Interview with Kristin Cashore
Photo by Daniel J. Burbach
Probably a combination of two loves: reading and daydreaming. I’ve always been a huge reader, and of course, after reading, I would act the stories out in my head—and sometimes I’d find myself changing things, or adding new characters. Gradually, this led to thinking up whole new characters and plots of my own.
What is your favorite part of being an author?
There are two answers to this, and I find it impossible to rank one over the other.
One is this: those rare moments when you’re sitting in your armchair, wearing your work pajamas (I have work pajamas that are different from my sleeping pajamas, you see, so that when I wake up in the morning, I can change into my work clothes like other people do), and you write something that WORKS, AND YOU KNOW IT WORKS. This does not happen often, but when it happens, it feels like you’ve conquered the world.
The other is this: those quiet moments in front of my computer when I get an email or a blog comment from a fan whose heart has been touched by my book. These moments are treasures. Every single time.
What authors or role models do you look up to?
Two of my idols are Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley, both of whom write beautiful books about strong women. I also idolize E.B. White, whose novels and essays are simply perfect. Some other favorite authors are Mary Stewart, Margaret Mahy and Melina Marchetta.
As far as general role models go, when I need to motivate myself, I think of the example of my mother; and when I need to find my inner peace, I think of the example of my father.
I’m also a fan of Barack Obama. :o)
How did you keep all the details and complicated plotline straight?
Oh my goodness, it was very hard on my poor brains! There were times when I would take a certain issue in the plot—let’s say, for example (warning! spoilers ahead!), the way Leck’s Grace is presented to the reader—and I would set every single page with any reference to that issue out flat on the table and read the pages through and through and through, changing a word here, removing a word there, straining my mind to decide whether my presentation of that issue was as clear and effective as it could possibly be. It got to the point where it became really hard to change anything, because every little change would cause these reverberations throughout the entire novel.
I really appreciate that you asked that question, actually, because I had a hard time with this. I hope my struggles aren’t too obvious in the final product.
Did you write with an ending in mind, or just come up with it as you went?
I knew pretty much where it was going. I find it really hard to start a novel unless I have at least some sort of beginning, middle and end planned. That doesn’t mean things can’t change, of course—you might get to a certain place and realize that it can’t actually go the way you meant it to go. This happened with one rather big plot point in my second book, Fire. So I replanned, readjusted and continued onward.
Graceling, for the most part, followed through the way I’d intended.
What inspired you to write Graceling?
The truest answer is somewhere between I don’t know and I can’t remember. However, I can say that the whole thing started with the characters. Katsa came first, and unsurprisingly, she came to me fighting—quarreling, to be more specific, inside my head, with another character who grew into Po. Really, 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, what was going on in their world, 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 you come up with the names in Graceling?
This is a question I get asked a lot, actually. Fantasy names are tricky, and frankly, often kind of silly—I mean, let’s face it, basically I’m just making up a bunch of funny words. And for me, they always seem to end with the letter “N.” (Giddon, Raffin, Murgon, Drowden, Thigpen, Birn, Silvern, Ashen—and wait until you read Fire!) Seriously. Why not just name everyone nice, simple names, like David and Julia? Sigh, I don’t know.
For some reason—maybe because I think of Lienid as a place full of color—Lienid names always have some sort of color base, or at least a visual reference. (Ashen, Bitterblue, Silvern, Skye, Faun, Patch, Red; Po’s real name is Greening.) For monikers in the rest of my kingdoms, however, I basically try to come up with names that have the right sound when they hit my ear. Sometimes I’ll read the credits of movies carefully, looking for real-life last names that would make good fantasy first names. Sometimes I catch myself reading exit signs on the highway. For the book I’m writing now, I had three men working together named Ambler, Runnemede and Darby—until it occurred to me that those are all Philadelphia suburbs, and people who live there might find themselves thinking, Ah, yes, and no doubt Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr and Upper Darby will come along at any moment… My parents live outside Philly, and I really have to get out of the habit of name-searching while I’m visiting them!
To what extent do you put yourself into your characters?
