SBBT: Empowerment with Kristin Cashore and a Graceling Book Giveaway

I am so honored to have Kristin Cashore on my blog today. (Kristin’s author photo credit © Laura Evans).

If you didn’t know this already, Kristin is the author of GRACELING, the kick-butt tale of strong-willed Katsa, who possesses a rare talent–a super power–the manipulative king uses to wreak fear across the kingdom. Katsa resents being used to ruin lives and hates her uncle, King Randa, for treating her as a “dog” and letting her believe she is only capable of brutal violence. There is plenty of conflict and confusion as Katsa finds a way to break through her image as a monster and realize her name can be one of justice and honor.
Oh, and there’s romance–enter Prince Po of the intense eyes–not the sniveling, I’ll die without you kind of romance, but one of respect and commitment–perfect for a powerful girl like Katsa. Mmmm. 
And the ending! Ahhhh! No spoilers from me. However, have no fear.  I know you want this book.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has been kind to offer 10 copies of Graceling for a Book Giveaway!! Details at the end of the interview.
Check out all the awards for GRACELING (taken from Kristin’s blog):
Shortlisted for the ALA’s William C. Morris Award.
A finalist for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy (the SFWA’s award for YA given concurrently with the Nebulas).
An Indies Choice Book Award finalist in the category of Best Indie Young Adult Buzz Book.
Cybils finalist in the category of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults.
Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year.
School Library Journal Best Book of 2008.
One of’s Best Books of 2008.
#2 on the Winter 2009 Indie Next Kid’s List. 
One of Booklist’s 2008 Top Ten First Novels for Youth.
On the 2009 Amelia Bloomer List (Recommended Feminist Literature for Birth through 18)
[Updated Award] Finalist for the 2009 SIBA Book Awards in the YA category

Kristin’s second book, the highly anticipated FIRE, will be out this Fall. People have been scrambling for an ARC, but they are sooooo difficult to find. And it’s so hard to wait, after seeing all the good reviews (Note: I didn’t read these reviews–be forewarned, there may be spoilers). While I couldn’t get any ARCs for the Book Giveaway, there may be something cool in the future, so stay tuned.

It has been fantastic having Kristin here and being able to pick her brain. She is a talented writer who pays attention to the details, and it shows. Wait until you read Kristin’s interview. You’re going to love what she has to say. 

Without further ado, here is Kristin Cashore:
HWM: What made you realize you wanted to write books for teens?
Kristin: I don’t think I’ve ever realized that, actually. It’s more that the characters that come to me tend to be teenagers, so I go ahead and write books about them. I don’t envision anything particular about my audience while I’m writing—other than that it’s an intelligent audience. I’m only ever trying to be true to my characters!

HWM: Tell me what inspired GRACELING and Katsa.  
Kristin: 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.

HWM: Who was the hardest character to write about?  Easiest character?
Kristin: Both Leck and Po were hard to write, because—spoilers ahead!—their Graces were complicated, and tough to keep believable and consistent. Also, the reader’s understanding of their identities had to change over the course of the book, which made writing them tricky. The easiest character—or the easiest main character, anyway—was probably Katsa. I found her to be relatively uncomplicated, and she came to me pretty clear and intact, which is a thing main characters don’t always do!

HWM: GRACELING is very empowering for girls.  What kind of research did you need to do to create your characters, the political climate, the Graceling skills, the fighting scenes?
Kristin: *smile* Would you care for a lesson in how to construct a bow, tan leather using only natural tools, or make snowshoes? Because I have all that info on my desk here somewhere… let’s see, I can also tell you the basic principles of martial arts and how long it takes to cross various terrain by foot, horse, and ship. Oh, and how to build a fire. And the history of windows over time, and, um, other random things, and a LOT of stuff about horses.

