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Interview: Karen Cushman

April 19th, 2010 (10:48 am)
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Karen Cushman's historical fiction is beloved by children and adults alike. From Catherine, Called Birdy to The Ballad of Lucy Whipple to The Midwife's Apprentice, Karen has painted word portraits of times past. Her newest book, Alchemy and Meggy Swann, will be available on April 26th. Read a sneak peek! (Note: It's a PDF file.) Today, she's kicking off her blog tour, and I'm picking her brain here at Bildungsroman.

Which of your novels required the most research?

Catherine Called Birdy, since it was the very first medieval book and I knew little about medieval England. Research and writing and occasional procrastination took almost four years.

Which, if any, of your stories came to you almost effortlessly? The idea came to mind, the lightbulb turned on, and you just _knew_ the story's main plot points and characters all at once.

The Midwife's Apprentice. Although the second half of the book was written twice, both passes were pretty effortless. I completed the book in about nine months, which is an appropriate gestation period for a book concerning childbirth.

That's perfect! Which of your stories changed the most between the first draft to the final published edition?

Definitely Matilda Bone, which started off as a rollicking romp with ridiculous Matilda, comic brigands, worldly nuns having food fights in church, a trip to London, and a romance. None of that survived to the finished book.

The Midwife's Apprentice has nicknames, not all of them kind, as well as assumed/mistaken names. If you could change your first name, would you? What name would you select?

I never much liked my name. It wasn't romantic or dramatic or exotic, although I never came up with something I preferred. My dad used to call me Karola, and in high school I was known as Brigitte after Bardot because my growing bosoms constantly popped the snaps on my gym uniform.

Yikes! You poor thing! The Ballad of Lucy Whipple takes place during the California Gold Rush. What is your favorite area of California?

On the Northern California coast is a village called Mendocino, an old logging town built by loggers to remind them of the New England town they left behind. Philip and I stopped here first on our honeymoon in 1969. We loved it and love it still.

What moves you to write historical fiction?

I write historical fiction because those are the stories that take me over. Rosemary Sutcliff, writer of gorgeous historical novels for young people, said, "Historians and teachers, you and your kind can produce the bare bones; I and my kind breathe life into them." That's what I'm interested in -- the life in those bones.

If you could live in any time period, when and where would you select?

I would not do well in any other time period. Too smelly, too brutal, too much death and disease. There are places I would like to visit invisibly, anonymously, and safely: medieval and Elizabethan England, ancient Egypt and Rome, and Roman Britain.

What are your ten all-time favorite books?

Whoosh. Difficult question. I could list all the Ellis Peter's Brother Cadfael books and be finished but that seems like cheating so I'll count them as one. The other nine may be Sarah Plain and Tall, Parnassus on Wheels, Anya Seton's Katherine, I, Claudius, The Last Unicorn, Catcher in the Rye, Kristin Lavransdatter [the trilogy by Sigrid Undset: The Wreath, The Wife, and The Cross], Dawn Wind by Rosemary Sutcliff, and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole.

Visit Karen Cushman's official website.

Follow her blog tour.

Comments

Posted by: rosemarysutcliff.wordpress.com (rosemarysutcliff.wordpress.com)
Posted at: April 19th, 2010 07:33 am (UTC)
Rosemary Sutcliff

Interesting interview - thanks. I of course enjoyed the reference to Rosemary Sutcliff, a close relative., which I have referred to (See http://wp.me/p42Yg-Ux) And a quote I did not know: do you know where karen Cushman got it from? My interest will be clear at http://www.rosemaysutcliff.wordpress.com

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: April 19th, 2010 02:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Rosemary Sutcliff

Thanks for reading the interview.

Posted by: jeannineatkins (jeannineatkins)
Posted at: April 19th, 2010 12:03 pm (UTC)

Thank you for this. I'm so looking forward to a new Karen Cushman book!

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: April 19th, 2010 02:18 pm (UTC)

Hi there, Jeannine! Thanks for reading the interview. Enjoy the book.

Posted by: A Deserving Porcupine (rockinlibrarian)
Posted at: April 19th, 2010 11:00 pm (UTC)

Catherine Called Birdy is one of my favorites-- probably in my top 5 historical fiction books. I used to LOVE historical fiction when I was younger, and I've kind of gotten away from it, but Cushman's are books that I still find interesting and still stick with me later.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: April 19th, 2010 11:25 pm (UTC)

:)

Posted by: imcoolerthanu2 (imcoolerthanu2)
Posted at: April 20th, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)

Catherine Called Birdy is a favorite of mine, too, although I do enjoy all of Karen's books and am looking forward to the new one!

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: April 20th, 2010 08:20 pm (UTC)

:)

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