Allison's Book Bag

Catching Up with Kathyrn Erskine

Posted on: January 10, 2014

KathrynErskineIf you haven’t already discovered the award-winning author, Kathryn Erskine, check out a book by her today. Her titles to date are: Ibhubesi The Lion, Quaking, Mockingbird, The Absolute Value of Mike, and Seeing Red. Erskine is an author to watch. I’ll review Seeing Red tomorrow. Save the date: January 11!

ALLISON: In five sentences or less, describe yourself as a child.

KATHRYN: I was imaginative, curious, self-sufficient, and fortunately allowed to play unattended. At 8, I swung on vines from trees (and fell) and built rafts to cross the creek (and sunk). At 11, I roller skated around the city (and fell) and explored abandoned buildings (I wouldn’t recommend this). At 14, I biked for miles on fairly dangerous roads (did not fall, thankfully) and flew places by myself (laden with gifts like a 25 pound fresh salmon–I also would not recommend this). I loved the variety and adventure of growing up in different countries which has definitely informed my writing.

ALLISON: How did adolescence change you? Or did it?

KATHRYN: I noticed more about my world and felt the desire to change it, although I questioned my power and ability to affect change. I did what I felt I could but I wish I’d had more confidence. That’s why I try to make kids feel empowered in my writing, to let them know that their actions really can change the world.

ALLISON: This is my second interview with you. Catch readers up on highlights from your life we talked in the spring of 2012.

KATHRYN: I’ve been lucky to teach workshops at The Highlights Foundation in PA, visit numerous schools (including Fife, Scotland) and give talks at wonderful events like SCBWI conferences, the Virginia Festival of the Book, and the National Book Festival on the mall in Washington, DC. I also got to do research in England and Scotland for my Middle Ages novel (I love crawling over ancient ruins, even with sheep following me like I’m their new shepherdess).

ALLISON: Seeing Red is your second book to deal with race issues. What draws you to this subject?

KATHRYN: Tolerance and understanding are big themes in all of my books. The broad reason for that is my belief that the world would be a better place if we had greater acceptance of people’s differences and really listened to and understood each other. For my readers, I hope it opens the lid on a box that they might want to delve into and explore. Having more understanding leads to increased empathy and open-mindedness which we could use more of in our families, schools, and communities.

ALLISON: Seeing Red is also your fifth book. How has your life changed since the publication of your first book?

KATHRYN: I have grown as a writer. I’ve experienced much as a person, not all good but all fodder for writing and for understanding life better.

ALLISON: In one interview you referred to the importance of integrating humor into your fiction. Why? And how do you maintain a balance between the comedic and the serious?

KATHRYN: We all like to laugh — we all need to laugh. Humor keeps people interested and keeps people reading. And it keeps people open to ideas and whatever might happen next. It makes life easier to handle and makes a story, especially a difficult story, easier to handle, too. Just like in real life, there are highs and lows, and a story needs to follow that kind of rhythm. There are appropriate times for humor–breaking the tension, adding poignancy to a scene–and there are times when it falls flat. When you’re in tune with your story, you get a good feel for when it’s right.

ALLISON: You have posted a playlist for Seeing Red. This seems to be a popular feature on author sites. Why do you think music is so helpful during the writing of a book?

KATHRYN: Songs are another creative expression. The words tell a story but the music evokes something intangible about the time or place where your story is set or the personality of a particular character. It helps put you into your story on a wordless, visceral level. That adds to the authenticity and emotional depth of your writing.

ALLISON: You have dealt with death at least a couple of times in books. What helps you with grief?

KATHRYN: I’m not sure what helps with grief. You have to go through the grieving process, which is a little different for everyone. I think keeping memories alive, paying tribute, memorializing traditions–those kinds of things help. A physical object can serve as a remembrance of a person. It’s even OK to talk to loved ones who are gone because they may not be in our lives anymore but they’re still a part of our lives.

ALLISON: How has the process been different in writing realistic and historical fiction?

KATHRYN: To me, they’re the same. Both require a lot of research although, admittedly, historical novels require more. I love the research aspect and do an incredible amount even for a contemporary novel on a topic with which I’m already familiar. You can always learn more. Much of the research doesn’t end up in the book but you’re coming from an informed place which transfuses your writing.

ALLISON: What is a fun quirk about you?

KATHRYN: I like to write with only recycled pens on only recycled paper.

ALLISON: When not writing, how do you spend your time?

KATHRYN: I walk our dog every day, I like to cook when I have time, and I try to meditate. And I travel as much as possible!

ALLISON: What’s next?

KATHRYN: Next fall, The Badger Knight (Scholastic) will be released. It’s an adventure novel set in the Middle Ages in England driven by the very spunky Adrian, a boy you could imagine meeting today because, really, people’s personalities are the same no matter what era they live in.

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