Hey everyone! I’m so excited to be a part of Katherine Kirkpatrick’s blog tour for her novel, Between Two Worlds (April 8, 2014)! For my blog tour stop, I have an interview with Katherine. First, here’s some more information about Between Two Worlds:
On the treeless shores of Itta, Greenland, as far north as humans can settle, sixteen-year-old Inuit Billy Bah spots a ship far out among the icebergs on the bay–a sight both welcome and feared. Explorers have already left their indelible mark on her land and its people, and a ship full of white men can mean trouble.
The ship carries provisions for Robert E. Peary, who is making an expedition to the North Pole. As a child, Billy Bah spent a year in America with Peary’s family. When her parents went to America years later, they died in a tragic scandal. Now, Peary’s wife, daughter, and crew are in Itta to bring him supplies. Winter comes on fast, and when the ship gets caught in the ice, Billy Bah sets out to find Peary. The journey will imperil her life, and that of the man she loves.
By turns lyrical and gripping, Between Two Worlds is an impassioned coming-of-age novel set in a land of breathtaking beauty and danger, where nature and love are powerful and unpredictable forces.
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And now here’s the interview! Hope you guys enjoy it!
Question: What made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
Answer: In the sixth grade I wrote a story about vampire bats attacking a scientist. My teacher praised it as “absolutely superb!” And it was fun to startle my classmates. After that I wanted to be a writer.
Question: Why did you choose the historical fiction genre? Specifically, what drew you to YA historical fiction?
Answer: I grew up in Stony Brook, New York, a town rich in history. My mother frequently took me on tours of local colonial houses, and my brother loved old cemeteries. We lived near a cluttered and dimly lit carriage museum, where my favorite exhibit was a gypsy wagon with a costumed manikin peering out of it. Spooky!
When I started to write novels, I found myself drawn to YA’s coming-of-age themes of independence, discovery, maturity, and relationships.
Question: How did you come up with the concept for Between Two Worlds?
Answer: In the Hall of Meteorites at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, I noticed a photo of four-year-old Marie Peary, the daughter of Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary, onboard a ship with the gigantic Ahnighito meteorite. After researching Marie’s life, I started a novel. I showed it to editor Mary Cash at Holiday House, along with stunning photographs of Marie in Arctic Greenland. With the photos in mind, Mary encouraged me to write a nonfiction book, The Snow Baby, which she published in 2007.
Years later I returned to the novel. It took on new life when I decided to switch perspectives, telling the story from an Inuk girl’s point of view.
Question: Between Two Worlds is based on a true story. What’s real and what’s made up?
Answer: About eighty percent of the book is based on historical events. Sixteen-year-old Inuk Billy Bah joined the Peary family on Peary’s ship Windward, which became locked in ice for eight months in 1900-1901. The incidents that will shock you the most in the book are unfortunately true. But the love story involving Billy Bah and the sailor is fictionalized.
Question: Tell us about the real Billy Bah.
Answer: Billy Bah, also known by her Inuk name, Eqariusaq, was born around 1884 in a remote coastal area of Arctic Greenland. When she was about eleven, she spent a year in Washington, D.C. with Peary’s family. She was both orphaned and married around age fourteen. Peary referred to her as his most expert seamstress. She sewed the fur coat that explorer Matthew Henson wore during the famed Peary expedition of 1909 to the North Pole.
Question: Let’s talk about the editing process. What scene do you most regret having to cut?
Answer: My editor Wendy Lamb asked me to create flashbacks from Billy Bah’s year in America. I added fifty new pages of backstory then, of course, had to cut most of it. I especially liked the scenes of Billy Bah experiencing nature. Growing up in a polar climate, she’d never even seen trees or squirrels – parts of life that are so common to us, we almost forget them most of the time.
Question: On the flip side, what was your favorite scene that got added during edits?
