Interview: Karen Cushman
Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: Some Like It Hot score music
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.
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