Allison's Book Bag

Interview with Kathryn Erskine

Posted on: May 11, 2012

When preparing interviews, I start by staring blankly at the computer screen and wondering what questions can I ask that are new. Once I start typing down ideas, I quickly face the opposite dilemma. Suddenly I have far too many questions! With Kathryn Erskine, I divided my questions into three parts, with a few to each part, but still ended up with far more than was probably polite to send. Thanks to Erskine for graciously answering the questions of an overeager interviewer!

CULTURAL

On your bio, you list many different places where you have roots: the Netherlands, Israel, South Africa, and Scotland.

Allison: What are some unique foods you ate as a child? Which were your favorite? What are some you still can’t stand?

Kathryn: Biltong (like beef jerky), haggis (various organ meats in a sheep’s stomach), seal flipper pie, cod tongue, and probably others I’m forgetting.  Really, there’s no food I can’t stand.  I did get tired of plain cod, though, and my two best friends and I would invite each other over for dinner at whoever’s house was NOT serving cod — until our mothers’ wised up and all started serving cod on the same nights!

Allison: You must have experienced quite a variety of cultural traditions. What were your favorite, and have you kept any?

Kathryn: After living in South Africa and Scotland, Christmas is very Anglophile.  We have crackers (poppers with toys, hats and jokes inside) –and you must wear the silly paper hat all during Christmas dinner — and Christmas pudding (like a spice cake with raisins) complete with rum so we can light it on fire.  Often there’s a prize hidden in the pudding.  I still sing the British version of carols because I can’t get them out of my head, and because they’re so beautiful.

Allison: How did growing up in different countries influence who you are today?

Kathryn: It has taught me to look at things from different perspectives and to always ask why — what’s the story behind the story?  It opened my eyes to different ways of doing things and to this day I love traveling and learning about different cultures.  I also want to share that with my kids, and with those read my books.

Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

MOCKINGBIRD

When I read the description of Mockingbird, I knew I had to read it because it was about a girl with Asperger’s. (The next book of yours I want to read is The Absolute Value of Mike.) As a special education teacher, I am interested in children’s books that feature kids with special needs.

Allison: Your book is written from the viewpoint of a girl who has Asperger’s. Although you are the mother of a child who has Asperger’s, I still think it’s remarkable that you were able to make the leap to seeing the world through her eyes. How easy or difficult was this for you?

Kathryn: I always work hard at getting into character — it’s one of the many fun parts of writing.  I research and experience what my character does (even down to sticking my head under the sofa cushions!) so I can try to relay that authentically on the page.  After all the research, including listening to the music my character might listen to, eating and drinking what they do, wearing what they wear, it’s very easy to write them.

Allison: You indicated in one interview that you like writing most about tolerance and understanding. You’ve written about racism, the meaning of family, Asperger’s, and most recently learning disabilities. Do you draw on experience or research for these topics?

Kathryn: Both.  I’ve lived through a lot of things, good and bad, and I use my experiences and emotions in my writing.  But I don’t think that’s enough, because that’s just one person’s experience, so I also research a lot to try get it right.  That includes reading, observing, interviewing, traveling, even watching movies.

Allison: Do children with special needs find enough role models in the books they read? Are writers and publishers doing right by children with special needs?

Kathryn: I think there are more and more books about kids with special needs, which is great to see.  Differences are no longer being ignored so we’re even getting stories about transgender issues and mental illness, all of which is very helpful for young readers.

Allison: Do you have any advice for the peers of children with Asperger’s? Do you have any advice for teachers who have students with Asperger’s?

Kathyrn: Two things:  1) try to be as understanding as possible, and 2) be as direct, even blunt, as you can, because the clearer you are, the more likely the person with Asperger’s will understand you.

Newfoundland Flag

Newfoundland Flag (Photo credit: Product of Newfoundland)

NEWFOUNDLAND

When I saw that you’d lived in my home province of Newfoundland and were planning to set your next novel there, I knew I had to interview you.

Allison: Where in Newfoundland have you been, and what prompted you to go there?

Kathryn: I lived in St. John’s for three years as a teenager because my father was in the U.S. Foreign Service.  I volunteered at the Janeway (children’s hospital), biked around Quidi Vidi lake, and loved being able to walk to some of my favorite shops near the harbor in downtown St. John’s.  I was mostly on the Avalon Peninsula but did go to Terra Nova National Park, which is gorgeous.

Allison: What do you like about Newfoundland?

Kathryn: I like the wild beauty of the land and the sea, and the friendliness of the people!

Allison: You also mention mummers. Have you seen any in person? (I  must admit that I have not, but wish I had.) Have you encountered any other Newfie traditions, such as Screech-ins?

Kathryn: I haven’t technically seen mummers because they weren’t dressed up, just people going from house to house singing carols, which I love.  And I haven’t been Screeched in because I don’t think I could handle much Screech at all — not without screeching, anyway!

Allison: What can you tell us about your upcoming novel? Why did you decide to have it take place in Newfoundland?

Kathryn: Well, for one thing, it gives me another reason to go back and visit!  Also, the outports and the people have distinct personalities and an appealing image, so I’m writing about a disgruntled American who escapes there, although he finds that his image of the place isn’t exactly what he thought.  I don’t want to say too much more or I may give things away.  😮

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6 Responses to "Interview with Kathryn Erskine"

Kathryn, on the topic of Screech-ins… As Allison’s husband, and having come to love Newfoundland as my second home, and also having heard about Screech-ins for many years, I jumped at the chance to be participate in a Screech-in a couple years ago. Now, all I’d ever heard of about Screech-ins was that one had to: a) drink some Screech, b) kiss a cod. But the Screech-in I went to added perhaps a dozen more steps to the “ceremony” — from dressing like a Newfie (by wearing fisherman slickers) to smelling like a Newfie (by wearing a dried fish around our necks) to eating like a Newfie (by eating the head off the dried fish), etc. (And if a person didn’t like one of the steps, they just skipped it.) Then, of course, there was the Screech. Mind you, I don’t drink at all. So I was a little concerned. But it was just a shot glass full; the sensation was something like drinking cough syrup. I survived. And more importantly, it was a weird and enjoyable evening, and I’m glad I did it. It was all in fun, of course, but still I like to think that I now have a tiny bit stronger connection to Newfoundland.

Thank you, Andy, and you’re absolutely right! Next trip, I will go for the Screech-in. I like the multi-step process because I’m game to trying new things, even odd things. And what photo opportunities! :o) I look forward to being an official honorary Newfie!

Great! Just be sure you come back here and tell us all about it! 😉 P.S. Speaking of photo opportunities, click the thumbnail photo attached to this comment to see a photo from my Screech-in.

Great! Just be sure you come back here and tell us all about it! P.S. Speaking of photo opportunities, click the thumbnail photo attached to this comment to see a photo from my Screech-in.

Awesome!!! Love that photo! I will definitely report on it. In the meantime, here’s my blog linking to Allison’s work, and some photos of Newfoundland: http://kathyerskine.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/ode-to-newfoundland/

Thanks for the links! It always helps traffic to Allison’s Book Bag when an author posts links of my reviews on their site. Hopefully, my posts will also drive some traffic to your site and books.

I love the photos! Now I’m itching to update my Facebook albums. 🙂

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