Hm, that’s a tough question. I’ve never intentionally modeled a character on myself—or on anyone else I know, either—not even a minor character. But certainly there are going to be feelings my characters feel that I’ve felt myself… things that make them angry that have also made me angry, realizations they have that I’ve also had and so on. I will say that if you’re wondering how similar I am to Katsa, the answer is not much at all. I would be in serious trouble if I had to climb over a mountain in the winter, build a fire without matches or defend myself physically from just about anything! And I hope I’m a little bit more emotionally aware than she is. I suppose I do share some of her independence, however, and her concerns about the place of women in society.
There is a funny reverse thing that happens sometimes when writing characters—a phenomenon that’s sort of the opposite of your question: my characters will start to leech into me. For example, in Fire, the character of Fire is scared a lot of the time. I was in Fire’s head for a good year and a half while I was writing that book, and I’ve got to tell you, I think that’s part of the reason I spent that year and a half feeling scared of all the changes in my life! It was Fire’s influence on me. Similarly, in the book I’m writing now, Bitterblue, Bitterblue is in a big, confused muddle a lot of the time. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that instead of my life feeling scary lately, it tends to feel like a big, confused muddle. I think this might be inevitable when you spend so much time in someone else’s head—they start to influence you! I laugh at it sometimes, and comfort myself with the reminder that if I’m confused, it’s Bitterblue’s fault. :o)
What part of each character’s personality is your favorite?
Oh, yeeks, good question! I’ve never thought about this before—this will be fun!
I suppose I like Katsa’s raw emotionality and her bluntness. I like Po’s necessary duplicity. I like Raffin’s nerdiness and sense of humor, Giddon’s clueless arrogance and Captain Faun’s no-nonsense competence. I like Skye’s loyalty and uncomplicated cheerfulness. I like Ror’s dominating presence. I like Bitterblue’s perceptiveness, and Oll’s patience. Who am I forgetting? Oh. I like Leck’s creepiness!
If you could have any Grace what would it be?
I have a hard time learning new languages, so I’d like the Grace of being able to speak a foreign language perfectly after hearing it spoken for just a few days, or something like that.
(Really, what I’d like to be able to do is teleport. But that’s not a realistic Grace in the world of the seven kingdoms; it’s too sci-fi.)
What do you think your Grace would be?
Something relatively useless: parallel parking. I have a perfect record.
What is your favorite Jello flavor?
Do you have any pets?
Not now, but only because I’ve been moving too much lately. I’ll bring a cat or two into my life one of these days, once I’ve settled down more. I am a big cat person. Cats are diabolical geniuses. They’re also fuzzy and warm.
What advice do you have for aspiring young authors?
Writing is all about listening to the voices that tell you you can’t do it, you’ll never do it, what you’re trying to do is impossible, particularly for a talentless bonehead like you; saying to the voices, “Well, aren’t you sad and pathetic, the way you’ll do anything to stop me? You’re wrong, you know. I can do it. Here, have a hug;” accepting that the voices will never go away and that a part of you will always believe them; and writing anyway.
Want to read more about Kristin Cashore?
More about Graceling
Universally feared for her deadly Grace, Katsa hates the vicious punishments her uncle, King Randa has her visit on the oath breakers of his kingdom. So when, a foreign prince, with laughing eyes and a mysterious Grace of his own, convinces her to openly defy again her uncle’s cruel manipulations, Katsa finds herself racing into a trap to save a young princess from an evil king.
More about Fire, the prequel to Graceling
Available in the fall of 2009 with your Chicago Public Library card
Get ready to encounter even more strong female and literally, quite colorful characters in an absolutely eloquent story with nail-biting suspense!
Fire is a powerful archer, complex and stunningly beautiful, yet disgusting to many, because she is a monster. Monsters have the power to control the minds and even bodily urges of those who see them. Many people within this kingdom have learned to “block” their minds from monsters, and Fire often helps them learn how to do so... but she and her father are incredibly powerful and can’t always help some of the weaker minds ... and Fire’s selfish father doesn’t mind abusing his power over others one bit, which makes people despise monsters even more.
There are power struggles, moral issues related to the abuse of power and last, but not least, love stories examining infatuation versus romantic love on a deeper level, as well as the love and joys of parent/child relationships.