Plain Kate / Erin Bow Blog Tour: Interview and Plain Kate Giveaway!

19 Sep

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!


Giveaway Details:

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 ❤ 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, 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):

September 17th:

September 18th:

September 20th:

September 21st:

September 22nd:

September 23rd:

September 24th:


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.

31 Responses to “Plain Kate / Erin Bow Blog Tour: Interview and Plain Kate Giveaway!”

  1. Savannah J. Foley September 19, 2010 at 11:49 AM #

    Can’t participate in the contest since I’m a contributor and an American, but I wanted to say how eager I am to read Plain Kate after seeing Vanessa’s review and this interview! I loved what Erin said about Russian fairy tales being wild and on the edge. I’m definitely adding Plain Kate to my TBR pile.

    • Vanessa September 19, 2010 at 10:24 PM #

      Interviewing Erin was such a pleasure!! I was so excited when I got her responses! 😀

  2. samanthabina September 19, 2010 at 12:30 PM #

    I second Savannah’s sympathy in not being able to participate in the contest, since my poor American self has been meaning to pick up this book for a while now! Vanessa kept saying how much she loved it, which really moved it up my TBR pile. So as soon as I have money again, I’ll be running to B&N for this book.

    And this was SUCH a great interview, Vanessa and Erin! What you said, Erin, about a younger audience being able to lose themselves in a story easier than adults, sometimes I think that’s very true.

    • Vanessa September 19, 2010 at 10:44 PM #

      I feel so much pressure on my shoulders now, lol! But I know you’ll love it!

      I totally agree with that point too! Adults get too caught up in being adults, I think. I like to think that I’m still a child at heart, though :p

  3. jenn fitzgerald September 19, 2010 at 1:41 PM #

    Great interview! It’s made me want to read Plain Kate even more now. I love the idea of it being inspired by Russian fairytales and folklore. And great point about YA and MG books having to do something, that beautiful writing isn’t enough for younger reads, because I think that’s dead on.

    • Vanessa September 19, 2010 at 10:45 PM #

      That’s actually what first interested me – the fact that it was inspired by Russian folklore (and the prose… you know me and my lyrical prose!!!)

  4. Bea Walker September 19, 2010 at 4:49 PM #

    Loved the interview and hope I can score a copy of Plain Kate :)I’ve been wanting to read it since I read the earlier review and have even recommended it to my younger sister.
    As a MA student in Folklore, I can’t wait to see the parallels it draws to Russian folklore. Some of my favorite folktales ever are from Russia and I love to see how modern authors interpret these stories.
    I also really enjoyed the comment “Think about it: is there any book we love like the books we love as children?” I have an entire shelf of books dedicated to the well loved novels of my childhood 🙂

    • Vanessa September 19, 2010 at 10:50 PM #

      Hi Bea!

      First, can I just say how jealous I am that you’re doing your Masters in Folklore? (Makes me want to do that!). I think people don’t give other culture’s folklore much thought – but I think they’re so absolutely fascinating! But I have to admit, before Plain Kate, Russian folklore was one that I wasn’t very familiar with. You can bet that I’ll be looking for some anthologies of Russian folklore now, though!

      And I still reread a lot of my favourite childhood books! I’m so glad I still have them on my shelves (and that I was such a book hoarder as a kid – I can’t imagine not having them on my shelves!)

  5. Biljana September 19, 2010 at 7:40 PM #

    Charlotte’s Web is one of my childhood favourites too. It’s one of those bittersweet books that have an ending that really resonates :).

    And that history fact is fascinating! I look forward to reading both Plain Kate and Teleportation of Gilbert Perez!

    Thanks for a great interview!

    • Vanessa September 19, 2010 at 10:51 PM #

      See? Now you know why I was so excited about sharing these interview answers!

  6. steph September 19, 2010 at 9:29 PM #

    Great interview! I especially like the answer regarding the magic of YA books as opposed to literary fic for adults. I’ve never really given much thought to that.

    And I also quoted Bow’s comment on her favourites being children’s books and poetry! 🙂 That’s on Tuesday…

    • Vanessa September 19, 2010 at 10:55 PM #

      Hi Steph!

      I loved her answer to that one as well! It’s the perfect way to describe why I was always drawn to YA and children’s books as opposed to adult fiction, though I also enjoy literary fiction. It just lacks something – that thing that makes stories magical.

      Can’t wait to check out your interview with Erin on Tuesday! 😀

  7. Caitlin September 19, 2010 at 10:40 PM #

    This interview definitely makes me want to read Plain Kate now, I can’t believe Erin used to work for CERN (that is SO awesome!) also she gets bonus points for her current boo being non-fiction. I also just noticed when reading this that Kate doesn’t have a shadow on the cover, clever. I’ll be reading this soon I hope.

    (also totally from the USA so I can’t enter the contest, even if my family does share a cabin in Canada with our relatives.)

    • Vanessa September 19, 2010 at 10:57 PM #

      I KNOW, right? I mean… CERN! That’s incredible!!

      And to be honest, I NEVER noticed that about the cover! I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on that little detail on the cover sooner!!

      You don’t have any relatives in Canada we could ship the book to (and who would, in turn, ship it to you?). Cause if you do, that could work as well.

  8. Jen Albaugh September 19, 2010 at 11:26 PM #

    A happy Torontonian chiming in!

    Great interview, Vanessa!

    Loved your question comparing YA and adult fic, and loved Erin’s response just as much! As both a writer and someone who taught the 8th Grade (as well as having been a school librarian) for about 8 years, I absolutely agree with the idea that there are certain things that cannot just be “slid past” kids/teens. One of my favourite things (now you KNOW I am Canadian – I’m leaving the “u” in “favourite” despite the U.S. spell check in this comments section rejecting it!) about YA fic is that we can see an ever-increasing respect for young readers and what they deserve in a “great read”.

