I have such a lovely Friday treat for you today! Erin Bow, fantastically talented author of Plain Kate, is here today for a chat. You must have read my review of her book, which I adored. If not, read it first, right here. You might then be so excited that you want to read the first chapter, here. On to the interview. Welcome Erin!
What do you enjoy most about writing fantasy?
There’s something about fantasy that speaks to me, both reading it and writing it. It lets you magnify things, and deal explicitly with things you usually have to do invisible heart-work on. For example: “what do we do with our ghosts?” is a real and pressing human question. In my work, it tends to be a literal one.
What is the most challenging part about writing fantasy?
The hardest part in Plain Kate was getting the rules of magic straight. How does it work? Why does it work that way? In the first couple drafts I just felt my way toward something that seemed plausible, without ever quite defining my underlying rules. My agent said she felt lost in the fog.
In the next draft I spelled out the rules, rewrote the book so that all the rules were followed, and included the rules explicitly in the text. My agent said there was too much to keep track of.
In the next draft I simplified the rules, rewrote the book so that the simplified rules were followed, and included the simplified rules — especially the crucial “magic is an exchange of gifts”– at several different points in the text. My agent was happy. My copy editor thought “magic is an exchange of gifts” was repetitious. In comparison, deciding who lives and who dies is easy.
Speak to us of Taggle. Where did he come from? What were the first words he said to you? What aspect of him do you love most? Is he your favourite? (He must be your favourite!)
Of course Taggle’s my favourite! He’s everybody’s favourite, and I’m sure he’ll take out anyone who dares object to that statement. The first thing he said to me is the first thing he says in the book: “Musicians! Do you know what fiddle strings are made of? Bah! I’m glad he’s gone.” I kept that through draft after draft, even though it’s not quite right — Taggle at that stage is simply a cat who talks, about cat things, and one of the many many things that cats don’t care about is what fiddle strings are made of. But they were his first words, and I couldn’t bear to change them.
I love writing someone who’s so straightforward — he’s not hiding anything, or lying about anything. He has no agenda beyond scamming some of your dinner. That makes him funny, and I love that. I wish my books were more funny; I like funny books. I guess I should try to stop writing about death.
Kate goes on such a journey in your book. I’ve found myself thinking of her many times since finishing her story. (Taggle too, of course!). Do you imagine your characters’ futures? If yes, where do you see Kate and Taggle down the road?
Oh, yeah, I know what happens to everyone! I think Kate goes to Vilroosh, city of the red roofs, where the Narwe spills into the icy sea, and presents her masterwork to the guild offices there. I think she really does become a full master by the time she’s twenty. I once did a chapter of a book set in a slightly alternate universe, where Taggle also goes to Vilroosh to become a sword-for-hire. Of course I gave him a pastry shop next door to the fencing school. A whole book of Taggle fluff!
Tell us about what inspires you most. If you had to choose 5 things (ideas / books / objects / topics / people) that have most inspired your writing, what would you choose?
Walks in the woods: This is Monarch Woods, a bit of city park/flood plain near my house. There is something about the rhythm of step step step that helps my brain come up with words, especially for poems. Any walking will do, but the woods are best. Riding in the car isn’t bad either.
Baths. No picture of this! But I call one of my two muses the Bath Tub Voice. I’ve been known to bolt out of the bath to write something down without even grabbing a towel.
My writers’ group. Here we are: they brought me cake! There’s nothing like a writers’ group, because, let’s face it: writers are weird. They talk to fictional people. They SULK when fictional people don’t talk back. They get excited and happy because their poem about death turned out really well. They dance in glee when rejection letters are detailed and encouraging. They need other writers who GET IT. These are mine, the girls who get it.
And the boy who gets it: My hubby, James Bow, who is also a YA author. Gets it, gets me, like no one else I’ve ever met. Reads to me every night.
My sister, Wendy. This is one of her paintings. I like this one, particularly, because I remember talking to her about the purple grass: was it really purple, or did she choose to paint it that way? It’s really purple, she said. Learn to see past what you expect. Grass isn’t green. Plain Kate is dedicated to Wendy.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received, and the best advice you would give?
Ribe Tuckus: keep your butt in the chair. Most mornings, when I start writing, I would rather read a book; I would rather scrub the toilet; I would rather gnaw off my own foot than write. So I’ve learned to keep sitting, and keep my hand moving, until the magic words come. Some mornings they never do and those are long mornings. But if I didn’t sit, if I waited until I felt like writing, I’d write maybe twice a month.
Now, listen up lucky Canadians! If you would like to have a chance to win a copy of Erin’s marvelous book, just drop off a comment below, being sure that you enter your email address so that I can reach you. Trust me. You want this book.
By the way, Erin will be at Word On The Street this Saturday, September 26th, in Kitchener Ontario, if you’re in that neck of the woods.
Thank you Erin! Write us more books soon.