I did do a fair amount of research for Graceling, but in retrospect, I wish I’d done more: more research and more thinking and planning. Graceling is, to my eyes, an obvious first novel. I was juggling a lot of things at once, things that were new and hard for me as a young writer, and I let a few things slide. I see a few cracks in the world-building when I read the book now (and no, I’m not going to tell you what they are! ^_^)—cracks, and even places where I have small regrets. Sigh… I suppose it’s not unusual for a writer to feel this way about a book!

HWM: When did you know you had the right ending for GRACELING?
Kristin: I guess that depends on what you mean by “ending.” I always knew where the chips would fall plot-wise and character-wise at the end, but deciding how to express it involved a fair amount of revision. The original ending section was a lot longer and more drawn out—too long and drawn out, according to my editor and others. I whined and moaned a lot while shortening it. :o) But I’m content enough with how it ends now, particularly with my final scene.

HWM: FIRE, the prequel to GRACELING will be available this fall.  I understand it goes 30 years before GRACELING…I’m sad that Katsa and Po won’t be here. What can you tell your fans about FIRE?
Kristin: I think of Fire as a stand-alone novel that’s loosely connected 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 which I call monsters.

Monsters have the shape of normal animals: mountain lions, dragonflies, horses, birds. But the hair or scales or feathers of monsters are gorgeously colored—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’s hated and mistrusted by just about everyone. The book is her story, and if you’re wondering what connects it to Graceling, the answer is that (Graceling spoiler ahead!) one of the minor characters in Fire is a creepy little boy with mismatched eyes who seems to have some peculiar verbal abilities. (Fire is by no means Leck’s story, but it does reveal where he came from!)

HWM: What are the challenges in writing a series?  
Kristin: HA! There are many. One is keeping the world manageable and consistent while it grows to accommodate more stories. The world can start to get big, unwieldy, and uncooperative! Another is becoming re-acquainted with characters who may have changed a bit since the last time you encountered them. Another is dealing with the mistakes you made in the first book that can now never be undone; any limitations I created in Graceling are now permanent fixtures in all the books!

Here’s another challenge: I get the feeling that I’m frustrating some of my fans. :o) You see, I never set out to write a series. I planned for Graceling to be a stand-alone book, but then I got this idea for Fire, and found that I had to write it. The same thing happened with the book I’m writing now, called Bitterblue: I never planned to write a third book in this world, but then one day, this stand-alone book about the Graceling character Bitterblue began calling to me, and I had to write it. The end result of all of this is that I’m creating a slightly unconventional series. The books are connected, but they’re not prequels and sequels in the traditional sense of following one character through time. And this is confusing and frustrating to some fans, who are used to picking up with the same protagonists a month or a year after the last book ended!

I will say this: if you liked Graceling and are frustrated that Fire isn’t about Katsa, please don’t be too sad. I try to imbue every book with a similar spirit, so you may like Fire, too. Give her a try. :o)

HWM: Anything you can share about BITTERBLUE?
Kristin: It takes place six years after Graceling and Bitterblue is the sixteen-year-old protagonist. Katsa, Po, and other characters from Graceling are part of the fabric of the book. There are a bunch of new characters, too. Since it’s a work in progress, that’s all I’m willing to say about it at this time, other than that it’s trying to defeat me but I WILL NEVER SURRENDER.

HWM: What other projects are you working on?
Kristin: I think you probably mean writing projects, in which case, the answer is none. Getting Graceling out into various parts of the world, preparing Fire for publication in the USA, and researching and writing Bitterblue is all the writing work I can handle at the moment. However, in other life stuff, I’m planning a move from my current home of Jacksonville, FL to Cambridge, MA in July… and I’m preparing to become the aunt of twins in August! It will be my first “aunting,” as a friend put it, and I’m very happy. (And in case you’re wondering what preparation it requires, at the moment I’m researching twin jogging strollers.)

HWM: What do
you like writing the most: the beginning, middle or the end of the story?

