It is a remarkable treat to be hosting Kathi Appelt today for a Winter Blog Blast Tour interview. Kathi’s latest novel, Keeper, is a magical, beguiling story of loss, love, family, and the sea. Every page is a treat. Read my review here, and then come on back for the interview.
How would you describe Keeper in one sentence?
Hmm . . . can she answer this in one sentence . . . okay: At ten years old, Keeper, born in the sea, believes that her real mother is a mermaid, and when trouble on the home front arises Keeper is certain that only her mermaid mother can set things aright again, so she makes the perfect plan, including setting out in a small boat all by herself and her Best Dog in search of that mermaid mother.
How’s that for a run-on clause-filled sentence?
It might be better to simply say, Keeper is about a small girl who believes in magic, but she needs a little evidence to make it so.
I think now would be the moment to pause and gaze upon the beautifully dreamy cover:
What helps you to keep writing everyday?
Years ago I made a commitment that I would write every single day, even if it was only for five minutes. I have kept that five-minute promise for well over twenty years. Some days that’s all I write. But the power of the five-minute rule is that once I sit down to write for five minutes, I usually write more. It’s the sitting down that is hard.
Keeper is such a poetic, meandering type of story, with different threads and backstories that stretch in the past. Where did the idea begin? Was it a phrase, a particular scene, or a character that came to you first?
I had an image of a small girl spinning in a wooden bowl. It came from my experience when I was very young. My grandmother had a large wooden salad bowl, and she used to let my sisters and I sit in it and she would spin us around and around on the kitchen floor. And I think it must have been my grandmother (who was a terrific spinner of tales as well as bowls) who suggested that we could sail away in that wooden bowl.
So, that image came to me early on. In fact, the very first scene that I wrote was the one where Keeper remembers being in that bowl in the water, and Meggie Marie is spinning her around and around and laughing.
I also want to say that my other grandmother lived in Galveston, so I spent a lot of time there when I was growing up. She actually owned a dog named BD (which stood for Bird Dog), and she also had a sea gull who crashed into her kitchen window during a storm. My grandmother managed to bandage the gull’s wing, and the bird and BD became chums. So that part of the story is based on a real event.
(Kathi in Galveston – photo credit for this photo & author photo: Ken Appelt)
There are three particularly fine beasts in this book: Captain, Sinbad and B.D. What’s different about creating a complex animal character compared to a human character?
When I write a dog character, I don’t want the dog to be a human-in-dog’s-clothing, even though to a certain extent there’s some of that anyways, rather I want the dog to feel dog-ish on the page. So I spend a lot of time studying dogs, their mannerisms, their sounds, their habits, the foods they eat, the ways they interact with other dogs, all of that.
I also think about the choices that my beasties have. As someone who lives with cats, those same cats only have choices within the confines of my house. They don’t go outside (except when Jazzmyn aka vixen of the cat clan darts out the door while I’m bringing groceries in or something), so the choices they make are contained. Would they run away if they could? Maybe, and that’s a choice to ponder too. With BD, he has a choice everyday. He lives on the beach, but he could easily race away, never to return. Same with Sinbad. Both of them always return to Keeper and Mr. Beauchamp, even though neither one has to. That tells me that those animals, regardless of their needs, return for other reasons besides food and shelter. Maybe they return because they enjoy the company of their humans, and perhaps they even love their humans in their dog and cat ways.
Captain’s choices have more to do with food and BD than with the people in the story.
So, with the animals, there’s always the question of what is pulling them to remain true to their humans (and to each other). Which leads to the next question: do their humans deserve the companionship of these animals? And that allows me to know something about the humans in the story. Are those same humans worthy? Or not?
So, in some ways the animal characters serve as mirrors for the humans. They tend to reflect back the best and worst of the human characters—just as they do in real life.
Which one of the animals in Keeper is your secret favourite? (We know you have one!)
I am crazy about Captain. He just makes me smile. And also, I share his love for watermelon. (Let’s just say that I totally understand his attraction for it). Continue reading