Monday, April 12, 2010

Kathy Erskine Author Interview

Today we want to welcome Kathy Erskine. Kathy's newest book, Mockingbird, is coming out this week. Some of us are fortunate to have met Kathy through our local SCBWI, and we saw her recently at the Virginia Festival of the Book. I asked Kathy a few questions about her writing.

Your new book, Mockingbird, deals with some very emotional issues, such as a school shooting, and a character who has Aspberger's coping with her brother's death. How did you choose to write about these characters in this situation?

I wanted to write a novel told through the eyes of a child with Asperger's because of my daughter. I'd written bits and pieces but didn't really have a framework for it. In trying to process the horrible Virginia Tech shootings, I knew I had to write something about it, but nothing too direct, just the feeling of what it might be like dealing with the aftermath. I thought about how hard it was for anyone to deal with, and yet how much more difficult it would be if the person you lost was the person you relied on to navigate your world. That's how the idea of Caitlin's losing her brother in a school shooting came about. It was a middle school, not university, but the idea of dealing with senseless violence is the same.

Do you outline, or are you more of a seat-of-your-pants writer? How do you go about organizing your story?

I wish I could be more organized but characters and scenes just come to me, completely out of order, and the hardest part of writing for me is putting everything in sequence. Sometimes I make an outline after the fact to try figure out where things are now and where they should go. Other times I write an abbreviated version of every scene on a sticky note and go down the hall posting them, then start moving them around until they make sense. It's not a particularly efficient process but it helps having the entire story visible in one place.

How different is the final book from your original idea of it? Who influenced the differences?

Mockingbird is not particularly different from the way it came out, and any differences were influenced first by my critique group (pointing out scenes that weren't really necessary for the story), next by my editors (who have a very light touch). In Quaking, there was much more revision and reorganizing to be done. Again, my critique group helped a lot, and my editors were great about pointing out places were the manuscript had problems, but also great about not telling me what to do, instead telling me that it needed work and I should think about how to resolve the issue. It's amazing what you can fix if you think about it long enough!

How does critique fit into your writing process? Do you prefer to get feedback as you go along, or would you rather take your manuscript as far as you can on your own before showing it to others?

In my earlier manuscripts, I really felt like I needed feedback all along the way. Now I'd rather write a whole draft and let people look at it. If I get stuck, of course, then I definitely ask for help.

Was there one piece of advice along your journey as a writer that you found most helpful?

Yes. Don't give up! Seriously, I was ready to give up early on because I felt like I wasn't getting anywhere. In reality, I was (incrementally) improving my writing ability and my knowledge of the craft and the industry. The overnight success experience is rare and even when it happens the person who looks like a success can have a very hard time getting a second book written and published. So try not to get discouraged--just work on your craft and do get to know the industry and the players by attending writing conferences.

Mockingbird is your third book. How has the publishing process changed for you since your first book?

I think a publishing house is a little readier to accept you if your previous book has done well or garnered some recognition (state reading lists, ALA lists, etc.). But even if you don't have that, it helps if you can show that you're connected with the reading community via blogs, etc. because publishers can't advertise every book equally. If you're willing to do some advertising yourself, that's a plus for both you and the publisher.

Of all the possible readers in the world, who would you most like to know had read and loved your book?

Whichever kid (or adult) needed it the most at that point in time. After I wrote Quaking, a Muslim mom wrote to me about how her preteen and teen girls read it, along with her, and she was so grateful because they (and she) felt like someone finally understood what it was like for them after 9/11 (when they were ostracized and even attacked because of their religion). If they were the only 3 people in the world who read my book, it would've been worth it.

Are there any questions you wish you'd been asked and are dying to answer?

Just for fun (but also I'm serious):

1. Where do I get my best ideas? In the shower! Or on a walk.2. What gets you through the roughest times? Coffee and chocolate.3. What do you do when you get stuck? Take a break (see #1 or #2, above). If you can afford it, get a massage! It's absolutely amazing for freeing up your creative ideas.
Thanks for having me! Hope to meet you all in person!Kathy


TerryLynnJohnson said...

great interview ladies! This book sounds awesome!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Michelle, and all you slushbusters, for hosting me!

KM said...

Good interview!

Michelle said...

Any time, Kathy! And congrats on all the buzz. I've seen your book a lot of places this week.

Sarah said...

Thanks for stopping by, Kathy!