Okay, so how much did I love Erin Bow’s Plain Kate? OMG, so , so much. In fact, if you come back tomorrrow you can see me blather on about it in my review, which promises to be gushy and most likely over the top.
But today I get to share with you a little Q & A with Erin. And I also have one copy of Plain Kate for a lucky Canadian book lover.
Lavender Lines: On your blog you describe Plain Kate as “Written under the spell of Russian fairy tales”. What are some of your favorite fairy tales?
Erin: From the Russian, I think my favourite might be “The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship.” I like fool tales, in general, and Plain Kate owes something to them: Taggle, with his naiveté about human convention and his scathing ability to tell the truth, is a classic fool. For sheer lushness and scope, I like “Ruslin and Ludmilla.” And there’s no better baddie in all fairy-tale land that Baba Yaga.
Outside of the Russian, I like the North African “The Country Where There Were No Graves” for spoke factor, and for the title alone. North African tales in general are great. I want sort of want to throw an Alzabo, which Borges claims is a hyena-inspired creature that speaks your name in the voice of the dead, into my work in progress, because they are So Creepy and Cool.
From the Grimm tales, I like “Dr. Urssenbeck Spins the Bed,” about the adopted godson of death, who grows up to be a physician. I’m going to do something with that one, someday. I love the Japanese tale “A Fox Wife.” The Haida tale “Raven Steals the Sun.” I really could go on. I’m no scholar — I really don’t have a clue what, say, morphology is — but I love these old stories.
L.L.: Music is a very intrical part of the magic in Plain Kate. When you were writing and revising your book, was there any music that was “magical” for you and the process?
Erin: Oh yes! Bukkene Bruse’s album The Stone Chair was the magic key to Plain Kate. It never failed to transport me to the fog and the forest, the magic and the sadness. I must have listened to that album hundreds of times. Of course, this means the book’s “playlist” is dominated by a fiddle-driven folk band wailing sadly in Norwegian, which … well, line up for that album release, teen readers!
I also played Bethany and Rufus’s “No More Songs” a lot as I wrote the book. This is a little odd because it’s not the hero’s song, it’s the villain’s, it’s Linay’s. But it was useful to have a touchstone song for him, to help me get into his mindset.
“Once I loved a girl. She was a flower in the flame.
I loved her as the world sings sadly.
Now a ghost without a name stands ragged in the rain
And it seems that there are no songs.”
I think it’s important for a writer to keep compassion even for villains, and this song helped me keep in sympathy with Linay as he did some (ahem) unsympathetic things. I can almost imagine him playing the strings part as I listen to it now.
L.L.: The last few chapters of Plain Kate are quite emotional. Did you have a hard time writing those scenes? Were you worried that they may be a bit too emotional for younger readers?
Erin: I put off writing the climax for weeks, fussing and ducking and generally working my way toward a nervous breakdown. I knew it was going to be hard on the characters, and that at least one of them that I loved very much (and I loved them all, even Linay) was probably going to die. I just didn’t want to do it. I think — this sounds so over the top — I was even grieving. But finally, I found myself in a donut shop at the back end of a bus route, with an hour to kill before an appointment. I had nothing with me but my notebook. So I wrote, shaking and muttering and generally making the donut shop people think about calling the Men with the Nets. After that I felt better. But if I had had a book with me that day, Plain Kate might still be unfinished.
I didn’t really think about readers in the first draft of the climax, but I was very mindful of them when thinking about how to end the book. I worked hard to get exactly the right tone in the denouement, so that the book, while it doesn’t exactly have a happy ending, would leave them with a feeling of completeness, healing, hope.
Who was it that said: “it’s okay to take young readers to dark places — just don’t abandon them there”? I thought about that, and tried to stick to it.
L.L: I’m always curious to know what books authors are excited about. Are there any fall releases that you can’t wait to get your hands on?
Erin: I need to get my hands on Elizabeth Bunce’s Starcrossed. I liked Curse as Dark as Gold a lot, and this one — a sneak-thief heroine! hidden magic! a snowbound castle!– sounds right up my alley. I want to read The Replacement, too; one of the rare instances where I might be sold by cover art alone. But, secrets that everyone knows and no one talks about? I’m there for that.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Erin! And can I just say how jealous I am of peeps who are going to Word on the Street in Kitchener on the 26th? Erin will be there so head on out and meet her for me, kk?
And now, on to the contest. As usual, I’m going to make it easy-peasy and a bit fun. No need to follow me (but feel free if you want). You don’t have to tweet me up, blog me up or Facebook me up (once again, unless you want to). What you do have to do is tell me in the comments below what your favorite Fairytale is and why. On Sept. 30th I’ll randomly pick a winner. This is for Canadian folks only and please leave me an email address, k? And enter! This was one of my favorite reads so far this year.