Monthly Archives: October 2008

Author Interview: Kristin Cashore

I am super-excited to present my recent interview with Kristin Cashore, the author of Graceling.

If you haven’t read Graceling yet, I ask you, “What are you waiting for?” Obviously, you haven’t read my review yet. Enjoy this, folks. Just get a load of Kristin’s answer to the first question. Wow.

What inspires you (situations / works of art / places / foods / people)?

So many things inspire me—photographs, sculptures, landscapes, buildings, things people say—and when it happens, it’s always a small and indescribable moment.  You look at something and it’s beautiful and strange—or maybe it’s horrible and strange—so much so that you can see and feel what’s beyond it.  You catch your breath; your imagination stirs and growls and starts to grow new arms and legs and kidneys.

I have some photos of an icy, mountainous wasteland torn from an old National Geographic; I think these inspired some of the landscapes in Graceling.  During the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the TV coverage showed Greek monasteries sitting atop impossible, unreachable pillars of rock.  That probably inspired Ror City, and some of the other Lienid landscapes.

An oak tree in my neighborhood inspired parts of my second book (Fire, out next fall), as did the colors of the sky and the river at dusk.  With the book I’m writing now, tentatively titled Bitterblue, sculptures I saw years ago are crowding into my mind—in particular, Bernini’s Daphne and Apollo, which is a sculpture of a woman turning painfully into a tree.

I think anything that stops you and makes you aware can be inspiring.

Is your writing space a place of loveliness? Describe where you work.

I just got up and did about 30 minutes of cleaning, because your question properly shamed me. Now I can say that my writing space is a place of loveliness.

I write longhand in a green armchair in a (usually) sunny window. (I live in northeast Florida). A dragon kite hangs from the ceiling above me. Across from me is a low bookshelf, with books (naturally), pictures of my parents and sisters, a statue of a striped cat with a long neck, a pair of Groucho Marx glasses, and a road atlas, a world atlas, and the Star Wars Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy so that I always know where I am. There’s an inflatable globe on the floor that I kick around a lot; there’s a side table to my left covered with books, letters, post-it notes, and my cup of tea. There are college-age young men trying to kill themselves on skateboards outside the window to my right. On my walls: a picture of Sydney, Australia; hangings from Cameroon and Ecuador (gifts—I’ve never been); and, two alphabet posters—one the Finnish alphabet and one the Alternative Alphabet Poster for Little and Big People (C is for Compost; V is for Vote; you get the idea).

I write in a place of great comfort. The light turns yellow in the afternoon and shines through the trees onto my walls. When it rains in Florida, it really rains, and I sit in my armchair and watch palm tree fronds float down the street. I’m from the north, where palm tree fronds do not float down the street, so it never fails to feel strange and wonderful to me.

(Poster can be found for purchase here).

Based on things you’ve written in your blog, it sounds like you actually enjoy the writing process (gasp), and that you don’t find the writing life especially torturous. So what’s your secret to enjoying both the writing process and the result?

I do enjoy it, except for when I hate it, and I don’t find it torturous, except for when I feel like I’m being eaten from the inside by my cannibalistic brains.  :)

I think that every book comes with its own heaven and hell, and the secret to loving the process changes each time to suit the book. With Graceling, the secret was a mix of sheer determination and finding the fun in it. With Fire, I never found the secret—that book kicked my ass from beginning to end. With my current project, Bitterblue, I’m in danger of being overwhelmed by too many details, and the secret seems to be backing up, finding perspective, and hanging on to my faith that I can do what my ambition wants me to do.

Some of my practical tools these days for keeping perspective: some brief morning yoga; some brief nighttime meditation; walks along the water; and spending as little time as possible in my office, which is where I keep my computer. The Internet is a wonderful invention but it’s also a black hole—especially when you’re a writer whose first book has just entered the world.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

This is less a piece of writing advice than a feeling I’ve gained in my time of working with my editor. In response to my occasional freak outs, in response to my moments of panic over this or that part of this or that book, she has said, over and over, “I trust you.” And you know what? That’s an amazing thing to be told. The other day, she e-mailed me this: “The process might feel like crap sometimes, but your heart and your brain will carry you through every time. I promise.”

It is awesome to be believed in.

For me, right now, writing, at its base, is about having the faith of a mustard seed: doing something, and doing it with all my heart, even on the days when 99% of me doesn’t believe I can do it¬—because 1% is enough. The best writing “advice” I’ve ever received is the trust of my editor, which has made it so much easier for me to have faith in myself.

Continue reading

Bleh

Please forgive me loyal Shelf Elf visitors.

I am stuck in a place called, “Bleh.”

Want to read – terribly.

Want to have a millisecond for bloggish-things – desperately.

Want to also have a moment not to feel tortured by my To-Do list.

Ah life.

All I have to offer you today is a cute dog picture. Here:

I swear to you I will have something book-related to say before the weekend. Honest.

(Cute hound, yes?)

