Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Q&A with author Kathryn Lasky

Kathryn Lasky
Kathryn Lasky is the author of many books for children and for adults, both fiction and nonfiction, including the Guardians of Ga'Hoole and Wolves of the Beyond series. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Q: Your new book, The Rise of a Legend, is part of your Guardians of Ga'Hoole series. What is the inspiration for the latest book?

A: Someone else came up with it—a fan of mine who has been writing me since he was 10, and he’s 15 now. About a year and a half or two years ago, he wrote and asked, Are you sure you’ll never write another owl book? Write one about the great old sage of the tree, Ezylryb—what was he like as a kid? The book is dedicated to him—Evan Weaver. What’s really good is that it’s a stand-alone book, you don’t have to [have] read the other books.

Q: How did the series first come about?

A: My husband, Christopher Knight, has worked as a National Geographic photographer and filmmaker, and we did quite a few nonfiction books together. I had an idea that we would do a nonfiction book about owls. I’m not a bird person, but owls fascinate me—I think it’s their faces.

He said it’s crazy, they’re nocturnal, they’re rare, they’re endangered, [it would be difficult to get photos]—why don’t you do a fantasy book?

This was 12 to 14 years ago. I wrote a proposal for the book, and the head of Scholastic called me about something else, and then she said, is there anything else, and I said, A fantasy book. This was at the height of the Harry Potter craze, and I said, It’s not about a wizard! I could feel her sigh of relief. I said, It’s actually about a fantasy world of owls; there are no people. I faxed the proposal, and she said, This isn’t one book, it’s six books. It turned into 15, and now 16.

Q: You’re very prolific—how do you write so many books?

A: I get these ideas. I work on one for a while, and I might get an idea for another, and cook up a proposal. Maybe I’ll write two at a time, but they’re at very different stages.

Q: In addition to owls, wolves feature prominently in your books. What draws you to wolves?

A: Scholastic kept wanting me to do more animal books. It seemed like a natural spinoff. Wolves were always in the background, and they’re very different from owls—anatomically, but [in addition] wolves have very elaborate social behavior and construct. With owls, I had to go with the little bit [of information] I could find. I found wolf behavior very fascinating.

Q: You’ve written both fiction and nonfiction. Do you have a preference?

A: Fiction. Historical fiction. I have a book coming out in a month called The Extra. It’s a story that slipped between the cracks of history.

Three years ago, I wrote a book, Ashes, set in the early 1930s in Berlin, from the perspective of a 14-year-old girl, not a Jewish girl, growing up in Berlin in an upper-middle-class family; she’s seeing the rise of Hitler.

I found a story that very few people know about: Leni Riefenstahl, the filmmaker, she made a feature film that was very bad, called Tiefland. It was underwritten by the Third Reich. It was a corny, romantic story about a flamenco dancer who goes from village to village in Spain, and had a romance with a handsome shepherd.

She was making the film in Austria, and there weren’t a lot of Spanish-looking people in Austria, so she went to the internment camps. She found people, mostly Gypsies. She was in the movie, and this girl was her stunt double.

She was treacherous and horrible as we know Leni Riefenstahl was, she had a lot of power, she could send people to the concentration camps. I told it from the point of view of the girl, who is a composite of two real-life girls. The book will be released October 8.

Q: Do some things you write about stay with you more than others, as this story apparently did from one book to the next?

A: Maybe these two. I would say there are genres that stay with me—historical fiction stays with me a lot. I weave a lot of historical fiction into my owl books. Guardians of Ga’Hoole  Book 6 has a battle based on the Normandy invasion. One is based on ancient Greek battles.

Q: Are readers aware of the parallels with history?

A: I don’t know. I often give an author’s note at the back that says, The battle in Chapter 2 is based on this. I remodel speeches and always give credit. Ezylryb, when he is an old guy in the preceding books, has one speech I based on a Winston Churchill speech…. In one of the wolf books, there’s a speech that George Patton gave to the troops. It was full of bad language. I recast it.

Q: Do you prefer writing for young people or adults?

A: Young people. I have written for adults. I like connecting more with young people. They’re intellectually more active in a way. And emotionally.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a couple of things, but I don’t like to talk about them at this stage.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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