Monthly Archives: September 2010

Author Interview: Erin Bow (+giveaway for Canadians!)

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.


The Kneebone Boy

I’ll read anything Ellen Potter writes. For lots of reasons. First, I think she’s truly creative. She finds a way to take her stories in unexpected, fresh and bold directions. Second, she writes books that have a lovely blend of humor and heart, light and dark. Third, she pays attention to language. Her description is right on, never heavy or overdone. I could keep going, but for the sake of getting to her latest book, let’s just say, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading any of Potter’s books, you’ve got some good reading ahead of you.

The first thing about The Kneebone Boy that I loved is the cover. One word? Awesome. Two words? Kid appeal. Three words? Artist Jason Chan. If that artwork doesn’t get kids scrambling over each other to pull the book from the library shelf, I don’t know what would. Just wait until they start reading, because the voice is immediately captivating.

It’s the story of the Hardscrabble siblings: Otto, Lucia and Max. They are kind of weird, to be honest, or perhaps it’s just that they are misunderstood. Anyway, not much happens in their town so they are pretty excited when their father sends them off to London to stay with their aunt. Things go way beyond exciting when it turns out their aunt is away on holiday, which means the kids begin a Proper Adventure. They end up in a seaside town where there may be a strange creature who is half boy half animal. But that’s not all that is strange in Snoring-by-the-Sea. It turns out that the village holds the key to their own family secret.

The novel is narrated by one of the Hardscrabbles, but you don’t know which one. I think Lucia. I loved the voice – a little sarcastic, funny and bright. All of the Hardscrabble children come through as complex, appealing and wonderfully quirky, but also very much as realistic children. You’ll enjoy every moment of this tale, guaranteed. The book is about imperfect families, secrets, the way to the truth, stories and how to have an adventure.

I was over at Ellen’s blog the other day where she shares the initial inspiration for Otto, aka the boy in the scarf. Check it out.

The Kneebone Boy is cheeky, heartwarming, clever, sharp, dark, and funny. You know you’re reading an Ellen Potter book when all of that comes together in a single, utterly creative and happy-making package.

The Kneebone Boy is published by Feiwel and Friends.

Never Let Me Go

If I tell you that this is the first adult book I’ve read in months and it is also the best adult book I’ve read in a while, does that mean that you won’t take me seriously when I tell you I haven’t read an adult book that blew me away like this for a long time? Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is one beautiful book. I know it’s not new, but the film just premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, so it’s getting a second round of attention, and let me tell you, it deserves it.

I confess. I picked it up for the cover. (I would like to have a fall outfit in exactly the muted, rainy day shades of this book). I’m sort of a sucker for movie tie-in remakes of covers. I admit it. The story itself matches the mood of the cover to perfection. It’s quiet, understated and wistful, full of longing and atmosphere. It’s sad. It made me think. It pulled me in.

And it’s really hard to review without giving important plot points away. In the vaguest of terms, it’s about three friends who grew up at an elite school in the English countryside. The students at Hailsham have a special and terrible destiny, and much of the novel presents them as they begin to come to an awareness of what their futures hold. The rest is about what happens once they know. A big part of the brilliance of the work is how Ishiguro gives just hints of the devastating reality of the characters’ world. So when it is revealed, you had an idea of what was going to happen but it’s still awful to have it finally brought out into the open. The relationships between the three main characters are memorable and complicated.

I think it has crossover book written all over it. I’m sure teens will take a lot away from it, and it would be an ideal book club choice, because of the ethical questions it inspires.

Exquisite and affecting and highly recommended.

(P.S. Don’t watch the trailer for the film until you’ve read the book. It gives everything away in under 30 seconds).


Long time no post. I know. Crazy school. Crazy life. But here’s a review for you (cross posted at Guys Lit Wire today).

When a book has a cover as dramatic as YOU by Charles Benoit it creates some pretty serious expectations for a reader. When a book has a cover as dramatic as YOU and a chain of glowing recommendations from the likes of Chris Crutcher, Lauren Oliver, Patricia McCormick and others, you get really curious.

YOU is the riveting story of Kyle Chase’s hellish high school experience. He’s an average kid who is a lot smarter than his grades or his behaviors suggest. Kyle is stuck in a school with a poor reputation. He’s stuck with parents who don’t understand him, boring and/or jerkish teachers, slacker friends, and a girl he’s secretly in love with but who doesn’t seem to see him as anything more than a friend. And that’s not including what happened last year that made him put his fist through a schoolbus window. Nothing is working, but nothing is changing. Until Zack McDade, an unusual guy with his own baggage, shows up and makes everything even more complicated.

Does it measure up in feeling and pace to the expectations created by the cover? Yep. I’m not fully sold on the way this book opens with a prologue (super intense and barely two pages long). Truth to be told, however, I’m not sure in general about prologues. They can be manipulative, and a little grabby. A good part of the experience of reading this book means feeling like you’re reading in great part to find out the who / what / where / when / why of the moment described so dramatically in the prologue. For a while, I like that. After a while, I feel as if I’m speeding because I’m curious, rather than taking in as many of the books strengths as I might otherwise notice if I wasn’t thinking “tell me tell me tell me” the whole way through. Benoit’s choice of second person narration pulls you into Kyle’s thoughts and while it takes a little getting used to since it isn’t a common point of view, it works well in the end. I enjoy a slim book that is carefully constructed, and YOU is exactly that. There’s no extra stuff here, which is impressive. Also, as the key secondary character, Zack McDade is intriguing and memorable. He’s a star. I’d read a whole book about Zack.

In the end, I’d describe YOU as provocative, twisty and clever, very much worthy of its striking cover and gushy reviews.

YOU is published by Harper Teen.

deep breath and… GO!

It’s been a good summer.

I made these:

and some of these:

I went wedding dress shopping and discovered that even a girl who never daydreamed about “the dress” will find “the dress” (and it will probably cost more than the girl ever thought she would spend on a dress. Ever. Gulp).

The dog had fun:

I discovered lots of new, very singable songs. Such as:

I read books that made me laugh:

and cry:

and marvel:

I wish that there was a little more holiday left. But so it goes.

I think I am ready for the ten-year-olds.

In preparation, I have chosen the first read aloud of the year:

Bring on September!