inventor of history -- or maybe go a little further back, to meet Sappho and smuggle out a copy of her works. The writer wants to go to the Aztec empire, the setting of a book I'm working on. And the fan girl in me wants to go to the 51st century and hang out with Captain Jack.

2. I read PLAIN KATE was inspired by Russian fairytales. Have you always been interested in them?

I've been interested in Russia since discovering the poems of Anna Akhmatova in high school. I have read a lot of Russian poetry and have huge swaths of it memorized. And I've been interested in fairy tales for years. But I actually didn't combine the two and start reading Russian fairy tales until right before I started writing Plain Kate. They blew me away.

3. How was your publishing experience? Hard? Easy?

Ridiculously easy. It's a little obnoxious, actually. I landed the first agent I approached, the one at the very tippy-top of my wishlist. Later she sent the book out to an amazing list of editors, and got five offers, and then managed a nail-biting week-long auction.

I am thrilled to have landed with Arthur A. Levine at Scholastic. First, because Arthur entirely deserves his reputation as a genius editor. And second, because the book could have no better cheerleader. I was at Book Expo when he got up in front of a packed ballroom and told them about the book's he's worked on: THE GOLDEN COMPASS, HARRY POTTER, and PLAIN KATE. I just about swooned.

4. What is your favorite food?

I love to cook and like to try something new every week: scallop chevice! Korean spare ribs! Cashew pork! But if I had to go to a desert island, I would bring hot buttered popcorn. Oh! And maybe homemade chocolate chip cookies, warm ones with gooey bits and thin crispy edges, and cold cold milk.

5. How did the idea for PLAIN KATE come to you?

I actually remember the moment. I had just finished reading this three-volume set of Russian Fairy Tales. I had been talking to my dad about a woodworking project of his. And I was on a plane. I was, in fact, returning home from a seven-cities-in-five-days trip, and I was so tired I was a bit woozy. I put my head against the glass and watched the plane take off and leave its shadow on the ground -- that shadow shrinking and getting stranger and fading away. I opened up my notebook and wrote: "A long time ago, in a market town by a looping river, there lived an orphan girl named Plain Kate." There she was: Katerina Svetlana, a woodcarver and the daughter of a carver, forced to sell her shadow to a wandering magician, up to no good. I didn't know anything else, but I had her, had Kate.

Wood carving, Russia, fairy tales, the shadow -- that's where the idea came from. But where did the girl come from, that's what I want to know.

6. Can you relate to Plain Kate? Any of your characters?

Of course. I would find it hard to write about people who I can't relate to. Kate had my relationship to art (I write, she carves) and her fundamental sorrow, loneliness, is mine, too. She's smart, like me, and plain-spoken, but prone to self-doubt.

I relate to the others too. Taggle's feline sense of entitlement is all to easy to channel. His sense that words change one is my sense exactly. Drina is warm, like me, and buckles in a crisis just as I might. Even the villain, Linay, got my grief (I also have a sister who drowned) and my guilt and my mad need to put things right.

7. What are five things no one knows about you?

-I haven't been to mass regularly since my sister died, but I still say the rosary in secret.
-I'm badly claustrophobic.
-I buy eggs from freedom-loving hippy chickens, but I secretly think they taste just like regular eggs.
-I daydream about buying bigger house just so I can plant a bigger garden. five kinds of tomatoes! A bank of lavender!
-when I became a Canadian citizen, I had to take an oath of loyalty to the queen. I crossed my fingers behind my back.


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