Thank you Erin for having me be a part of this!
Plain Kate by Erin Bow
Published by Scholastic Inc
September 1st 2010
*Summary from Good Reads*
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 charms are so fine that some even call her "witch-blade"-a dangerous nickname in a town 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 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 town that seems set to burn her, 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 that she can't live shadowless forever-and that Linay's designs are darker than she ever dreamed.
An Interview with Erin Bow
- · What was your favourite book when you were 12? What about now?
It was LORD OF THE RINGS, because I was exactly that kind of smart, shy, bookish, obsessive kid. It maybe still is, because I am still smart and shy and bookish. It has more company now, though: The Earthsea Trilogy, Sutcliff's Roman Britain books, especially THE EAGLE OF THE NINTH, Connie Willis's time-travel books, THE DOOMSDAY BOOK and TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG, and THE LAST UNICORN. And it was hard to keep the list that short.
- What prompted your decision to leave the field of science and focus on your writing?
Oh, dear, this is going to sound almost fictionally dramatic. Bear with me.
I always loved both writing and science -- still do. At university I studied both and thought about switching from physics to English right up until my final year, when it just wasn't practical. I guess I stuck with physics because it seemed to me that I might be able to teach myself to write, but I couldn't teach myself particle physics. Besides, physicists are smart and it's fun to be part of a big group of smart people. So I studied physics and I went to grad school and I worked at CERN. I was pretty high powered, working the 70, 80 weeks scientists are notorious for. I didn't write much; I missed it, but I was busy.
But then I got sick. And it turned out to be a brain tumour. There were just a few days, before they found it was a low-grade tumor, when I thought I was going to die. I couldn't even bear to call my parents. I called, instead, this nice boy who had been my pen pal for years. And one of the things I said to him was: I want to meet you. And the other: I don't want to die, because I haven't written a book.
So I ditched physics. And I married the boy. And I started writing books.
- I really admire you, as I think that few people are able to leave their ‘jobs’ and follow their dreams-what gave you the courage?
A really big advance.
Sorry. But it's true. I have long wanted to write full time, and two book deal I signed with Arthur A. Levine and Scholastic gave me the margin to make it, if not safe, at least sane. It still scares me -- my hubby and I are both writers, and we have two little kids, a mortgage, and no paycheck. If something doesn't bounce right we'll be out of money in two years and will have to live under a bridge. But eventually you have to make the leap, and this seemed like the time.
- What was your inspiration for Plain Kate?
It's hard to know where books come from, but I do know that I read a huge volume of Russian fairy tales just before starting PLAIN KATE.
They blew me away. I read a lot of fairy tales, and I thought I knew them, but the Russian ones are scrumptious: full of surprises and transformations, full of darkness -- even more full of darkness than the Grimm tales, which are darker than most people know. And I like the sense that they come from just over the edge of my map. If you're of Western European extract, like me, the Grimm tales always feel as if you half-know them already. The forest in them sometimes seems like half our history. The Russian tales are stranger, wilder. I wanted to write a fairy tale like that.
- When you write, do you always know where you are going or do your characters lead you in their own directions?
No, I never know where I'm going. My process is to struggle through the first third or so, get hopelessly stuck, whine about it and bash things around for a few months, and then have a breakthrough and three cups of coffee and stay up all night writing a treatment for the rest of the story. This outline usually requires me to throw away the first third and try again. And by the time I get to the last third I've usually changed things again, but this time it's the outline I throw away.
I don't know that this process is what you'd call "optimized." But it -- sort of -- works for me. I can't outline from page one, because I don't know the characters: I don't know what they'd do in XYZ situation. I have to have the time with them, including the stuck time, before I can begin to tell their story.
- Are you working on a new book?
Yes, and I have to finish it soon, or I WILL end up under that bridge. It's called SORROW'S KNOT. Here's the pitch:
In the world of Sorrow’s Knot, the dead do not rest easy. Every patch of shadow might be home to something hungry and nearly invisible, something deadly. The dead can only be repelled with magically knotted cords and yarns. The women who tie these knots are called binders.
Otter is the daughter of Willow, a binder of great power. She's a proud and privileged girl who takes it for granted that she will be a binder some day herself. But when Willow's power begins to turn inward and tear her apart, Otter finds herself trapped with a responsibility she's not ready for, and a power she no longer wants.
- First person you called when you found out that Plain Kate would be published? How did you celebrate?
PLAIN KATE went to auction, so I knew all day that I was going to get a publishing offer -- was going to get several, in fact.
The best part of the story is that my hubby took my mom and me and the kids out to lunch. We were all pretty punchy, and my three-year-old daughter wanted to know what was up. We tried to explain. I can't remember what we said, except that it ended with "It might be a better world." To which she replied: "Can all my jellybeans be red?"
As it turns out, yes. Yes they can. The final offer was amazing, life-changing. And my friend brought over a huge bag of red jellybeans after dinner.
- Anything you’d like readers to know about Plain Kate?
Maybe you've heard about the talking cat. Don't let the talking cat put you off. It's not, I swear it's not, a talking-cat kind of book. It is untouched by the taint of Disney. It's a real fairy tale, dark and wild and full of hard choices and high beauty.
You can learn more about Erin at http://www.erinbow.com/
Erin will be at the Word On The Street Festival in Kitchener Ontario on September 26th
My thoughts on Plain Kate
It's hard to know where to begin, what to say without giving too much away.
I've read a few reviews that have mentioned the book has a similar feel to Phillip Pullmans Dark Materials, and although I agree that it does evoke some of the same feeling-(perhaps it’s the dark fairytale element?) I thought that Kate was more likable and a much easier character to connect with than Pullmans Lyra.
One of the many things I loved about the book was that all the characters were deeply flawed. No one was perfect, they all possessed elements of "good" and "bad"(some more bad than others) Aside from Plain Kate, Taggle was my favourite. Completely himself and content to be. I think Plain Kate longed to be more like that (don't we all?). She strives to find a place to belong; where as Taggle felt he belonged wherever he was.
Plain Kate is beautifully written. Within the first few pages I was instantly transported and was there in the village with Plain Kate and her father.
On the surface the text of the book seems simple and easily read -you could read it that way, tell the story and still enjoy it. But in reality the book is multi-layered with meaning and rich complex characters. It's a story meant to be savoured; to be thought about long after it's finished.
This is one to buy and add to your book collection. Truly stunning.
One lucky person will win a copy of Plain Kate by entering below. I'll accept entries until September 30th. Good Luck!