(photo © Zbigniew Twardowski for openphoto.net CC:Attribution-ShareAlike)

Cybils Snapshot: 3 from MG

Since I’m a MG Fiction judge for the 2008 Cybils Awards, I’m not supposed to review titles that have been nominated until the first round judges have decided on finalists. This makes my life a little tricky, since of course, I’m trying to read as many of the nominated titles as I can, just to be informed, but I’m not allowed to review them. Curses. A girl has to have something she can blog about, and there are only so many hours in the day to read books. So I’ve decided there’s no harm in giving readers a snapshot look at some of the Cybils- nominated titles as I read my way along. Not reviews, think of these as three-sentence summaries of some of the books up for consideration for the MG fiction prize this year. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to read a couple:

Addy McMahon wants to be a writer and she’s been creating her “autobiogra-strip” and her trademark interviews in order to get better and better with words. One problem – she’s pretty sure she’s cursed and all sorts of things start going wrong at home and at school to prove it. For aspiring artists and kids who like stories that capture real-life.

Set in Louisiana in the desperate years of the Depression, Tennyson is the moody and dreamy tale of the mysterious, long-suffering Fontaine family and their once-grand plantation, Aigredoux. After a family crisis, Tennyson Fontaine and her sister Hattie end up living at Aigredoux, discovering its secret history, and Tennyson learns that it could be her fate to restore her family’s fortunes. For readers who love mystery and history and family stories.

The Willoughby children detest their parents and their parents detest them. Desperate to become orphans, the children hatch a plan to make their dream come true, proving themselves resourceful and winsome and every bit as worthy as the characters they admire from old-fashioned books. Made for quirky and clever readers who gobble up stories by Lemony Snicket and Roald Dahl.

Those are just 3 of the titles nominated for a Cybils award in the MG Fiction category this year. View the rest here.

Poetry Friday: Fog

Here’s a link to a list of recommended poetry anthologies for kids, as suggested by Bruce Lansky. One of the poems he mentions is one of my favourite little poems ever:

Fog - by Carl Sandburg

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

(Too short to post only in part…) Little and lovely, and just right for this season of foggy mornings.

(poem found at Poetry Foundation, photo © John Ellingsworth for openphoto.net CC:Attribution-ShareAlike)

T4

T4 by Anne Clare LeZotte offers readers tremendous insight into an aspect of the Holocaust not frequently explored in books for young people: the Nazi program to murder the mentally ill and disabled. The title of this verse novel comes from the name of the program itself, called after the address of its headquarters in Berlin, on Tiergartenstrasse 4.

The narrator/poet is 13-year old Paula Becker, who became deaf before she turned two and communicates with her family through her own form of sign language. She tells the story of her initial challenges communicating with her family, her happy days spent helping her mother at home and playing with her dog and learning to read, and feeling the church organ’s music shake her “body and soul.” This comfortable life changes forever when the Nazis’ eugenics program begins to target people like Paula, branding them “unfit to live.” She is forced to leave her family and go into hiding, moving from one place to another whenever her refuge becomes unsafe. The novel follows her through the war, and we meet those who protect her, and others who are hiding too. Paula is one of the lucky people who returns to her home and her family, everyone safe after all of that suffering.

You cannot say that T4 is a book you “enjoy” reading, better to notice that it is compelling and moving and difficult. LeZotte has created a story that takes you in, poem by poem, and then by the end, you realize that you’ve taken this story inside yourself. This is not a book you can read and forget. The poems are simple, but deceptively so. They have a direct, unflinching quality that feels authentic, as if the narrator just sat down and started remembering, telling you, “This is how it was. Just like this.”

T4 is a survival story, a story about family and trust and difference. Readers will know that they have gained new perspective into this historical period. It will certainly inspire many questions from young people, and so it is a book that requires maturity and some prior understanding of the nature of the Holocaust. Ann Clare LeZotte proves that telling a story simply, in very few, carefully chosen words, makes for a profoundly affecting reading experience.

Follow this link to an interview with Ann Clare at Deaf Characters in Adolescent Literature.

T4 is available now and is published by Houghton Mifflin.

Nonfiction Monday: Little Lions, Bull Baiters & Hunting Hounds

Little Lions, Bull Baiters & Hunting Hounds is a book made for browsing. This is the first collaboration for husband and wife illustration team Jeffy Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson. Inspired by their two pooches (a Shih Tzu and a Dachshund), Jeff and Shelley offer readers a gorgeous illustrated history of dog breeds from hunting and herding dogs to companion breeds. While you might be tempted simply to ooh and ah over the artwork on these pages, I’m impressed by how informative a text this book is. There is certainly enough information here to keep even the most curious dog-loving kid occupied for a long time. Every breed is presented with a detailed illustration, showing the dog at work or play, as well as a map indicating the dog’s original homeland and a concise history of the breed, along with its particular traits and quirks. You’ll learn which type of dog is able to spot birds and planes flying through the sky, which dog is likely to drool you into submission, and which breed has earned the nickname, “World’s Fastest Couch Potato.” I appreciate how the facts aren’t run-of-the-mill. I imagine lots of careful research went into creating a book this comprehensive and entertaining.