Answer: In a flashback, Billy Bah’s father teaches her not to be scared of darkness. He shows her how the winter sky glows with the colors of their Ancestors (the beautiful display we know as the Northern Lights). She remembers: “Only years later, after I’d returned from the white man’s land, did I fully appreciate the calm and softness, the peace and joy, of our starry season. By then I’d learned about real terrors.”
Question: The setting of 1901 Arctic Greenland plays a distinct and significant role in the novel. How did you make Billy Bah’s story come alive for today’s teens?
Answer: The key to historical fiction or drama is to put the past into the present by zeroing in on universal themes that everyone can relate to such as the desire to belong or the need for independence. Regardless of their time period, people have always shared many of the same core fears and desires. A common teenage dilemma is that at some point we must act under pressure and make difficult choices. That’s when we show “our stuff”— our strength of character. This was as true in 1901 as it is in 2014.
Question: What was it like to have Madeleine L’Engle as a writing teacher?
Answer: Madeleine was the most extraordinary person I’ve ever known. She was magnificent, regal, wise, kind, radiant. In her long, colorful, loose-fitting African dresses and exotic jewelry, she was also eccentric and a great deal of fun. As a writing teacher she wasn’t what you would expect. Instead of talking about plot, character, or story structure, she preferred more abstract themes about the larger role of writing and art in our lives, such as the concept of story being truth. Her belief about writing was that it’s an entry into the larger Cosmos. Writing is about taking a shared journey, she said. In the ten years I knew Madeleine, she taught me about the life of spirit and the value of community. I met most of my closest friends through her.
Question: What is a typical day like for you, as far as your writing schedule goes?
Answer: I write in the mornings until the early afternoons. Later in the day, I take my two middle school-age daughters to their music lessons and other activities.
Question: Craziest thing you’ve had to Google for a work in progress?
Answer: I researched Inuit women washing their hair with urine. It would have put off readers, so I ended up not including that info.
Question: What books would you recommend to a reader who loved yours, and wants to read something similar?
Answer: The Snow Baby is a great companion title. All known photographs of Billy Bah appear in that book, as well as a spectacular photo of the ice-locked Windward. Also check out Boreal Ties: Photographs and Two Diaries of the 1901 Peary Relief Expedition, edited by Kim Fairley Gillis and Silas Hibbard Ayer III. Billy Bah makes a cameo appearance in the YA novel Smiler’s Bones by Peter Lerangis. And if you think you can stand to learn all the gory details of Peary’s 1897 expedition and its aftermath, read Give Me My Father’s Body by Kenn Harper.
For Arctic adventure stories and books on doomed voyages, Google Ernest Shackleton, the Endurance, Robert Scott, Raoul Amundsen, or the Franklin Expedition. Readers interested in historical YA books featuring native characters should definitely check out titles by Louise Erdrich and Joseph Bruchac, as well as older titles by Scott O’Dell.
In more general terms, Between Two Worlds follows in the vein of serious, edgy historical fiction like Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (my good friend, Google our names together for articles about us), Fever, The Book Thief, Between Shades of Gray, and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing.
Question: Are you working on anything new?
Answer: I’m writing a novel set in England and Egypt in 1922-1923, during the opening of King Tut’s tomb. My real-life protagonist grew up in Highclere Castle, now popular as the set for the hit British TV series “Downton Abbey.” I’m excited to return to Highclere this April.
I grew up in Stony Brook, New York, the youngest of three children. My mother instilled in us a love of reading. I published two nonfiction titles, The Snow Baby and Mysterious Bones. Like The Snow Baby, my new young adult novel, Between Two Worlds (Wendy Lamb Books, April 2014), involves Arctic exploration. Currently I’m working on a novel set in England and Egypt in 1922-23, during the discovery of King Tut’s tomb.
Aside from reading, writing, history, and archaeology, some of my other interests include playing the harp, growing orchids, drawing, painting, hiking, camping, and bird watching.
Fancy, my old, gray tabby cat, keeps me company while I work. All freelance writers should have pets.
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