Kathryn Lasky is the author of over 100 books. Her books are beloved by both young and old alike. She is the author of such series as the Guardians of Ga'Hoole, The Wolves of The Beyond,several Dear America books, The Royal Diaries and more. She has numerous books for children, picture books and non-fiction for both children and adults. Thanks to Scholastic Canada she recently took some time to answer some questions for Book Reviews and More.
1. If you had not become a writer what do you think you would be doing for a living?
Heaven only knows! I can imagine careers I would have like to have had but would have been totally unsuited for-like a musician, a ballet dancer, a painter-I can do none of those things. A doctor? But I am very squeamish. I think I am very lucky that I found writing.
2. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you nurture that dream?
As a child, I loved to make up stories in my head. I was a compulsive story maker. I say "story maker" because I never told anyone or showed anyone my stories. I first realized I could be a writer when I was about ten years old. I was with my family, driving at night in our car with the top down. The sky looked so interesting-you couldn't see the stars because of these woolly clouds. And I said it looked like a sheepback sky. My mom turned around and said, "Kathryn, you should be a writer." When my mom said that, I thought, "Wow, maybe I will be."
3. What authors most influenced your writing style and format?
Well, I'm not sure how directly they influenced me but I love Edith Wharton and Willa Cather with an abiding passion. Also Jane Austen. I am particularly enchanted with the way Jane Austen writes dialogue and I love the social analysis of Edith Wharton. Willa Cather is so quintessentially American. They all seem to be able to draw a character, a scene, a place so effortlessly.
4. Do you use a playlist when writing? Are certain books written while predominantly listing to the same music?
I can't write listening to music. I have to be able to hear the voices of my characters in my head. Music would make everything kind of like static.
5. What advice do you wish an artist had passed on to you early in your career, which you only learned through experience?
That is a very difficult question. I think most often one has to figure out what works for them. I would advise aspiring writers to avoid trends. Books are written from the inside out and not the reverse as a trend might suggest. The best books actually -although a reader might never be aware of it --are on some level deeply personal. They come out of some intensely personal question if not experience. I wrote the book Beyond The Burning Time about the Salem witch trials because I wondered what would happen if I had lived in that time and my mother had been arrested as a witch. It was a reasonable and simple question and I spun a whole novel out of it.
6. What does your writing process look like? Takes us through the steps from idea to publishing?
Well, I get an idea and I think about it for months, or sometimes years. Lots of ideas just sort of pass through you brain and then I don't know dissolve into the ether-that's a lovely old fashioned word for the upper cloudy layers of the atmosphere. Anyhow if they do that they probably weren't such good ideas. But if they stick around I begin to think this is not going away. So I might begin to do a little preliminary research. All my books whether fiction or nonfiction, fantasy or historical novels require a lot of research. But this is just the early stage. So I usually get excited. Then the next step is to write a short memo to myself that really reads like book jacket copy. This memo tells me what the book is about. It is usually less than 200 words. Then I write a much longer piece that is a proposal. I send that into the publisher and if they say yes, then I begin to write.
The actual process of writing the book involves extensive outlining. I write first a general outline based on the proposal. It's like a road map for me. It shows me where to start the book, the middle of the book and the end. I even write it that way "Beginning" "Middle" and "End". Then I write a little mini outline for say the first couple of chapters-what I want to happen. I write those chapters and then another mini outline and so on. By the end of the book I might have as many as fifteen little outlines.
Then I go through and polish. There are three phases to the polish 1) correcting all my dumb typos( I am a terrible typist) and really obvious errors-like a time sequence that doesn't work, or something like that. 2) reading through for tone, narrative flow and then correcting that. 3) Then a third read for basically the same thing as in phase 2. In these 3 phases it is as if I am using a sieve with an increasingly finer grid or mesh to sift the story through so that you get down to really subtle issues like nuance and tone, and color in the final sifting through the most refined mesh. Then I send it to my editor and she sends it back at least two times for re-writes.
And then the copy editor sends it back after she has fact checked everything and she asks for corrections.
It's a long process and I just gave you the short version!