This book would make a smashing Christmas / Thanksgiving / Hanukkah / Kwanzaa gift for animal-loving kids as young as 7 or 8. I know I would have curled up on a pillow next to the Christmas tree and read the day away if I’d found this in my stocking. Perfect companion read? That’s a no-brainer: James Herriot’s Treasury for Children.

A portion of the proceeds from this book is to be donated to animal welfare organizations. I like it. I like it. I like it. Check out Just One More Book’s podcast on this one.

Little Lions, Bull Baiters and Hunting Hounds is published by Tundra.

Gimmee

Things I want (aside from Kristin Cashore’s next book, in my hot little hands, right now):

1. Shaun the Sheep Wall Stickies:

(Thanks to bb-blog for the link. Go to design 3000 to buy them for your very own).

2. This Halloween-inspired dog leash (and perhaps the little hound as well):

(The leash is the work of Annie’s Sweat Shop at Etsy). Loving it).

3. To be back here:

(Apparently the Parisians are enjoying some lovely weather – as well as everything else that is generally lovely about being Parisian. This amazing photo is just one of many, many drool-inspiring pictures taken by Eric over at his blog, paris daily photo).

Graceling (gush, gush, and gush some more…)

It was hard to start writing this review, for two reasons. First, it meant that I had to stop pressing Graceling to my heart and thinking wistfully about the Land of Seven Kingdoms and Katsa and Po and their remarkable story. (But considering I finished reading it several hours ago, I suppose that was the only healthy thing to do). Second, it meant that I had to try to communicate why it is already one of my favourite books. This will not be easy, because all I really feel like doing is gushing, and then gushing some more. So prepare yourselves for some serious enthusiasm people.

This is Kristin Cashore’s debut novel, a fact which is very difficult to believe. Her tale is so well crafted – impeccably plotted, with complex, consistent characterization – that you’ll know by the end of the first page that you are in the hands of a seriously gifted storyteller. Graceling is set in the Land of Seven Kingdoms, a place with seven kings as diverse as the landscapes they govern. King Randa rules the Middluns, and he also commands his niece Katsa, who has been gifted since a young age with the ability to kill a man with little more than her bare hands. Randa gets Katsa to do his dirty work for him, and she travels the kingdoms to force his enemies to pay up, or to remind them in the most physical sense to respect their king. Katsa is no ordinary fighter. Her ability is an extreme talent, known in this society as a “grace.” This makes Katsa a Graceling, and she is an almost unstoppable force. That is, until the day she meets a prince named Po, who possesses a Grace that she cannot ignore or trust. Circumstances bring these two together on a journey that will lead them to better understand and wield their own powers, and to depend upon each other’s graces in the face of a terrifying foe.

Here we have, all tied up in a tidy near-500 page package, adventure that never stops, a journey into dangerous lands, unexpected romance, extreme sacrifice, and a super-creepy bad guy to beat all bad guys. I am not exaggerating when I say that at the most dramatic moments in this story, my heart was actually racing. (A small part of this effect might have been due to the shocking quanitites of coffee I was consuming at my local espresso bar in order to hang onto the cosy, sunny window spot I scored this morning). I can’t remember the last time I was so wrapped up in a story that I literally could not stop reading.  I had to know how it was going to end, and the closer I got to the final chapters, the less I could predict what would happen next. I read a lot of books. I’m pretty good at seeing things coming. I will say that there is a gasp-worthy moment very close to the finish.

As much as this is a fantasy world, with evil kings, and princes and princesses, and people gifted with magical abilities, the heroine is a young woman who struggles to create herself, to manage her strengths and weaknesses and to take steps towards her chosen future – all very real life challenges. That’s probably one reason why you care so much about what happens to Katsa and those she fights to protect. Then there’s the romance. Kristin Cashore handles the romantic element of her story with delicacy – there’s innocence and uncertainty and there’s some serious sexiness too (but nothing overly racy). There is nothing that is not delicious about this book. There. I’ve said it. It’s perfectly perfect.

Fans of Shannon Hale and Tamora Pierce (and everyone else besides) will be cheering for Katsa. By the time you’re finished Graceling, you’ll be desperate for the prequel, which is scheduled to be released in 2009. You’ll also be certain that Kristin Cashore is graced herself. I don’t think there will be much debate about that.

Other gushfests:

Hip Librarians Book Blog
Teen Book Review
The Dramaturge at Home
bookshelves of doom

Graceling is published by Harcourt. Tune in in a few weeks when I’ll be interviewing Kristin right here.

Poetry Friday: Frost and Punkins

“Punkins” are cropping up all over front porches in my neighborhood, and I’m just about ready to do a little carving. So here’s a poem so full of fall spirit, you’ll practically want to sing it:

When the Frost is on the Punkin – James Whitcomb Riley
 
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.
 
They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here-
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock-
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock…

(for a little more down-home country music, head over to Poetry Foundation.)

(photo © Michael Jastremski for openphoto.net CC:Attribution-ShareAlike)