Kristin: Oh, easiest question E.V.E.R. Definitely not the beginning; beginnings are absolute murder. Definitely not the middle; middles are murk. Definitely the end! Ends write themselves. (*knocks on wood*) Seriously, though—by the end, you know your characters well, it’s to be hoped that they’re done surprising you, and you finally see for certain where everything has been going all this time. I tend to write endings in this huge ridiculous burst that involves little sleep, hygiene, or interaction with other humans. The closer you get to the end, the more the book takes over your life, and it doesn’t release you until you’ve written that final word.

HWM: I’ve read on your blog that you write your books out in longhand. How long did it take for you to finish Graceling?
Kristin: The first draft took about a year and a half of full-time writing. However, I don’t think the length of time a book takes has much to do with whether I’m writing or typing it. I’m the kind of writer who’s constantly revising while I write, and that’s what slows me down.

Here’s how the longhand thing works: (1) I write in my notebook, crossing out and revising as I go. (2) After I’ve written 30 or 40 pages longhand, I use voice recognition software to transfer the written pages into the Word file of the novel. I use the software because it’s not healthy for your arms and hands to type 40 pages fast all at once, and I experience pain and regret if I try to do so! (3) I save the Word file on multiple drives and email it to all my email accounts. I also keep my notebook, the paper printout of the Word file, and my book plan in a fireproof safe, because I’m a paranoid freak.

Care for some visual aids?

My Notebook on a Good Day:?

My Notebook on a Bad Day:

HWM: Describe a favorite fan moment.
Kristin: My favorite fan moments are quiet moments alone in my office at my computer. When a person who’s just read one of my books takes the time to seek me out and tell me they loved it, it’s an unbelievable gift to me—every time.

HWM: What has been the biggest surprise of your writing career?
Kristin: Um… the biggest surprise is my writing career! I still can’t quite believe I have one!
HWM: If you could share any unique writing tip to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Kristin: 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.

HWM: What was the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?  
Kristin: The best writing advice I’ve ever received came from my editor, and it also makes excellent life advice: Don’t let fear make your decisions.

HWM: What question do you wish other people would ask you and how would you answer it? 
Kristin: I wish someone would offer to teach me how to teleport. I would say, “Yes, please!”

HWM: If you found a way to go back to your teen years as one of your characters, who would it be and why?
Kristin: Oh, goodness me! Someone untortured and relatively unimportant. Perhaps Po’s brother Skye, the sixth prince of Lienid—he’s cheerful, loyal, uncomplicated, a good fighter, presumably he has a nice house, and I have a feeling he’s pretty cute, too. Or, in Bitterblue, there’s a character who’s an “honorable thief” and a bit of a maven; it could be fun to be him. Another character is a hapless lexicographer. That definitely wouldn’t be my choice—too much agony!

There’s a horse in Fire that I wouldn’t mind being, actually. She’s not a teenager, though. :o)

HWM: If you were a Graceling superhero, what powers would you want and why?
Kristin: I have a hard time learning foreign languages; I’d love a language Grace that allowed me to pick up languages and accents quickly. I’d also love a Grace that helped me to find inner quiet—to keep perspective on the inside in those moments when life on the outside is crazy.


Other Places to Find Kristin:
Now for the GRACELING Book Giveaway (There are 10 copies courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt!)
1. Leave a comment on a time when you worked through the “fear” and did something good for yourself.
2. Only one comment per person.
3. U.S. destinations only.
4. Deadline for the Graceling Book Giveaway has been extended to Wednesday, June 3rd.
5. Please spread the word!
Other SBBT interviews:

Jenny Davidson at Chasing Ray
Rebecca Stead at Fuse #8
Ryan Mecum at Writing and Ruminating
Lauren Myracle at Bildungsroman
Kristin Cashore at HipWriterMama
Rachel Caine at The YA YA YAs

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Vivian Lee Mahoney

Consider yourself warned: I write books about rebels. I'm also a postergirlz for readergirlz, a literary advisory group for teens. Who knew going back to the teenage years would be so rewarding?

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