Kathleen Duey on Kathleen Duey: “I don’t like writing bios; it’s is a self-conscious thing. I have always done it in third person. Everyone does, because that makes it easier to list your stuff and paint a small self-portrait. But it is also weird.
“This morning has so far contained puppy poo, ants in the pantry, and a phone message from an attorney about the HBO option. So it just feels like the right day to write my very first, first-person bio:
“I love and hate writing. We have no intention of splitting up, but there are rough days. I have written over 70 books for pre-readers through adults. I believe that literacy–the ability to pass on stories and facts through writing and reading-is a pillar of civilization.
“And so I am glad to live in interesting times. I am fascinated and excited as I watch media mix into wonderful new forms. I am terrified and excited to see the role of books and the existence of copyright–a relatively recent overlay–in flux worldwide. But the human need for story seems endless. That happy fact diminishes my chances of ever needing a day job.”
Visit Kathleen’s blog.
Could you describe your path to publication–any sprints or stumbles along the way?
Long, winding, bumpy, silly, ongoing. No MFA program, an odd life, a real love of books and story–it all adds up. It took me about three years to sell the first middle grade novel, with all of the typical detours along the way. I have always been adventurous and open to many different kinds of books and projects. I am sliding toward deeper, artful, hardcover work. But I am actively looking for other, less complicated things, too. So the road is going sideways just now, into audioscripts, book-based website development and other projects.
And the road seems to double back now and then, too. A Resurrection of Magic: Skin Hunger (Atheneum, 2007) is the very first novel idea I ever had, about 15 years ago. I wrote 300 pages of it–then got lost in the woods. I set it aside and started learning craft. I think I have the skill to pull it off now, as a trilogy. Oh, I hope so. I am very involved with the characters–some of them come talk to me in dreams. The intellectual/thematic core of the book is becoming clearer to me as I write–and is even more interesting that I thought it was.
Could you update us on your backlist, highlighting as you see fit?
Anyone who wants to see the whole backlist can look here:
Hoofbeats (Dutton/Puffin-11 titles): two sets of four books –one a pioneer story, the other set in medieval Ireland. Three single titles coming up 2007-2008. I grew up riding my horses, every day, in the Colorado foothills. We were true friends, and I love writing about that ancient bond between child and horse.
The Unicorn’s Secret (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster-8 titles): These eight little books are one contiguous story. It’s tightly based on dreams I had in the third and fourth grade. Every night I went to sleep here and woke up there–and the reverse. Two lives! It was wonderful. I am writing a book about that experience slowly, working on it now and then…
This is the book I couldn’t finish so long ago. Now it is a trilogy. There is an excerpt as well as the blurbs and reviews here. I am working on the second title in the trilogy now.
And…no, I can’t tell you the story, because is changing as I go. I can tell you the premise. It is two stories, set about 200 years part, told in alternating chapters.
Story 1: In the seacoast city of Limori, three scarred and complicated young adults are trying to rediscover and re-assemble magic in a culture that doesn’t believe in it. Driven by Somiss, a young man or royal descent, to open a school to teach magic. They face increasingly ruthless resistance from the few who know and fear what will happen if they succeed.
Story 2: Two boys are attending the Limori Academy that these three founders eventually manage to create. In 200 years, it has become a brutal place. Some characters are alive in both stories. The why and how of that is central to the tale.
I am having an astounding experience getting this one on paper (and by paper, I mean hard drive).
What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?
I don’t know where this one came from. It woke up with me one foggy morning. The basics came all at once, the setting, the characters, the fact that it was two stories. The details are endless and in still progress.
What were the challenges in bringing it to life?
Psychologically, it is the deepest and most personal thing I have ever written. It is the darkest story I have ever done, too, and I love the characters so much it hurts sometimes.
The complexity was what stumped me years ago. But my tangle-tolerance has been recallibrated since then.
Writing Dead Cat Bounce, a 500 page, huge cast, action/thriller/mystery/love story manuscript, with partner Traci (I am not sure which of her professional surnames she wants to use so I am leaving it out) re-set my complexity gauges forever. Having survived that book, this one wasn’t so overwhelming.
What about the young adult audience appeals to you?
first: I left home at 17 and became self-supporting from the day I left. I believe that teens are just inexperienced adults who are often bored because they are (here in the US, and now, in this era) often too sheltered. When they love a book, they really love it. Books really matter to the unjustly restricted.
second: Young adults are in the middle of a fascinating time of life that defines much of what follows, for each of us. What I loved then, I mostly still love. Most of what I struggled with then, I struggle with now. Some battles are decided and over, and some of the joys are lost, but most are still in place.
third: There are a few books that I read as a YA that changed my life. I am in love with the idea that a book of mine might do that for someone.
If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?
Travel father and wider.
Take notes and journal more.
Get serious sooner.
And on that snowy night in Steamboat Springs, Colorado? Don’t burn all the poems, who cares if he read them?
What would you say specifically on the topic of writing fantasy?
It’s a roomy genre. Stretch.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I travel more and more–the farther the better. I read on airplanes, interview strangers, meet bazillions of people when I am talking about books and literacy at school visits, writing conferences, bookseller’s events and educators’ conferences (all of which I love).
At home, I play my guitar, garden, tend my fruit trees, turn compost heaps, listen to a broad range of music, dance, and avoid writing as long as I can.
How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author?
Barely. I just try to fit in everything I can, prioritizing school visits, both here in the US and at international schools. It’s difficult to travel as much as I think I should and still get the books written. I always say I will write on the road, but I rarely get much done.
What can your fans look forward to next?
A Resurrection of Magic has two more titles coming, 2008, 2009.
I have just finished three new horse books. I intend now to write one a year as long as they will let me…
Another adult book.
A YA project called Free Rat–more on the website soon. It’s another dark one, based on an historic event and set in the near future.
Thanks to everyone who reads my books. I am so grateful to have this job.