A Visit with Katherine Kirkpatrick, author of BETWEEN TWO WORLDS

Today we welcome Katherine Kirkpatrick to the blog, to talk about her new book, BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, Wendy Lamb Books/Random House April 2014.

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On the treeless shores of Itta, Greenland, as far north as humans can settle, sixteen-year-old Inuit Billy Bah spots a ship far out among the icebergs on the bay–a sight both welcome and feared. Explorers have already left their indelible mark on her land and its people, and a ship full of white men can mean trouble. 
      By turns lyrical and gripping, Between Two Worlds is an impassioned coming-of-age novel set in a land of breathtaking beauty and danger, where nature and love are powerful and unpredictable forces.

Now, on to some questions! Katherine, what made you realize you wanted to be a writer? Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

In the sixth grade, I wrote a story about vampire bats attacking a scientist. That year I won an English prize, the first of many, and writing became “my thing.”

My advice to aspiring writers is to take all assignments, paid and unpaid. Contribute to your school’s alumni magazine and local newspaper. Think about what organizations you belong to. Blog. Volunteer your talents, make people laugh, feel appreciated, hone your skills.

Why did you choose to write historical fiction for young adults?

My mother loved history and partly for that reason my parents chose to settle in a community rich in colonial and maritime lore, the Three Villages (Stony Brook, Setauket, Old Field), Long Island, New York. My family liked to tour historic houses and visit old cemeteries and our local carriage museum.

When I started to write novels, I found myself drawn to the coming-of-age themes of independence, discovery, maturity, and relationships in young adult fiction.

Where did you get the idea that sparked Between Two Worlds?

In the Hall of Meteorites at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, I noticed a photo of four-year-old Marie Peary, the daughter of Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary, onboard a ship with a gigantic meteorite. After researching Marie’s life, I started a novel. I showed it to editor Mary Cash at Holiday House, along with stunning photographs of Marie in Arctic Greenland. With the photos in mind, Mary encouraged me to write a nonfiction book, The Snow Baby, published in 2007.

Years later I returned to the novel. It took on new life when I decided to switch perspectives, telling the story from Billy Bah’s, an Inuk girl’s, point of view.

I really enjoyed reading The Snow Baby. Can you tell us a little bit about your work writing both fiction and nonfiction, and how one approach may inform the other?

I’d published four novels before I wrote The Snow Baby, so I brought to that photo essay/biography the novelist’s ability to think in terms of drama and scenes. After eight years of publishing nonfiction books, I returned to fiction with Between Two Worlds. By this time, I’d learned to focus more on character development than historical research and, as a result, greatly improved my craft.

Between Two Worlds is based on a true story. What’s real and what’s made up? 

About 80 percent of the book is based on historical events. Sixteen-year-old Billy Bah joined the Peary family on his ship Windward, which became locked in ice for eight months in 1900-1901. Just about everything but the triangle love story and conversations with the ancestor-ghosts is historically based.

Tell us about the real Billy Bah. 

Billy Bah, also known as Eqariusaq, was born around 1884 in a remote coastal area of Arctic Greenland. When she was about eleven, she spent a year in Washington, D.C. with Peary’s family. She was both orphaned and married around age fourteen. Peary referred to her as his most expert seamstress. She sewed the fur coat that explorer Matthew Henson wore during the famed Peary expedition of 1909 to the North Pole.

The setting of 1901 Arctic Greenland plays a distinct and significant role in the novel. Also, you use a lot of Inuktun (Polar Eskimo) words in the book. Were these challenges for you, in terms of making Billy Bah’s story come alive for YA readers?

The key to historical fiction is to put the past into the present, to bring out universal themes that a modern-day audience can relate to such as the desire to belong or the need for independence. People have always shared many of the same core fears and desires. One common teenage dilemma is that at some point we must act under pressure and make difficult choices.

In earlier drafts, I used a lot of Inuktun words. My editor Wendy Lamb cut out most of them, smoothing out the prose, while skillfully leaving in hints of the native sounds. Wendy also had me tone down aspects of traditional Inuit life that modern readers might find off-putting. I downplayed the cultural norms of uncombed hair, unwashed bodies, head lice, and body lice.

We all struggle to maintain “balance” in our writing lives. Could you describe your typical writing day?

