My last blog post was an introduction to SEEING RED, an MG/YA historical novel in which Author Kathy Erskine addresses one of her greatest passions - racial justice. Today, I'm pleased to share a conversation with Kathy. I met her when
we shared a ride to a Highlights Founders Workshop with Editor, Patti Gauch. Since then, she's published several books and even won The National Book Award. She's remained the unassuming person of integrity that I met when we were both looking for a publishing home. We've visited a few times since then
- the most recent one, via SKYPE
|Chatting with Kathy via SKYPE.|
1. Kathy, I have an earlier version of SEEING RED in a big manila envelope. You gave it to me for feedback way back before THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE, MOCKINGBIRD, and QUAKING were published. So just how long has SEEING RED been in process and do you have a sense that now is the time to bring it out? Or did you simply just find time to finish it?
You're right -- this story started, literally, in the last century! The short answer is that I finally matured enough as an author to be able to write the story I wanted to tell. Sometimes stories need to "ripen." Sometimes you have to keep going back to a story and rewriting it before you get it right. Sometimes delays and disappointments can lead you to a wonderful place.
For the long version, I laid out the whole history in a blog post.
2. Ooooooooh. Thanks for sharing the whole history. "Sometimes it’s not about the end, it’s about the journey..." And what a journey! The title on the version I have is CORNERSTONE. Want to mention a few of the titles the book has been through and how you settled on SEEING RED?
Oh, this is so funny -- I can't even remember all the titles this manuscript has had! It started as DEER SEASON until my husband asked why I was writing a hunting novel. I dropped that and moved to CORNERSTONE, which he said sounded kind of heavy and lump-ish. When I tried FREEDOM'S PHOENIX and FREEMAN'S PHOENIX he just kind of stared at me, which made me think those were even worse. FACING FREEDOM was my favorite but there was a concern with the publisher that it might sound like a text book so we brainstormed some more. It was amazingly hard to come up with something that captured the story but I think SEEING RED does it. We settled on that title because not only is the main character's name "Red," and he starts to really "see" his world for the first time, but also because the expression "seeing red" means to be angry, and he does get angry about what's happening in his world.
3. Speaking of anger and seeing his world reminds me of one gut-wrenching scene in particular that really cranks ups the tension of the story. It wasn't in the version I read first. Without giving away too much, can you talk about how and why you added that scene?
I think I know what scene you mean and I added it thanks to my fabulous editor, Andrea Pinkney, who correctly pointed out that Red needed to feel racism viscerally instead of just observing it and getting upset about it. It needed to come fairly early in the book so we understand his motivations. I had to put myself in that very uncomfortable place -- not that I've had that experience but I think we've all been part of a group dynamic where things get out of hand and we don't like what's going on but we don't quite know how to stop it.
4. You mentioned maturing as a writer since we first met in 2003 or 04, (which was it?) What have you learned that has transformed or informed your writing the most?
It was late fall 2003 so we've known each other for 10 years -- wow! This is where I should say something profound except all I can think of is practice, practice, practice. You really do get better at something when you keep working at it. You also gain confidence, which is what I needed for SEEING RED. And I guess I could add that you should trust your own voice. Voice is unique, obviously, but also very fragile. Don't let your voice be critiqued out of your manuscript. You can change the characters, plot and setting, but keep your own voice!
Thanks so much Kathy for the wisdom. And thank you for being the kind of person that cares about justice for all!
And hey ya'll. I'm giving away a copy of SEEING RED. If you leave a comment AND share one of my SEEING RED posts on social media, I'll enter you! DEADLINE IS MONDAY, DECEMBER 17!