by Vanessa Di Gregorio
As you all probably know, I absolutely loved Erin Bow’s YA novel, Plain Kate (which again, I highly recommend!).
Today, we’re the third stop in Erin Bow’s blog tour – and we even have a copy of Plain Kate to giveaway, courtesy of Scholastic Canada.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Erin Bow, and I must say, I am INCREDIBLY excited to share her answers with you! For those of you who don’t know her, Erin Bow is the author of two books of poetry and a memoir (published under her maiden name, Erin Noteboom) – and Plain Kate is her first novel. She also studied particle physics and worked briefly at CERN (European Centre for Nuclear Research), but left in order to pursue her passion for writing. And she’s married to YA novelist James Bow.
For those who aren’t familiar with Plain Kate (or just need a refresher), here’s the description from Goodreads:
Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. As the wood-carver’s daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden talismans are so fine that some even call her “witch-blade”: a dangerous nickname in a country where witches are hunted and burned in the square.
For Kate and her village have fallen on hard times. Kate’s father has died, leaving her alone in the world. And a mysterious fog now covers the countryside, ruining crops and spreading fear of hunger and sickness. The townspeople are looking for someone to blame, and their eyes have fallen on Kate.
Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: In exchange for her shadow, he’ll give Kate the means to escape the angry town, and what’s more, he’ll grant her heart’s wish. It’s a chance for her to start over, to find a home, a family, a place to belong. But Kate soon realizes she can’t live shadowless forever — and that Linay’s designs are darker than she ever dreamed.
If you want to know more about Plain Kate, check out my review for it here. And now, onto the interview!
Vanessa: Hi Erin! Thanks so much for joining us. Plain Kate, your first novel, draws a lot from Russian folklore. Does it draw from any one in particular? What was it about Russian folklore that inspired you to write Plain Kate?
Erin Bow: Right before the beginning of PLAIN KATE came to me, 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’re full of white nights and strange transformations, villains that read as tragic heros, doomed heros that still stand tall. When I read the Grimm fairy tales, they often seem familiar, as if you’ve heard them or part of them, as if you’ve been to that Kingdom. The Russian tales aren’t like that. They come from just over the edge of the map; they are wilder and darker.
There’s no one tale being retold in Plain Kate. In fact the only thing explicitly Russian in the final draft is a rusalka — a sort of vampiric ghost — and the setting is more Eastern European than anything. Still, I hope I got some of that wildness and darkness, some of that sad triumph.
V: It took you six years to write Plain Kate. Did the story change drastically over time?
EB: Oh, yes. I remember having vague ideas about Linay going to see a king to have a wish granted, and Kate having to stop him with some heroic act of carving, such as making a statue of the King’s dead son. There was this bit of magic, you see, where if you could make the king cry he would grant you a wish, but he was rather mad and didn’t cry, and Linay needed Kate’s shadow to weave into his violin to make his music sad, but Kate’s carving trumped that by getting at the root of the king’s madness: grief.
Well. It’s not a bad story, but you can see that I didn’t exactly have it flushed out. And in the end, none of that turned out to be right: there was no King, and it was Linay that was mad. This is often the way with me: I have only the vaguest notion of where I’m going, and I usually turn out to be wrong.
Even in this iteration of the story – the Roamers, the fog, the rusalka, the journey to Lov — I went through four different versions of the ending before settling on this one. In fact I sold this book to Scholastic with a radically different ending. Thank heavens my editor called me out on it.
V: You’ve said on your site that of all writing, you like poetry and children’s stories best; that, “they have in common mindfulness about the magic of language”. Why do you think most stories for adults lack that magic of language?
EB: As a reader, I like YA best, but I also do read a lot of literary fiction for adults. I am often disappointed with it in a particular way.
If a piece of writing is magic, is a spell, then too much literary fiction is a spell that does nothing. It gives us exquisite characters, wonderful prose — and then no story. You get to the end of a book and think: that was beautiful, but what was the point of it? The individual words have this tremendous power but the spell as a whole just fizzles away.
In a YA book you can’t get away with that. Young readers know all about potential and many secretly dread that growing up means fizzling away. So they won’t put up with it in their books. A YA novel will, therefore, never be a spell that does nothing. The spell may not come off, it may blow up in the author’s face, but it won’t do nothing.
I also think young readers — along with poetry readers — are more willing to fall under the spell of a book than the average adult reader. Think about it: is there any book we love like the books we love as children?
V: What are some of your favourite children’s stories?
