Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Erin Bow Interview

Hey guys! Here is an interview with Erin Bow author of Plain Kate. I had the pleasure of doing a review on Plain Kate last year. If you haven't read the novel, get to your local bookstore/library now!

You're an American, but now a Canadian citizen. So where did the Russian background come into play for Plain Kate?

The short answer is I read this three-volume set of Russian Fairy tales just before I started the book. The longer answer is that I've long been a Russophile -- I have great swaths of Pushkin memorized, for instance. I'm not Russian by background, but I feel in love with the poet Anna Ahkmatova in high school and have been reading the Russians ever since.

But the fairy tales -- they blew me away. They have a dark, rough magic, less familiar than the Grimm tales, less cosy. I love their strangeness, and I hope some of their ancient freshness and their magic came through in my KATE.

Both you and your husband are writers. There must be a lot of creativity in that house?!

There are a lot of books in the house, anyway: several thousand. And usually a lot of paper. And some times -- two writers, no day job -- not a lot of money, which can be hard.

But I love being married to another writer. We talk about writing; we read each other's work; we support each other unconditionally and without competition. It can be a lonely, insular, weird thing, writing, and while there's no avoiding that, it's at least good to have someone to be lonely and insular and weird with.

Poetry appears to be easier to write than a novel, in my experience. Which do you find happens with you?

Well, a poem is (say) 50 words, and a novel is upward of 50,000. Would you believe me if I said that the 50 words are harder?

Each word in a poem is harder, anyway. Writing a poem is like writing a spell; it has to be perfect; it has to be organic; it has to seem effortless. And you have to start again every time you want a new poem.

A novel can be banged together more roughly -- you can sketch stuff in and come back to it later. And you can carry the world in your head; you don't have to make a new one every single day. But of course a novel much longer, and there's the whole issue of plot -- getting the story right. That's the level on which it the spell has to work, and a spell of that size and power is incredibly hard.

Your poetry has been given a CBC Canadian Literary Award. Do you have any in mind you would like acheived for your novel?

Well, sure! I'll take a Printz, please! Or how about a Newbery? Or a (Canadian) Governor General's?

Seriously, I feel as if I've already won the lottery with landing Arthur Levine as PLAIN KATE'S editor. He's a genius; the people at Scholastic are wonderful -- I couldn't be happier, and I want nothing more.

What book (s) are you currently reading?

Just at this second I'm reading Magic Thief: Found, by Sarah Prineas. It's the third book in the Magic Thief series. These are so much fun. As a writer admire what Sarah's pulled off, too. Her narrator Conn feels things so strongly -- and never ever talks about that. The smallest reaction from him hits you hard. There was a point in book two where he stuttered a little and my heart was just broken -- I am going to study these until I figure out how the author did that.

I'm also reading a book of Mayan and Aztec folklore, and a book of poetry by Lawrence Raab.

Have you ever thought of incorporating your phsyics studies into any kind of poetry or novels?

I did study physics, and spent some time at CERN, the supercollider near Geneva. The publicity people always make much of this, and I guess it is out-of-the-common as writers' educations go. But it doesn't seem strange to me: it's just a different way of playing close attention -- as poets do -- and telling stories to make sense of the world -- as novelists do.

But a CERN-like setting or a physicist protagonist seem a little unlikely right now. At the moment my controlling obsessions as a writer are memory, regret, and second chances, which seems to mean that I write ghost stories. There might be something at the intersection of ghosts and physics, but I haven't found it yet.

What are your thoughts on books turned into movies?

Depends on the book and the movie.If the director is smart enough to know the interior experiences that words can give need to be changed into something we can, you know, see -- then the movie can be wonderful. I'd rather see movies that make these changes, like the recent Lord of the Rings films, than ones that are faithful and literal and lifeless, like the first two Harry Potter movies.

Can you recall your first written piece?

According to family legend, I've been writing since I had to dictate stuff. My earliest surviving work is a song called "No Dogs Allowed in the Grocery Store," to the tune of "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho," written when I was three. I will leave you to imagine what a masterpiece it is.

How did you come up with the title of The Mongoose Diaries

The Mongoose Diaries is a memoir of my first year as a mom. Mongoose was -- still is -- my daughter's nickname: she is a skinny sharp-nosed bright-eyed meerkat of a person, ferocious and fast-moving and terrifyingly smart. And since I drew the book out of my diary, it does seem like a natural title.

That said, I didn't come up with it myself. Possibly by that stage my brain had shut down with mom fatigue, because I had no idea what the book should be called. I took suggestions on my blog, and my mother-in-law named it.

What was your Book Expo experience like this year?

Exhilarating. Exhausting. Stunning. For starters, Scholastic sent a stretch limo to the train station for my family and me. I'm trying hard not to minimize my work as a poet, but do you know one thing poets never get? Limos. My four-year-old Fancy-Nancy daughter was in heaven.

Arthur Levine got up in front of a huge ballroom full of people and compared my book to others he'd worked on: Harry Potter, the Golden Compass. He said Kate was "eternal." I almost fainted. And the next day I read in front of another huge crowd, and signed so many books that I lost the trick of my signature and had to start printing. Then I started to misspell "Erin."

In short, KATE really stepped out in New York. I was thrilled. And, as a natural introvert, I don't think I've yet recovered.

Thanks once again Erin. I really enjoyed this interview with you. Congratulations on your sucess.

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