Leah_Cypess (leah_cypess) wrote in enchantedinkpot,

Interview with Erin Bow, author of PLAIN KATE

Today is the release date for PLAIN KATE, the Russian-flavored fantasy novel which has been compared to The Last Unicorn. (I can't find my source for the comparison, but trust me - I do not forget The Last Unicorn comparisons.)  And also today, Erin Bow is at the Inkpot to talk about the Russian inspirations for her story, how she got the idea for a girl who sells her shadow, and her background in writing and publishing poetry.


Hi, Erin! Thanks for stopping by.
Plain Kate has been described as "Russian-flavored" fantasy. Why Russian?

I read this huge collection of Russian fairy tales.  I love fairy tales and I thought I knew them, but the Russian ones blew me away.  They are like dark chocolate -- very dark chocolate.  (Russian tales are even darker than the Grimm tales, which are well-named.)   They're full of white nights and strange transformations, villains that read as tragic heros, doomed heros that still stand tall. 

This book has got quite a bit of garlic and weather and minor characters named Niki, but I hope the Russian flavor goes a bit deeper -- I hope I got some of that sad triumph.

Besides, vampires bore me (sorry) but rusalka are just plain cool.

What kind of research did you do for the time-period and setting?

I didn't research the time period specifically -- it's not like the Aztec research that's eating my life at the moment -- but every little thing sends you digging.  When Kate sands carvings with a leather pad dipped in sand -- that's accurate.   When the people in Lov eat pretzels -- that's a real east-Europe medieval festival food.

Most of it was library or internet research.  The Society for Creative Anachronism helped out with a few sticky bits.   I spent a couple of days hanging around a horse barn so that my horses wouldn't be too awful. And I learned enough about wood carving to make a small one with hurting myself.  Much. 

On the other hand, the middle of the novel takes place on a small punt, and my research into punting consisted (in its entirety) of rereading Three Men in a Boat.  I fear it shows. 

I love the idea of a girl selling her shadow -- it seems at once mythic and original. Did you have sources for that idea or was it your own invention?

It came to me on a plane.  I was mesmerized by watching the shadow separate from the plane and fade away on ground.  I thought it was original, but of course it's not: Lord Dunsay's The Charwoman's Shadow has a similar premise.  I remember nothing about that one except that a) I loved it, and b) there's a description of a stolen shadow spinning around a character like a cape, which I think I stole.    It must have stuck in my head somewhere though. 

I also love, love, LOVE your cover. Did you get any input into it?

Not much, but that's okay because it's gorgeous!  I have it printed huge and taped to the fridge.

You have previously published 2 volumes of poetry. Could you tell us a little bit about that -- how you got into writing poetry and how your poetry impacts your prose writing?

When I was eight my babysitter gave me a notebook and a pencil because I said I was bored.  I wrote a poem called "being bored."  I also started to read poetry, and slowly poems stopped being excruciatingly bad and became just embarrassingly bad.  Eventually, and probably because of the law of large numbers, I wrote some good ones. And because I had read so much, I knew they were good -- thereby I learned the craft. 

So poetry is my first love.  I still read poetry and I still write poetry. 

I also never grew out of children's books and young adult books, even though the date on my birth certificate says I'm just a plain old adult now.  They are not as far apart as you might think.  From a writer’s point of view, they have in common mindfulness about the magic of language. From a reader’s, they have in common the power to stay in your heart a long time.  There are no books we love like the books we love as kids.

What are the differences between publishing poetry and YA fiction?

For my first book of poetry, my sister did a painting for the cover.  A woman who lead a workshop I went to gave the blurb for the back.  The editor owned the press, and was also the publisher and the book designer and the publicist.  And the book did really, really well: it sold out its first printing of 500 copies in only three years.  I am not kidding.  These are good numbers.  This was a well-published, award-winning book. 

Working with Scholastic -- well, it's not like that.  The operation is so huge!  My copy editor made me laugh and I made her cry (We exchanged initialed notes, like this:  "Query EB: could you please stop making me cry?") but I don't even know her name.  The array of people at work on PLAIN KATE staggers and humbles me.   I want to make dinner for all of them someday.   Including you, copy editor SJC, wherever you are.  I owe you.

How do you manage all that writing, research, etc. with 2 young children?  (I am asking purely because OUR READERS WANT TO KNOW. But also, my kids are about the same age as yours. I could use some tips.)

My girls are four and two.  I'm having one of those days when my tip is "wait till they get older before trying to accomplish anything." 

But that's probably because I haven't been out of the house today.  I am a big believer in getting out of the house. My husband is also a YA novelist, and he can write at the dining room table, with the kids doing art at his elbow, with dishes in the sink and the phone ringing.  I cannot do this.  I go to the library every weekday morning with a notebook (not a computer one, a spiral-bound one) and I write new stuff long hand.  I type it up and edit it after the kids go to bed.  I sneak in research here and there; that's easier to do in fits and starts, when you have a minute. 

I am not prolific, but it adds up.  It only took me six years to write PLAIN KATE! 

Thank you so much,
To find out more about
Erin and her book, check out her website at http://erinbow.com/. 

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