Kristin Cashore Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Kristin Cashore
Photo: Daniel J. Burbach

Kristin Cashore

Kristin Cashore: ker-SHORE (emphasis on the second syllable)

An interview with Kristin Cashore

A Conversation with Kristin Cashore, author of Graceling

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I always wanted to be a reader and a daydreamer. Then, in college, I discovered that I also loved to write. I think it would be fair to say that I always suspected I wanted to be a writer, but didn’t know it for sure until I was about nineteen or twenty. And then, of course, it took a few more years for me to get serious about actually doing it!

How did the character of Katsa come to you?
Unsurprisingly, she came to me fighting—quarreling, to be more specific—inside my head with another character who grew into Po. In other words, Graceling began as conversations in my head between two characters who were furious with each other. My job was to listen to them argue, and figure out what they were so upset about, and what was going on in their world, and what that world was like. Katsa and Po kind of formed themselves for me — at the beginning, I was more of an observer than a creator.

How did the ideas for the landscapes in your book take shape?
In some cases, I had particular landscapes in mind from the beginning. For example, I always knew Po came from a place that was somehow “other”; therefore, Lienid is an island, separate from the other kingdoms. In other cases, my landscapes developed for kind of silly reasons. For example, “Uh-oh, I need it to take longer than this for Po and Katsa to get from point A to point B. Better grow an impenetrable forest and throw up a few uncrossable mountains!”

Graceling taught me to appreciate all the things a writer can do with landscapes, actually. When I was developing the companion book to Graceling, the landscapes were among the first things I felt and saw, and were as important to my writing process as the characters. I expect I learned to think that way from writing Graceling.

How did the concept of a Grace — and the way it is manifested in different characters — come to you?
I’m not really sure. It was with me from the beginning—from the very start, Katsa had an unusual power that alienated her terribly from others. As I fine-tuned the concept of Graces, it seemed right to me that every Grace should be an extreme version of skills that people in our world actually do have. So, for example, there are people in our world who can run really, really fast; the corresponding Grace would be the ability to run even faster — inhumanly fast. There are people in our world who rarely get sick, so why not a Graceling who’s incapable of getting sick? There are unusually perceptive people in our world; the corresponding Grace might be some form of mind reading. There are people with an unusually deep connection to the earth and nature; the corresponding Grace might be an ability to predict weather. And so on. I tried to avoid Graces that had too much of a sci-fi feel — for example, I don’t think teleportation would be a believable Grace in the world of Graceling. Maybe I’m wrong; basicallly, I try to avoid inconsistencies, and hope for the best!

If you could have a special Grace, what would it be?
If only I hadn’t just nixed the idea of a teleporting Grace! Every time I travel, my blog readers get to hear me complain about how I wish I could teleport. But I think I’d like a language Grace; I’ve never had an easy time learning foreign languages, and I envy people who do. Or maybe a health Grace, something to make me impervious to diseases. I wish I could pass that Grace out to my family and friends, actually!

Did you have teen readers in mind when you wrote Graceling?
I didn’t have any readers in mind when I wrote Graceling. I wrote it for me. However, since I love young adult fantasy madly, I’m not surprised that what I wrote took on that form. And now I am thrilled—beyond thrilled—to be sharing it with teen readers, and adult readers, and all kinds of readers. It’s a dream come true.

Another book is in the works. What can you tell us about it?
I’m glad you asked this question, because the way the new book relates to Graceling is a little confusing. The new book is sort of a companion book and sort of a prequel to Graceling. It takes place across the mountains east of the seven kingdoms, thirty or forty years before the story of Graceling, in a rocky, war-torn kingdom called the Dells. There are no known Gracelings in the Dells, but there are beautiful creatures called monsters. Monsters have the shape of normal animals: mountain lions, dragonflies, horses, fish. But the hair or scales or feathers of monsters are gorgeously colored—fuchsia, turquoise, sparkly bronze, iridescent green—and their minds have the power to control the minds of humans. Fire, seventeen years old, is the last remaining human-shaped monster in the Dells. Gorgeously monstrous in body and mind but with a human appreciation of right and wrong, she is hated and mistrusted by just about everyone. The book is her story, and if you’re wondering what connects iit to Graceling, the answer is that (Graceling spoiler alert!) one of the minor characters in the new book is a creepy little boy with mismatched eyes who seems to have some peculiar verbal abilities. . . . The new book is by no means Leck’s story, but it does reveal where he came from (and what happened to his eye!).