I block out about fifteen hours of morning time, Monday to Friday, for writing, and this time is for writing only. I’ll work in email before or after, and in between my family-related commitments, such as taking my two middle-school-age children to their music lessons. Though I don’t write in the evenings or on weekends, I’ll sometimes do work-related reading or editing.

What are you working on now?

My novel in progress is set in England and Egypt in 1922-1923, during the opening of King Tut’s tomb. Two years ago, I visited the book’s Egyptian settings. The highlight was flying over the Valley of the Kings in a hot air balloon. This past April, I visited my novel’s main British setting, Highclere Castle in Berkshire, outside of London. Highclere is now popular as the set for the hit British TV series “Downton Abbey.” I’ve been enjoying myself researching and writing, and I hope that spirit of fun and adventure will go into the book.

What was it like to have the great Madeleine L’Engle as a writing teacher?

Madeleine was the most extraordinary person I’ve ever known. Quite tall, regal, and magnificent in her long purple and blue dresses, she projected the same sense of wonder as her classic fantasy novel A Wrinkle in Time. Her expansive vision included a belief in angels, whom she was sure appeared regularly to all of us.

As a writing teacher she wasn’t what you would expect. Instead of talking about plot, character, or story structure, she preferred more abstract themes about the larger role of writing and art in our lives. Her belief about writing was that it’s an entry into the larger Cosmos. In the ten years I knew Madeleine, she taught me about the life of spirit and the value of community. To learn more about Madeleine, see A Circle of Friends: Remembering Madeleine L’Engle (http://www.katherinekirkpatrick.com/book_02.html ).

Thanks for visiting with us, Katherine!

Thanks for interviewing me, Susan!Image

Katherine Kirkpatrick is the author of seven fiction and nonfiction books, including The Snow Baby, a James Madison Book Award Honor Book and a Booklist Editors’ Choice and Top Ten Biography for Youth; and Mysterious Bones, a Golden Kite Honor Book for Nonfiction, a NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, a Washington State Book Award Finalist, and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. She lives in Seattle.

Why Write Historical Fiction?

I get asked this question all the time. As if there’s something less-than about drawing on historical details rather than, say, fantasy elements or futuristic dystopias. There’s the implication that history is boring. That it’s already happened, much of it has already been written down (or in the case of the Tudors, written down, fictionalized, fantasized and made multiple TV miniseries). That story’s been told, why not write something original?

The glib answer would be, Because it’s there.

Everest_and_Changtse,_1921

If it’s a good enough reason for Mallory to climb a mountain, it’s a good enough reason for me to write a novel.

Of course, it’s more than that. It’s because the elements of history are often more fantastical than fantasy. Maybe there are no dragons, but there’s plenty that requires you to suspend your disbelief.

It’s because retellings are fun. Just look at the recent retellings of Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and The Island of Dr. Moreau.

It’s because there are elements of all the genres in history. Not just fantasy, but also romance, mystery, even dystopian. As J. Anderson Coats has said, history is the ultimate secondary world. Because it actually happened.

For me, it’s all of these things held together in an inescapable web. The shock of Game of Thrones-type brutality. The incredulity in discovering a piece of truth so beautiful, you’d think it was fiction. The sure knowledge that this really happened.

But maybe not exactly the way it was written down.

Because what I love most about historical fiction is being able to dive into characters, look at what they did and how they were seen and excavate new possible motivations. Create a believable character from bones and tell the story of her life. Not as it was seen, but as it might have been lived.

As we all know, there are very few stories out there in the world, there are just infinite ways of telling them. This is why it has never bothered me that Philippa Gregory wrote The Other Boleyn Girl. Or that The Confessions of Katherine Howard came out the same year as Gilt. And it delights me when other people feel the same. It delights me even when they don’t. Because people can read my Anne Boleyn, and say, “She was nothing like that.” And I can answer, “But how do you know?”

Mary Howard Fitzroy

Mary Howard Fitzroy

I recently read a review of Brazen by another writer of historical fiction. A writer whose current YA novel centers on the life of Mary Howard—just as Brazen does. At first, I was nervous—would she hate it? Bitterly disagree with my character or (God forbid) find fault with my historical accuracy? But upon reading it, I discovered that she relished the fact that my Mary was so different from hers. That two writers could look at the same facts and come up with two utterly different—and I’m sure, equally compelling—narratives. The history may be the same, but the stories divergent.

That’s why I write historical fiction.

How about you?

What do you want to see on this blog?

