Hey everyone! I’m super excited to be on the blog tour for Kate Hattemer’s The Land of 10,000 Madonnas (April 19, 2016 – Knopf)! Today, I have an interview with Kate to share with you. First, here’s more about the book:
Jesse lives with his history professor dad in a house covered with postcards of images of the Madonna from all over the world. They’re gotten used to this life: two motherless dudes living among thousands of Madonnas. But Jesse has a heart condition that will ultimately cut his life tragically short. Before he dies, he arranges a mysterious trip to Europe for his three cousins, his best friend, and his girlfriend to take after he passes away. It’s a trip that will forever change the lives of these young teens and one that will help them come to terms with Jesse’s death.
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And now for the interview! Enjoy!
Question: Congrats! When this interview goes live, you’ll be just a few DAYS away from release! What will you be doing for the next month to prepare for release? And in the last few days before release?
Answer: Thank you! I can’t believe it’s finally happening! Based on my experience last time, I’ll spend the month before release alternately freaking out it’s happening and forgetting it’s happening, and I’ll spend the last few days working through key last-minute preparations (googling “how to walk in high heels,” doodling exclamation points in my planner, etc.).
Question: The Land of 10,000 Madonnas is such a unique, intriguing title! Who came up with it? What’s the significance of the title in relation to the story?
Answer: Thank you! One of my students, trying to remember this title, said, “I know it has something to do with Beyoncé!” But no, it refers to the original diva, Madonna, the mother of Christ. The phrase has been in the book from very early on – it’s what Jesse calls his apartment, which his art-professor father has wallpapered with postcards of Mary – but it wasn’t actually the title until I realized how much significance it holds. To me, the book is all about where we find home, and I think we’re all searching for our own lands of ten thousand Madonnas, for the places filled with our mothers, literal and figurative. We’re searching for the lands of the people who love us and take care of us, of people who rejoice with us and grieve at our sides – just as Mary is doing for Christ in every single representation of her in the past two thousand years of Western art.
Question: And speaking of the story, what a fascinating concept – sad, but beautiful and heart-warming, all at once. Where did the idea for the plot come from?
Answer: Thank you again! A lot of elements came together to form the plot, but the journey the characters take was inspired by my own travel during the summer of 2012. I was fortunate enough to spend about six weeks in Europe with, variously, a cousin, a few friends, and a sister. It was an amazing trip: we saw a massive amount of art, went on some jaw-dropping, thigh-quivering hikes, and ate our weight in gelato.
Question: There are some really important life lessons in The Land of 10,000 Madonnas. What’s the MOST important message you wanted to convey to your readers – the one thing you hope they take away with them after reading the book?
Answer: Given how much this book changed from conception to final product, I’m surprised to realize that my central goal stayed the same. I wanted to write a book about grief that was about the tawdry, tedious underside – not the shock of the first few days, not the black clothes and the crying, but about the way your world’s still shattered a year later, two years later, ten years later, and you have to wake up every morning and go into that shattered world and pretend that everything’s okay when it isn’t okay, when you’re starting to suspect that it will never be okay. I wanted to write about grief that’s never resolved because it springs from an event so fundamentally wrong that it shouldn’t be resolved. This probably sounds incredibly dire and depressing, but to me, I think, as a grieving teenager, it would have provided some hope. If I am sad for the rest of my life, his life meant something. It means something. I wanted to write about this paradox, which I fiercely believe: you will never stop grieving and you will feel joy. You will never lay eyes upon him again and he will always be at your side.
Question: This is your second book. How was the publishing process different the second time around? What lessons did you learn as a debut that helped make things easier?
Answer: I like how you assume it’s been easier.
Just kidding: it has been! The revision process was a lot tougher this time around, but I think that without my experience revising my debut, it’d have felt even worse (and that’s saying something). I’ve felt a good deal of anxiety with both books – for some reason I don’t worry about how they’ll do, but I absolutely dread feeling so publicly exposed – but it’s gotten more manageable. I’m trying to embrace the strange shift in control: when you’re writing, you’re the god of your book’s universe, but then suddenly it’s out in the world and doesn’t belong to you at all anymore.
Question: Craziest thing you’ve had to Google for a WIP?
Answer: “Best German karaoke songs.” This, as I’m sure you can imagine, led to an intense afternoon of YouTube research. It was one of those days when you think you’re a writer, and the person next to you in the coffeeshop thinks you’re a fool.
Question: According to your bio, you previously worked as a bookseller. What was it like being on that side of the publishing world, as compared to being a published author now?
Answer: I loved my bookseller job – for one, thanks to my intensely well-read colleagues, I always had a great TBR stack! And I think it’s thanks to my time in the bookstore that I now feel so grateful whenever someone reads one of my books. There are so many books out there, so many freaking wonderful books, and you’re choosing mine?! Like: you are the light of my life.
It’s also nice, though, to have a day job that has nothing to do with publishing. I’m teaching high school Latin now, and I adore every minute. I think I do my best writing (and personing) when I have a healthy mix of interests and priorities.
Question: Are you working on anything new?
Answer: Yes! I’ve spent some time lately returning to my roots as a Roald Dahl fanatic (when I got in trouble as a kid, my mom would confiscate his oeuvre as punishment), so I tried my hand at a ridiculous middle-grade novel. And now I’m working on a YA about a feminist firebrand. I hope they’ll both see readers someday!