Interview with YA & MG Author Kathy Erskine

Today I am thrilled to host Kathy Erskine. In addition to being a very sweet person, Kathy is the amazing author of the novels, Quaking and Mockingbird. In March, I had great fun hanging out with Kathy at the Virginia Festival of the Book.

Her most recent novel, Mockingbird has been getting starred reviews left and right and has already been declared a “masterpiece.” Kathy does an amazing job of getting inside the head of her main character, a 10-year-old girl named Caitlin who has Asperger’s Syndrome. Caitlin’s voice is completely believable and moving. I especially liked how Kathy put the dialogue in italics with no parentheses. That stylistic trick helps the reader experience conversations in a different way, just as Caitlin does in her world. Mockingbird‘s packaging is small and unassuming, but it’s a powerful book that will let you step into another mind and stretch your own.

Welcome, Kathy!

What’s your favorite flower and why?

Wisteria – does that count?

Of course! In the language of flowers, the most common meaning I found for wisteria is welcome.

Is there a quotation you live by or have posted at your desk?

Be the change you want to see in the world.

Love that one! If you don’t do it, who will?

Which book do you wish you could live inside?

Inkheart, as long as I was able to get out again!

I really enjoyed Inkheart, too, but would need a break from all those bad guys.

Who’s your favorite dead writer and what book of his/ hers would you recommend? (We don’t want to hurt the feelings of the living here!)

Now that you ask, all I can think of are living authors.  When I was a kid, I loved the Arthur Ransome series:  Swallows and Amazons, Coot Club, We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, etc. or anything by Enid Blyton.

What book have you read more than any other and why?

I don’t generally read books multiple times.  I guess I’ve read several of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books more than once because I find them calming, amusing, and reminiscent of my childhood in Africa.

Was writing Mockingbird a cathartic experience for you after the Virginia Tech tragedy?

Yes.  It was a way of both processing what happened and addressing it.  I incorporated the horrible event by having Caitlin lose her brother in a school shooting and by trying to show the impact on the community.  I’d like to think that if we address issues early in childhood and throughout school (I don’t know what the Virginia Tech shooter’s psychological issue was but, obviously, it was significant) that we might be able to prevent such tragedies.  I hate to see school funding cut and needed services denied because of the negative impact down the road.  That’s why it was important to me for Caitlin’s school to have Mrs. Brook, the counselor.

What do you hope your readers take away from your novels?

Hope, that’s the main thing.  I’d like them to think, to laugh, to learn something in a fun way (e.g., about Asperger’s, about Quakers, about South African history), but mainly I want them to feel that there’s hope in any situation.

You have a child with Asperger’s syndrome. Did that help you find the voice of Caitlyn?

Yes, although my daughter has changed noticeably over the years so I really had to think a lot about they way she thought, the kinds of things she said, and what she did.  Also, I did a lot of research to be as authentic as possible.  I always do a lot of research.

Yes, I agree. Research is essential. Your other novel, Quaking, is YA? Why did you decide to write an MG novel for this story?

It just came out that way and, actually, despite the age of the character (10 at the beginning of the book, 11 by the end), the subject matter is weighty, and many consider it to be YA.

Yes, I definitely think lots of YA readers will be moved by Mockingbird. What’s coming out next from you and what are you working on now?

The Absolute Value of Mike, the story of a boy with a math learning disability and his genius father.  Obviously, there’s conflict right there, but this novel has a lot of humor and is full of things not being what they seem on the surface.  Mike is due out next summer (2011).  Currently, I’m working on a novel set in Virginia in the early 1970’s that has a bit of mystery in it and I don’t want to say too much more or I might give it away.  I’m also working on a contemporary humorous novel and an adventure set in the Middle Ages.  And an adult novel.  And a picture book.  I just need to clone myself.

I know what you mean, and I’m excited that you have so many novels yet to come. Your topics are certainly ecletic. (I love that word.) Thanks for coming by, Kathy.

Thanks for having me, Amy!

You can find out more about Kathy and her novels on her website here, and also follow her on Twitter here.

And don’t forget that my contest to win Mistwood by Tenner Leah Cypess ends today!!

4 Comments

  • I like wisteria, too, even if the sign at the last botanical gardens we went to labeled it “dangerous.” Nice interview!

  • Yes, it’s considered invasive if it gets in natural areas. There is a native variety that has smaller flowers, but I think they last longer and still purple!

  • Great interview. Very excited to read this book!

  • Just finished MOCKINGBIRD. What a special book. There is a scene with the art teacher that kills me. And now I’m thinking, I shared a panel at VA Book Fest with Kathy! Awesome!!

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