This upcoming September will mark the second anniversary of Corsets, Cutlasses, & Candlesticks! While we love sharing our joy of historical fiction—and writing in general—with everyone, we do, admittedly, sometimes run out of ideas for post topics.

Here’s your chance to have a say on the site’s content. In the comments section or in the anonymous form below, please let us know what types of posts you would like to see on this site in the future. If you’re a frequent reader of the blog and have a favorite post from the past, please tell us which one you particularly enjoyed.

Thank you so much for your help!

Warmest wishes,
The Corsets, Cutlasses, & Candlesticks Crew

Words to Live By from Fiction’s Greatest Father (IMHO)

Yesterday was Father’s Day. In honor, today’s post was to be a commentary on several of my favorite fictional fathers. I mulled it over for some time before deciding to do a post on my most favorite fictional father, and what he represents, not only as a father but also as a human, using his own words. His words are timeless, full of truth, and well…far surpass any of my own in both wisdom and eloquence.

 

I fear my choice is a bit cliché, but I cannot help it. I am a Southerner—Alabama-born—and my favorite fictional father is the epitome of the true Southern gentleman. The book in which he lives was the work of an Alabama-born author, and it has been said that the man and father so beautifully drawn in her book was inspired by her own father. So perhaps in some ways, my choice isn’t all that fictional. Quite moving to consider.

 

I’ll start the list of what this character represents by saying: Lucky, lucky Jem and Scout Finch. They have a father who loves them, guides them, chides them when he must. Most importantly, they have a father who leads by example.

 

Atticus (Gregory Peck), Jem (Phillip Alford) and Scout (Mary Badham) Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

Atticus (Gregory Peck), Jem (Phillip Alford) and Scout (Mary Badham) Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

 

 

And lucky, lucky Harper Lee. She must have had the same.

 

Amasa Coleman (A.C.) Lee

Amasa Coleman (A.C.) Lee

 

Fictional or no, Atticus Finch or Amasa Coleman Lee, you don’t have to be a father to follow their example.

 

EMPATHY

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. …until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it.”—Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

(If I had to choose one line in all of To Kill a Mockingbird as my all-time favorite, it would be this one.)

 

COURAGE

 “I wanted you to see what real courage, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway, and you see it through no matter what.”—Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

JUSTNESS

 “But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal- there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest JP court in the land, or this honourable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.”– Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

(This quote represents Atticus’s opinion, but his words are, to me, idealistic–the way things should be. Reality is all too often the opposite. Even the book’s reality is opposite. Atticus’s words are disproved in Tom Robinson’s case. However, his thoughts on what our judicial system should be are inspiring. Now if we could just get there…)

 

 HONESTY

 “Best way to clear the air is to have it all out in the open.”—Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

INTEGRITY

 “…before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”—Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

Who is your favorite fictional father? Your favorite quote? Feel free to comment and share.

 

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Laura Golden is the author of EVERY DAY AFTER, a middle grade novel about a young girl learning to let go and find her own way amidst the trials of the Great Depression and STANDING TALL ON MULBERRY HILL, another middle grade about Klan uprisings and true friendship beyond color lines in 1949 Birmingham, AL. Find out more about Laura and her books by visiting her website or chatting with her on Twitter.

 

 

A Celebration of Katherine Longshore’s BRAZEN!

BrazenCongratulations to our own Katherine Longshore! Her third Tudor-era novel, and fourth published novelBrazendebuts tomorrow, June 12, 2014, from Viking/Penguin! In typical Corsets, Cutlasses, & Candlesticks fashion, we’re celebrating with a group interview. Here’s what Katherine had to say in response to our questions:

From Jennifer McGowan: BRAZEN gives readers a glimpse into a world that most have probably never explored, telling the tale of Mary Howard during her all-too-brief marriage to Henry Fitzroy. What was it like crafting this storyand what was your biggest challenge?

Honestly, the biggest challenge was the history. Because there are so few facts about Mary Howard’s life, and so many about that period in time (most of the story occurs during Anne Boleyn’s queenship) that it was difficult to find the story I was looking for. The history kept trying to take over. I also raged against the limitations of history and its inflexibility, because there were certain events that I wanted not to happen, and I had to write about them, anyway.

From J. Anderson Coats: The spoken word has changed significantly over the centuries. How much of a challenge was it for you to have your characters speak in a way that is relatable to contemporary readers, while being true to the novel’s setting?

