Picture drawn by Maggie Stiefvater, 2009. Header made by S.F. Robertson, 2010.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fresh New Voice of YA- Interview with Erin Bow

1) How did you get the idea for Plain Kate?

I actually remember the moment. I had just finished reading this three-volume set of Russian Fairy Tales. I had been talking to my dad about a woodworking project of his. And I was on a plane. I was, in fact, returning home from a seven-cities-in-five-days trip, and I was so tired I was a bit woozy. I put my head against the glass and watched the plane take off and leave its shadow on the ground -- that shadow shrinking and getting stranger and fading away. I opened up my notebook and wrote: "A long time ago, in a market town by a looping river, there lived an orphan girl named Plain Kate." There she was: Katerina Svetlana, a woodcarver and the daughter of a carver, forced to sell her shadow to a wandering magician, up to no good. I didn't know anything else, but I had her, had Kate.

So: wood carving, Russia, fairy tales, the shadow -- that's where the idea came from. What I'd like to know is: where did the girl come from?

2) What was The Call like? Tell us all about it.

When PLAIN KATE sold, you mean?

My experience is a little unusual, because my book went to auction, so I knew The Call was coming. Round Two Bids were due at 11:00 AM. BUT, they didn't come in on time. They trickled in, and my agent refused to show them to me (wisely) until they were all ready. It was 7:00 PM before the last bid came. Meanwhile, I was at work, writing an article about load-bearing capabilities in nanostructured films. I'm not sure it was a good article, but I was trying to stay sane.

When Emily finally called, it suddenly became clear that what had been a very good bid in the initial round one was now a shatteringly good, ditch your job, change your life bid. And it was from Arthur A. Levine. "Erin," said Emily, who had worked on the book with me for three years, "I have been dreaming about making this call for a long time." And then we both started to cry.

3) You've published books of poetry and a memoir previously, and now have a Young Adult book coming out. All of them are vastly different genres- is your writing process the same for each, or was it different writing Plain Kate as opposed to your previous works?

Writing fiction and writing poetry are different and the same. The same is the care over each word, the putting together one magic sentence at a time. Different is plot. On the one hand, plot makes it easier -- it gives you a place to start writing each day, which in poetry can be very hard to find, and only happens one day in ten or twenty. On the other, to create a spell of that size, to make something seamless and whole and RIGHT, is very hard. It took me six years and four different endings.

On the other hand, the process is more or less the same. I sit down with a pen and paper and keep my hand moving.

4) What book(s) are you working on now? Can you tell us anything about them?

I'm nearly done with a draft of a book called SORROW'S KNOT. Here's the pitch:

In the world of Sorrow’s Knot, the dead do not rest easy. Every patch of shadow might be home to something hungry and nearly invisible, something deadly. The dead can only be repelled or destroyed with magically knotted cords and yarns. The women who tie these knots are called binders.

Otter is the daughter of Willow, a binder of great power. She's a proud and privileged girl who takes it for granted that she will be a binder some day herself. But when Willow's power begins to turn inward and tear her apart, Otter finds herself trapped with a responsibility she's not ready for, and a power she no longer wants.

And I'm buried in research for a book set during the last days of the Aztec empire, called THE TELEPORTATION OF GILBERT PEREZ. It's based an old story about a 16th-century boy soldier who was mysterious teleported from Manila to Mexico City. Seriously: google it.

5) What is your favorite Jelly Belly jelly bean flavor?

I have never had Jelly Belly beans, and I suddenly feel as if I've never lived.

6) You were at BEA back in May and signed books and were on a panel about YA Buzz Titles. Was it your first BEA? Did you have fun? Tell us about your experience.

Oh, man. It was my first BEA, my first trip to a big conference ever.

Just the story of my arrival will give you some sense of how overwhelmingly fabulous it was. I took my family -- I have two girls, Vivian who's four, and Eleanor, who's two -- and we came into NYC by train. When it got to New York, it turned out the car service Scholastic was sending to Penn Station was a stretch limo!!!! LORD, I am not important enough for a stretch limo. Vivian, who is the real world avatar of Fancy Nancy, thought this was the bees knees. She walked down the street like "New York, where have you been all my life?" I was more on the side of Nora, who was so anxious that she cried when I went to the bathroom.

Anyway, I got to meet my beloved agent Emily and my genius editor Arthur Levine for the first time. Arthur got up in front of a huge roomful of people and compared PLAIN KATE to other books he'd had a hand in: HARRY POTTER, THE GOLDEN COMPASS. I just about fainted. Later on I signed copies of the ARC for two solid hours, until I last the knack of my signature and had to start printing "Erin." And then I started to misspell it.

In short it was amazing, and it left me all but brain-dead. (Maybe that will help me SORROW'S KNOT…)

7) What book(s) are you reading now, or are about to start?

I just finished LITTLE BEE, which I'm the only person in the world to dislike, and SHIP BREAKER, which was such a rush of good stuff. I ate it up in two days and am now possessed by a burning desire to write near-future climate-shock dystopia. My hubby reads to me every day; we're reading THE CROWFIELD CURSE. It's a good one for to read aloud: gently magic. I have THE STORY OF LUCY GALT at the top of my to-be-read pile, but I might swap it out for MOCKINGJAY, which just came out.


  1. "In the world of Sorrow’s Knot, the dead do not rest easy. Every patch of shadow might be home to something hungry and nearly invisible, something deadly. The dead can only be repelled or destroyed with magically knotted cords and yarns. The women who tie these knots are called binders."

    I cannot say how much I loved Plain Kate. I was in awe with Bow's ability to simply tell a story without hype inside the pages. That pitch right there above in quotes has me on edge for this new book. I think Erin Bow is swiftly becoming a favorite of mine.

  2. Oh no! Never had Jelly Belly's?! Please change this! :)

    I've been dying to read this book! Must get my hands on this soon!!