I did not write Graceling with the intention of writing a prequel. But while I was writing Graceling, some things Po said about Leck’s origins began to rattle in my mind—and Fire’s story grew from that. Unfortunately, it makes for slightly confusing marketing, but I hope people will understand how the books work together, and preferably read them in the right order, Graceling first! (According to my readers so far, they don’t need to be read that way, but I think it’s a good idea.)

A sequel to Graceling is planned. What made you write a sequel revolving around Bitterblue? Do we get to find out what happens to any of the other characters from Graceling?
You happen to be asking me this question while I’m in the middle of writing Bitterblue, so my answer will inevitably be accompanied by moans and groans of agony and predictions that it’s going to be the Worst Book Ever. (It would have been the same if you’d asked me questions about Graceling while I was writing Graceling.) Let’s see. Yes, I am writing a sequel to Graceling, called Bitterblue, in which Bitterblue is the sixteen-year-old protagonist. I never planned to write a sequel; much like with the book after Graceling, I simply realized one day—this time thanks to a suggestion from my mother—that Bitterblue had a story, and that I wanted to write it. My hope is that Bitterblue will tie all three books together in some way. But (groan, moan, worst book ever) that would imply a level of cohesion that certainly does not exist at this point! And yes, Katsa, Po, Giddon, Helda, and other characters from Graceling will be part of the fabric of the book. Plenty of fighting still to come!

What do you read? Do you read across genres?
I love this question. You might want to store up some emergency provisions before I answer. I absolutely read across genres, and in fact, I read very little YA fantasy while writing YA fantasy. It feels too much like work to read stuff in my current genre, and it also freaks me out sometimes. I see similarities and begin to worry that my ideas aren’t fresh; I compare myself and feel inadequate; it’s a big mess. I can’t wait, actually, to finish Bitterblue, because I intend to take a break from fantasy after that, and will finally be able to read the books of Megan Whalen Turner and Alison Croggon and some Robin McKinley books I haven’t read yet. I miss YA fantasy. I also feel kind of out of it—there are books I’m supposed to have read, but haven’t.

Anyway, so much for the books I’m not reading. As for what I am reading—I’m always looking for reading that differs from my own writing, so that it can be a break from work and refresh my mind. In the past few weeks, here are some things I’ve read: China Court: The Hours of a Country House by Rumer Godden; The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson; Murder Must Advertise (a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery) by Dorothy L. Sayers; Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary; and Moominsummer Madness by Tove Jansson. Here are some things I’ve bought: Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, translated by Tiina Nunnally (this happens to be one of my favorite books ever); the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard (one of my favorite plays); The Frog and Toad Treasury, written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel; The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart; Dubliners by James Joyce; and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger, who is a genius. And here are some things I’ve taken out of the library to read soon: Kabir: Ecstatic Poems, versions by Robert Bly; Little Brother by Cory Doctorow; and two Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters. I’ve also been working my way through the audio versions of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small stories, which are fabulous, and fabulously read by Christopher Timothy.

What music do you listen to?
Oh boy, oh boy! I hope you still have some emergency provisions left over. I grew up in a household where classical music was always being played, along with some stupendous classic stuff like the Beatles’s Abbey Road and Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends. I remember being obsessed with Aaron Copland and fighting with my big sister, who always wanted to listen to the Appalachian Spring side of the record first (whereas I always wanted Billy the Kid first). I’m surprised my parents can even listen to certain music anymore. They must have gotten awfully sick of hearing it over and over.

It’s hard to say what I listen to now, actually, because I love so many different kinds of music, and mentioning a few, I feel the weight of everything else I’m leaving out. But, since you asked, here are some folks I will always love: Bruce Springsteen, Ani DiFranco, Jane Monheit, Coldplay, Peter Gabriel, Sinéad O’Connor, Joni Mitchell, Andrew Lloyd Webber, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Dvo?ák, Schubert, Beethoven. Also, a line of bagpipers could probably convince me to do anything, and nothing fills me with greater glee than a live performance by a good brass quintet. I love any song sung by a Muppet (especially Kermit). Oh, and Yo-Yo Ma was the speaker at my college graduation, and when he brought his cello up on stage and played Mark O’Connor’s Appalachia Waltz and the first movement of Bach’s first cello suite, I nearly swooned.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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