I don’t want to sacrifice relatability for linguistics, nor do I want to write in a way that sounds anachronistic, though I probably lean toward the latter. I’m careful with my word choice, though I have to admit I haven’t gone to the manuscript to check the origin and usage of every word. I make sure I don’t use words that I know have modern origins–such as focus, zero in, or bleachers to mean stadium seating. But I will set aside my pedantry for others—such as sex as a term for intercourse—because I’m trying to avoid sounding archaic (or precious) to the modern ear. My phrasing and my characters’ dialogue have a contemporary feel to them for the same reason.

When all else fails, I do what I consider the Marie Antoinette test. Sofia Coppola made a gorgeous, historically accurate film that included Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy” in the soundtrack. The Knight’s Tale with Heath Ledger did something similar but pushed it into the story so much that it went over the edge into farce. I enjoyed both movies, but I try to err on the side of Coppola.

UK Cover

UK Cover

From Susan Hill Long: Katy, one of your many fans on Goodreads has said, “this book is why I love historical fiction.” That must warm your heart! Can you tell us what book(s) or experiences made you want to write about the Tudors?

That quote made my day, Sue! Seeing Ian McKellen in the film version of Richard III sent me down the rabbit hole of history because I wanted to find out if the actual man (Richard that is, not Sir Ian) was really that bad. Reading The Other Boleyn Girl offered the same sort of incentive—to read as much as I could and devise my own opinions. Both of them made me want to write a story that offered a different facet of the lives we think we know so much about because of the already existing canon. Was Catherine Howard really an insipid, promiscuous blonde? Was Anne Boleyn really a conniving gold-digger? And how can we take the historical record at face value? I like digging for other possibilities.

From Laura Golden: What’s the most interesting piece of information you happened across while researching for your books that you couldn’t use right away but definitely stored for a rainy day?

While visiting Hardwick Hall, I came across a little display that contained the book that had been discovered by conservators working on the paneling in the dining room. A catechism (with handwritten notes in it, if I remember rightly). No one knew how or why it was there, but I found it so compelling, I wanted to include it in a story. As yet, none of my characters have been able visit Hardwick, because it was built during Elizabeth’s reign. So yes, I’m saving it for later.

From Jessica Spotswood: Are there any characters who appear in GILT, TARNISH, & BRAZEN that you really enjoyed portraying / exploring at different times in their lives?

Anne Boleyn. I never set out to write a book about her. So many people already have, and there’s so much information and discussion out there already. But when GILT sold as part of a three-book deal, I began to wonder if maybe there was a possibility. In GILT, Anne is already dead. But she affects the way Kitty and Cat look at the world. How could a wife of Henry VIII ever look at marriage as anything but a high-risk venture? In TARNISH, Anne is still fairly malleable and not quite the woman that we know and love, but ready to become her. And in BRAZEN, she faces her own downfall, and possibly regrets decisions that she made before. It was wonderfully challenging to approach the character from diverse angles and inspiring to think about how we all display contrasting facets of our personalities to different people at different times of our life.

Gilt_CATFrom Sharon Biggs Waller: Your Tudor series has beautiful jewel-like covers. Can you tell us what each one represents?

tarnishWhat an excellent question! I wish I knew, but I can only guess. Looking at them on my shelf now, I can see some symbolism. The GILT jewel is an oval–an unbroken line. Perhaps that represents the circle of friendship. The jewel on the TARNISH cover is in the shape of the diamond. I think this refers to how Thomas Wyatt told Anne to catch the light. And the jewel on the cover of BRAZEN is a teardrop, which to me feels absolutely perfect.

From Cat Winters: Congratulations on the release of your third Tudor novel and your fourth YA novel. What would your debut-year self find surprising about the publication of one’s fourth novel? Do you feel seasoned and experienced? Or are there still surprises?

Thank you, Cat! I think there will always be surprises—just as there are with the writing of every novel. This is an unpredictable business! My debut self would probably be surprised to find me so relaxed. At this point, I know that I have to put a lot of work into promotion and marketing, but I know that the success of those efforts is relative. During my debut year, I felt that I had to do all the things, and if I didn’t, I would blame myself if the book didn’t do well. I still do all the things, just without that added pressure. So I’m allowed to enjoy it more. It also gives me time to appreciate how lucky I am. I am so grateful for everything this series has brought to me and for all the hard work that my editor, my agent and the talented team at Penguin have put into it. It really is a joy to see this book on the shelf.

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