7. Of your over 100 books, what book or series is your favorite and why?
That is terribly hard to say. It is like asking what is your favorite child. I do have a favorite genre, historical fiction, and I am particularly fond of a new book of mind that came out last year with Viking Penguin but Scholastic has bought for book clubs called Ashes which is set in the early 1930's in Berlin and focuses on the Berlin book burning in 1933. It tells the story of a thirteen year old girl in Berlin Gabriella Schramm who loves to read and how she views Hitler's slow but unstoppable rise to power. How it impacts her family, her life.
8. What is the favorite character you have created and why?
Again it is hard to answer. In the animal fantasies I love the wolf character Faolan from the series The Wolves of The Beyond. But I love Gabriella and I also love the three girls Hannah, May and Lucy from the Daughters of the Sea series who are not quite human but part mer.
9. I once heard Madeleine L'Engle state that her characters were real to her and almost an extended part of her family, she said once that at the dinner table she sat up and stated "Meg just finished her PhD." Are your characters real to you, do you ever get glimpses of what they are up to now, or once you finish a book is that it?
They are very real to me. Perhaps that is why I have been writing series of late. I don't have to say goodbye to them for a long time. I can build them over such an extended narrative arc. I began writing the Guardians of Ga'Hoole when our first child went to college. I signed a contract five years later for another five or six of them when our second child went to college. I have a hard time with goodbyes.
10. You state that you rarely write with a moral objective, but life lessons seem to infuse your writing. Do you think it is your Jewish roots coming through? A matter of 'What's bread in the bone?'
I am not sure if I understand your question. Do you mean because I am Jewish I do not write with a moral objective or that because I am Jewish life lessons come through? Actually I don't think being Jewish has anything to do with it. If any thing is bred in my bone it is the experience of being human and has nothing to do with a system of religious beliefs. If life lessons come through it is because I have lived, lived and reflected. Anybody can do that if they have an open mind.
11. You do extensive research when preparing your books, what was the most interesting part in researching the Wolves of the Beyond?
Wolves have such elaborate hierarchies and ranking systems. Their social behaviors grow out of this and I found that fascinating. Wolves are not solitary like owls. So whenever you have animals who are living in packs -wow! It becomes a natural for politics, intrigue -all that wonderful stuff. I had to push it a bit with the wolves because of their solitary natures. But with wolves it was like diving head first into a treasure trove of goodies when I read about their biology and their social behaviors. I think I might have made a great biologist or primatologist like Jane Gooddall, but I hate camping out and I especially dislike going places that do not have flush toilets. In short peeing in the woods! ( you can cut that if you think it is too risqué)
12. What were your favorite books and authors to read as a youth?
Well of course you know I am so old that people like Lois Lowry and Judy Blume, authors I very much admire were not even writing then. When I was in 8th grade S.E. Hinton was probably in kindergarten. But I loved Nancy Drew, and the Oz books. However I quickly graduated to adult fiction as there wasn't really that many y.a. books out there. So I loved as I mentioned Cather, Wharton, and Austen and I loved contemporary authors like Leon Uris, Norman Mailer. I read the Naked and The Dead when I was in the 8th grade. I loved books about war. But of course I read Catcher in The Rye. I read all sorts of stuff.
13. What are some of your favorite books and authors now?
I love James Lee Burke and P.D. James. I like Alice Hoffman and Alexander McCall Smith who writes The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency. I absolutely loved Dave Eggers's book Zeitoun.
14. I once had a university professor state that the true goal of a university education should be to teach one to learn how to think. What would you state should be the goal of higher education and why?
I agree with your college professor and I feel that is the goal beginning in kindergarten. To teach kids in addition to their abc's how to think critically. I feel the word 'critical' is important.
15. Many of your books are available in electronic formats but with that comes bootleg distribution. What are your impressions of ebooks and the distribution of them through torrents and other illegal means?
Oh gosh. I don't want to get into trouble here. I think I'll just pass on this one. I really don't know this term 'torrent'. And maybe I don't want to know!
16. Some authors monitor torrent sites and have their publishers contact them to remove their content. Do you do so are have someone do so for you?