    Keep up the great work! Though you can’t see me, I’m crossing my fingers AND toes for the contest (maybe it’s better that you cannot see that…umm…)

    • Vanessa September 20, 2010 at 12:02 AM #

      Woohoo! Hello fellow Torontonian! 😀

      And thanks Jen! I’m glad you enjoyed the interview. I think it’s unfair to kids/teens to leave out things that are deemed too complex/mature. What I really loved about Plain Kate is that it doesn’t hold back – and I know younger readers will understand.

      People really don’t give kids/teens enough credit!

  9. Julie Eshbaugh September 19, 2010 at 11:42 PM #

    Vanessa, this was a fantastic interview, though I didn’t need any additional prodding to read PLAIN KATE; I ordered it immediately after reading your review posted earlier! I trust your opinion, since I’ve loved everything that you’ve given high marks. I can’t wait to read PK!

    • Vanessa September 19, 2010 at 11:55 PM #

      Thanks Julie!! 😀 I can’t wait to hear what you think of it after you read it!!!!!

      • Savannah J. Foley September 20, 2010 at 9:48 AM #

        I wanted to order immediately but I’ve been doing Christmas shopping lately… plus I have a TBR pile that isn’t shrinking fast enough!

        • Vanessa September 22, 2010 at 9:36 AM #

          My TBR pile is MASSIVE as well! If only I had more time to read!!

  10. Danya September 20, 2010 at 12:04 AM #

    I’m interested to learn more about Russian folklore. Also, the book she’s working on right now sounds intriguing…something to do with time travel, sounds like!

    Thanks for having a giveaway just for us Canadians! 😀

    I’m following all three of you on Twitter now (username Word_Tapestry), here’s the URL for my tweet:

    Also, I’m now subscribing to your blog through Google Reader 🙂

    • Vanessa September 20, 2010 at 10:00 AM #

      You’re very welcome Danya! (Us Canadians gotta stick together! :p)


  11. Vee September 20, 2010 at 6:37 AM #

    Fantastic interview, V! I can’t wait to read Plain Kate after this and your amazing Book Recommendation. Unfortunately, not Canadian so I can’t enter but I’ll either order it or pick it up at a store soon 😀

    • Vanessa September 20, 2010 at 10:01 AM #

      Thanks Vee! 😀 I don’t think it’s out in your side of the world till March or so, but I hope you can get a copy of it soon!

  12. Kat Zhang September 20, 2010 at 8:48 AM #

    Lovely interview! If only I were Canadian, I’d totally try to win a copy 😉

    But making a run to the bookstore is second best!

    • Vanessa September 20, 2010 at 10:02 AM #

      AHAHAHA! And not a contributor! :p

      Let me know what you think of it after you’ve picked it up and read it!! I LOVE talking about books with people!

  13. Lea Kaplan September 21, 2010 at 12:42 PM #

    Like most people here, I got very excited about reading PK from Vanessa’s review. And I /did/ notice the whole no-shadow-on-cover thing; I think the cover’s absolutely gorgeous, and it was seeing the cover that only solidified my wanting to read it. [:

    I’m also going to agree with everyone about the whole Russian folklore things. I used to have a huge anthology of Grimm’s fairy tales that I loved to read (I wonder if I still have it somewhere…), but I never even gave two thoughts to the fact that other cultures will have other fairy tales and folklore. So you have no idea how excited I am to expand my knowledge in that department.

    It makes me sad that most adults can’t fall under the spell of a book like we could as children. But it is true – children live in a fantastic world as it is, created in their own minds, which makes it so much easier for them to just step up and live in one in a book. I still love reading children’s books, YA/MG books, because I can read it, right in the pages – the exuberance in each word, that fantastic world being created with each new detail, that excitement building simply because the readers are excited. It helps keep me young. It’s something that I, hoping to write YA or teen fiction, can only hope to achieve.

    Oh, and I love Taggle already, and I haven’t even read it yet. [: But a talking cat? I know that he’ll be totally awesome!

    Now for the nitty-gritties of the giveaway. [: Represent Canadians (and Torontonians)! I follow the blog on Twitter (I’m kapppz) and am a member of the group on Facebook. I RTed the contest on Twitter, too ( And I also follow Scholastic Canada.

    I’m looking forward to reading Plain Kate, whether I win or not! Great interview, to both Erin and Vanessa!

    • Vanessa September 22, 2010 at 9:40 AM #

      Thanks Lea!!! ❤

      I think that's why so many adults find themselves being drawn towards MG/YA fiction – there is a magical quality of storytelling and adventure in children's lit that is often lacking in adult fiction.

      I can't wait for you to read Plain Kate! (And Taggle is WONDERFUL!)

  14. Rika Ashton September 21, 2010 at 8:39 PM #

    Plain Kate sounds awesome! I’ve wanted to read it since your review came out. The whole Russian folklore aspect really intrigues me. Not to mention I’ve been a fan of talking cats since Salem on “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.”

    Luckily, I’m Canadian so I get to enter the contest. Yay!!!

    For the contest:
    I’m following the three of you on twitter (Username: RikaAshton) and linked to the contest: and I’m a fan on Facebook as well. Plus, i already follow your blog.

    • Vanessa September 22, 2010 at 9:45 AM #

      OMG Salem!!! I totally forgot about him! ❤ I'm a huge cat person (my fave animal is a Tiger!), so naturally, all I needed to hear was "talking cat" and I was sold, ahahahaha!

      But in all seriousness, Taggle is a remarkable character. I only wish to one day be able to create a character like him (with or without whiskers!).

      Thanks Rika! 😀

  15. ทัวร์ลาว October 20, 2010 at 2:04 PM #

    tour laos. It’s OK.

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