Kathryn Erskine, a lawyer-turned-author, grew up in six countries, an experience that helps her view life, and her writing, from different perspectives. Her novels include MOCKINGBIRD (Philomel 2010), 2010 National Book Award Winner, QUAKING (Philomel 2007), an ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, and THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE (Philomel, 2011), 2012 ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults nominee. While covering weighty topics, her books have warmth and humor, making difficult issues approachable. She is a writing instructor and frequent workshop presenter. For more info, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t give up, keep working at your craft. Also, don’t write to get published, write what your heart feels.
What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?
A screen porch—for watching those sunrises and drinking coffee while I write.
In grade school, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An explorer, probably because we moved around a lot and because of the books I read, and I love learning new things. Actually, as a writer, you get to explore all kinds of lives, countries, subjects and use that information in stories. Exploring from home!
Earliest childhood memory?
Standing in my crib, looking through the rippled glass of my bedroom door and hearing the voices of my parents’ party. Also screaming, because I wanted to join the party, but the hubbub was so loud no one heard me. Or perhaps they were ignoring me. The most annoying part was that I could see the shadow of my sister, a few years older than me, going past my door periodically so I knew she was up and got to go to the party. I think that’s when I screamed the loudest.
Would you rather publish a string of mainstream books or one classic?
One classic. But I wouldn’t mind publishing a bunch of mainstream books, either!
Do you write with music?
No, but I’m inspired by music and listen to certain songs when I’m not actually writing. In fact, I create playlists for my books and works in progress, which you can listen to on my website.
If you could only write one more book, what would it be about?
The loss of deep and critical thinking which, I think, is caused by a lot of factors, including sensationalized “news” programs, reliance on multiple choice standardized tests, and the instant gratification/multimedia effect of internet, cell phones, etc. (not that I don’t love the internet and related tools, because I do, and use it all heavily, but I do think there’s an element of shallowness and superficiality that results from some types of use).
Is there a genre you avoid?
Fantasy … although, you never know, some day….
Most embarrassing moment?
Oh, but there are so many! One of my favorites is walking down the street as a lawyer in DC and losing my slip because the waistband snapped. I only noticed when I had difficulty taking another step because the slip was wound around my ankles. I simple stepped out of it, wadded it up, and threw it in the next trash bin. Some people noticed but, I think because I acted like it was an everyday occurrence, they just walked on, too.
What’s the first item on your bucket list?
Go back to South Africa, including going on safari.
What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
Walk, meditate, get a massage, take a “vacation” (even if that just means going out with friends).
Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? Or do you keep it a secret?
I love getting feedback on my work because it’s so easy to miss something, especially if you’ve written the same scene multiple times. Beckie Weinheimer, author of CONVERTING KATE, friend, and my co-teacher at the Writer’s Center, just read the first chapter of my current manuscript and pointed out several things I needed to add — so helpful!
What’s one rule you’re dying to break?
My homeowners’ association by-laws: I would raise chickens and paint something fun on my mailbox!
Do you begin with character or plot?
I always start with a character, a voice that starts talking in my head. I listen, write it down, and go from there.
What do you consider to the most valuable thing you own?
Describe your perfect day.
Waking early to a cool morning and hot coffee, watching the sunrise, taking the dog for a walk, writing all day, then dinner and laughter with family and friends.
Are your characters completely fictional? Or do you base them off real people?
They’re fictional but sometimes they have characteristics of people I know or have seen, and sometimes they’re inspired by real people.
What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?
Tell us about the book you’re working on.
It’s called (at least at this point) FACING FREEDOM and is about a boy in rural Virginia who solves a mystery and discovers some secrets of the past, including something about his own family.