Well I guess maybe I should learn about the word torrent and consider having someone do this. Yet another thing to worry about! Why did you have to tell me?
17. With the success of the Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole film, are there plans to adapt other of your works onto the big screen?
I hope so but I must keep quiet about it for now.
18. Is it possible we will see more stories about the Owl kingdoms? Or will we have to settle for the two more books planned in the Wolves from the Beyond series?
No more stories about the owl kingdoms. Every series has what I feel is a natural life span and I don't want to push beyond that. It just seems wrong to me. But that is not to say I don't have more ideas for new series up my sleeve, or in my brain or wherever writers put those things.
19. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want with you?
Custom of the Country, House of Mirth, Age of Innocence ( Edith Wharton) Pride and Prejudice, Emma by Jane Austen. My Antonia, Song of The Lark and Death Comes to the Archbishop and the Professors House by Willa Cather. And throw in Original Sin by P.D. James. Is that 10?
20. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors and artists?
READ READ READ! And read widely. Read novels, read newspapers, read science, and read history. If you read, you learn how to build characters, structure a story, and handle a plot. So READ!
Again thank you Nikole at Scholastic Canada and Kathryn Lasky for this great interview.
Books by Kathryn Lasky:
Guardians of Ga'Hoole Book:
1: The Capture
2: The Journey
3: The Rescue
4: The Siege
5: The Shattering
6: The Burning
7: The Hatchling
8: The Outcast
9: The First Collier
10: The Coming of Hoole
11: To Be a King
12: The Golden Tree
13: The River of Wind
15: The War of the Ember
A Guide Book to the Great Tree
Lost Tales of Ga'Hoole
Wolves of the Beyond:
1: Lone Wolf
2: Shadow Wolf
3: Watch Wolf
4: Frost Wolf
The Wolves From The Beyond Field Guide
Daughters of the Sea:
Starbuck Family Adventures:
Double Trouble Squared
Shadows in the Water
A Voice in the Wind
Born to Rule
Unicorns? Get Real!
The Royal Diaries:
Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor, England 1544
Mary, Queen of Scots: Queen Without a Country, France 1553
Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles, Austria-France 1769
Jahanara: Princess of Princesses, India 1627
Kazunomiya: Prisoner of Heaven, Japan 1858
Journey to the New World: The Diary Of Remember Patience Whipple, Mayflower, 1620
Dreams in the Golden Country: The Diary of Zipporah Feldman a Jewish Immigrant Girl, New York City, 1903
Christmas After All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1932
A Time for Courage:The Suffragette Diary of Kathleen Bowen, Washington, D.C., 1917
My Name Is America:
The Journal of Augustus Pelletier: Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804
Hope In My Heart, Sofia's Ellis Island Diary
Home at Last: Sofia's Immigrant Diary
An American Spring: Sofia's Immigrant Diary
The Last Girls of Pompeii
Alice Rose and Sam
Beyond the Burning Time
Memoirs of a Bookbat'
The Bone Wars
Beyond the Divide
The Night Journey
Dancing Through Fire
Children young adults non-fiction:
3038 Staat der Klone
John Muir: America's First Environmentalist
Interrupted Journey: Saving Endangered Sea Turtles
Shadows in the Dawn: The Lemurs of Madagascar
The Most Beautiful Roof in the World
Days of the Dead
Searching for Laura Ingalls
Surtsey: The Newest Place on Earth
Traces of Life
A Baby for Max
Show and Tell Bunnies
Science Fair Bunnies
Lucille Camps In
Humphrey, Albert, and the Flying Machine
Before I was Your Mother
The Man Who Made Time Travel
A Voice of Her Own: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet
Love That Baby
Born in the Breezes: The Voyages Of Joshua Slocum
Vision of Beauty
The Emperor's Old Clothes
Sophie and Rose
Marven of the Great North Woods
A Brilliant Streak
Hercules: The Man, The Myth, The Hero
The Librarian Who Measured the Earth
She's Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head!
The Gates of the Wind
I Have an Aunt on Marlborough Street
My Island Grandma
Night Gardening (pseudonym of E.L. Swann)
The Widow of Oz