EB: For children — as opposed to tweens and teens — I love E.B. White’s stuff. Trumpet of the Swan was my favourite book when I was eight or ten; it’s about a mute trumpeter swan named Louis (that went right over my head) whose father steals him an actual trumpet. Now I like Charlotte’s Web better. It’s got one of the great opening lines in fiction: “What’s Pa going with that axe?”
I could name many more books, but E.B. WHite has a special place in my heart. I loved him as a kid, and I still love him now. He tells wonderful, deeply human and humane stories with his animal characters. Yet he doesn’t write down to kids the way, say, C.S. Lewis sometimes did. As a kid, you just know it’s a magical, wonderful story. As an adult you can read it aloud and marvel at the rhythmic beauty of the sentences.
V: Taggle was my favourite character in Plain Kate; he made me laugh, he made me cry, and he had a wonderful personality. How did his character come to be? Was he your favourite character to write?
EB: From the moment I wrote the first sentence, I knew PLAIN KATE contained a talking cat. I really don’t know where characters come from; they seem to be gifts from some great giver.
Taggle got away from me, though. He was meant to be a sidekick, but he grabbed himself a character arc, and made a pretty good bid at being the hero. There’s a scene in the middle where he tells Kate “I can’t cry,” and then cries, that made me cry too: I could suddenly see all the possibilities for where he was heading.
And, yes, Taggle was my favourite character to write. He’s so honest, and everything he does is so outsized. He was break from writing the small, subtle reactions of dear Kate, the hidden ones of Linay. And his body language was fun to do — I got to spend time watching cats and consider it part of my job.
V: Who was the most difficult character to write, and why?
EB: Kate herself was the hardest to write, because when she feels things strongly — particularly if she’s angry or afraid — she shuts down. The more she feels, the less she shows. That’s tricky to portray on the page. Just when your editor wants you to ramp things up, the character wants to harden herself away. Then the editor writes “but what is she feeling?” in the margin, and you want to say, “she doesn’t know, and if she did she wouldn’t tell you.” But you have to find a way to show it anyway.
V: What are you reading right now?
EB: I am reading NICKLE AND DIMED, a non-fiction book about living on near-minimum wage. I want to read STARCROSSED or THE REPLACEMENT or MOCKINGJAY next!
V: Last question! What are you working on now? Can you share a bit?
EB: I’ve been telling everyone on the internet about SORROW’S KNOT, my work in progress that’s almost done. Would you like to hear about THE TELEPORTATION OF GILBERT PEREZ instead? I’m just getting started on it. Here’s the first page.
On October 24, 1593, a young soldier named Gilbert Perez was found wandering dazed in the Plaza Mayor in Mexico City. On being told where he was, he insisted that he had just been on sentry duty in the governor’s palace in Manila ― and indeed he was uniform of the Philippine regiment — and offered the news that the governor had just been murdered.
He was arrested for desertion and on suspicion of witchcraft.
It’s in the history books. Look it up.
About all that’s left of me — of the boy who staggered beside the ruins of the serpent wall in the blinding sun, covered in blood, clutching his head – is the boots. They just don’t make boots like they used to. These days it’s all steel reinforced toes and orthopediac arch support. Give me cross-bound leather any day. And dye it red.
Blue jeans, now, blue jeans I’ll take.
And the name, Gil. I’ve tried to hold onto that.
(It really is in the history books. Look it up.)
V: I definitely will be looking that up in the history books! Thanks so much, Erin!
Want to win a copy of Plain Kate? Here’s the scoop:
Contest is open to Canadian residents only (sorry all you non-Canucks!), and will be shipped directly from the publisher (much <3 to Scholastic!).
To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment with your thoughts on the interview.
For extra entries, you can do any (or all!) of the following:
+1 for following LTWF on Twitter (add your twitter name to your comment so I know you’re following)
+2 for commenting on my review of Plain Kate
+1 for following Erin Bow (@erinbowbooks) on Twitter (let us know if you do)
+1 for following Scholastic Canada (@scholasticCDA) on Twitter (let us know if you do)
+1 for being a fan of LTWF on Facebook
+2 for following this blog – (if you don’t, just subscribe to us with your email!)
+1 for sharing this contest on Twitter – (please provide the link of your tweet in the comments)
+2 for sharing this contest on your blog – just be sure to leave a link (so that we know who you are, and how you’re sharing it!)
There are 12 entries in total. Don’t forget to leave a comment with your thoughts on the interview, otherwise your extra entries won’t count. And don’t forget to add your email so that we can contact you!
The contest ends at noon EST on Saturday, October 2nd. The winner will be picked using random.org, and will be announced on Sunday, October 3rd.
Blog Tour details:
In case you’re interested in following the blog tour (which I suggest you do!), here is a list of all the stops (including past ones and those upcoming):
Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.