Friday, September 26, 2008

Author Chat: An Interview with Kirby Larson


Me: Welcome to Bloggin' 'bout Books, Kirby! We're going to talk about Two Bobbies, make no mistake, but first I have to ask you about Hattie Big Sky (which I LOVED) ... I read the book after my mother-in-law raved about it. After I read it, I passed it on to my 94-year-old grandmother, who also loved it. Why do you think the book appeals to so many different generations of readers?

KL: This has been one of the many pleasant surprises with Hattie Big Sky, that its readers range from 9ish to 90ish. I think this story connects with more experienced readers (notice I didn’t say older!) because of their awareness of history; younger readers may focus on Hattie’s struggles to survive and to discover herself. I think this phenomenon also points to something I believe with my whole heart: that the designation, “children’s and young adult literature,” is more about the ages of the characters than the ages of the readers.

Me: Hattie Big Sky is your first and only foray into Young Adult fiction. Why did you choose to write the story for older audiences? How does writing for young adults differ from writing for younger children? Which do you find more difficult? Why?

KL: Ah, well, it’s my only published foray into YA! You haven’t seen the oh-so-many novel manuscripts languishing in my desk drawer. Honestly, I didn’t choose to write for older audiences; I wrote the manuscript that I felt best told the story I wanted to tell. I let my publisher worry about where it fit in the market. In terms of what kind of story is harder or easier – there are easy days of writing and hard days of writing and they have nothing to do with the genre of a story.

Me: I've heard rumors that a sequel to Hattie Big Sky may be in the works. Any word on that?
KL: I panicked when I first began getting emails and letters requesting a sequel to Hattie Big Sky because I thought I had finished that story. But now, after a few years, I’m finding I miss Hattie and want to find out for myself what she’s up to these days. So let’s say I am exploring the possibility of a sequel.

Me: Okay, enough about Hattie Big Sky, let's talk about your new book, Two Bobbies. When did you first hear about Bobbi and Bob Cat, the cat and dog who helped each other survive Hurricane Katrina? What touched you about their story?

KL: I made two trips to the Gulf Coast to help with Katrina clean-up and heard such amazing stories that I knew I wanted to write something about that experience. At the same time, Mary and I were talking over doing a book together. She saw the Bobbies featured on Anderson Cooper 360 and called me immediately. This inspirational story about two friends was the perfect one for us to tell together.

Me: When and why did you decide to make their story into a picture book?

KL: This is such a great question! I think it was partly a gut feeling – the story had such tremendous potential for a powerful meshing of text and art – and partly because this was the first time either of us had written narrative non-fiction and a picture book project seemed just right.

Me: Two Bobbies is co-written by Mary Nethery, whom I hadn't heard of until now. Tell me about her and the whole collaborative process. How does it work? Did you two agree on every aspect of the story or did you have to compromise here and there?

KL: I’m sorry you don’t know Mary’s other books. One of my favorites is Mary Veronica’s Egg, which is a perfect showcase for Mary’s quirky sense of humor and her elegant writing style. You’ll have to be on the lookout for her next book, THE FAMOUS NINI, The Mostly True Story of a Plain White Cat Who Became a Star! , coming out in 2009 from Houghton Mifflin. Mary is a longtime friend and amazing writer who is extraordinarily thoughtful and process-oriented in her work. I am more of a seat-of-the-pants writer. We worked out a great system in which we emailed drafts of the story back and forth during the week (I live near Seattle, WA and Mary lives in Eureka, CA) and then every Friday we had a 4 pm wine chat, during which we talked about the latest draft in detail. We did agree in principal on the essential elements of story but we varied on exactly how to tell it at times. I honestly can’t remember who wrote which sections; we worked hard to find a unified voice. We found collaboration so enjoyable, we are now at work on another narrative nonfiction picture book manuscript.

Me: Both the books I've mentioned so far were inspired by real stories. Where else do you find ideas for your books?

KL: I get asked this question a lot. One thing you may not realize is that writers are essentially observers. When you’re watching and listening (I confess, I eavesdrop!), you can’t help but be astonished at all the good ideas out there. Not every good idea, however, deserves a book and that’s something writers wrestle with all the time.

Me: You've said that books were your best friends while growing up. At what point did you decide you could write your own book? Did you do any writing as a child?

KL: I did lots of writing when I was a kid, mostly really awful poems with forced rhymes. And lots of angsty poetry as a teenager, too. My undergraduate major was Broadcast Communications; I thought I wanted to be a journalist. But I had a face for radio and a voice for the page. I sold some short stories, personal essays and magazine features but it wasn’t until I had children myself that I thought about writing for children. I can remember the exact day that it happened. We went to the library each week and checked out boxfuls of books. One of the books we brought home was Ming Lo Moves the Mountain, by Arnold Lobel. When I finished reading that picture book to my two kids, it was as if a light switch went off inside me and I knew in that instant I had found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life: write books that would touch other young readers the way that book touched my children and me.

Me: What new projects do you have in the works? Are you finding any more interesting characters in your family tree to write about?

KL: In addition to a second narrative nonfiction picture book with Mary, I am working on another historical novel, with an 11-year-old main character. I am behind on getting it to my editor so as soon as I finish this interview, I have to get back at it!

Me: Finally, I ask this question of every author I interview, because I'm always fascinated by their answers. How do you write? Do you have a certain time every day when you write or do you compose when the mood strikes? Do you plan out every word or let the words flow as they may? Where do you write? What things must you have by your side in order to write productively (a latte, perhaps?)?

KL: A daily walk and a daily latte are essential to my productivity! Writing is my job so I do write nearly every day, thought it’s harder for me to write when I’m traveling. I have an office in my home (and now have a second wonderful office in our beach house, on Boundary Bay). I’ve found that my muse is as ornery as Violet, the contemptible cow in Hattie Big Sky: If I’m not working, she doesn’t feel like she has to, either. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a huge planner. I don’t write outlines before I start, but I do try to get a feeling for the main scenes in the book. I generally get down a first draft (a horrible, horrible first draft) and then get out a shovel and dig around to find the one or two things worth keeping.

Me: Thanks so much, Kirby. It's been fun "chatting" with you!

KL: Thank you, Susan. I appreciate your interest in my books and your faithful support of reading in general. You and other book bloggers are like cyberspace Johnny Appleseeds, planting a passion for books everywhere you go.

1 comment:

  1. Great interview Susan! I was able to chat with her this month as well and I loved her!! Thanks!

    ReplyDelete

Comments make me feel special, so go crazy! Just keep it clean and civil. Feel free to speak your mind (I always do), but be aware that I will delete any offensive comments.

P.S.: Don't panic if your comment doesn't show up right away. I have to approve each one before it posts to prevent spam. It's annoying, but it works!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin