Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An interview with Kathleen Duey

Kathleen Duey is the author of over 70 children’s and young adult books including historical fiction, nonfiction, picture books and dark fantasy. She was one of the 2007 finalists for the National Book Award for Literature for Young People, with her novel Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic. She writes for adults with a partner; they have a finished novel with an agent and a second work being optioned by HBO. She lives in San Diego County, USA.

I interviewed her in November 2007, as a speaker at the Bologna Conference, March 2008. this is what Kathleen told me:

I always want to be a writer. My fourth grade teacher encouraged me and got me started writing stories. Then an English teacher in high school made me promise I would keep writing and give it a serious try, which I finally did, in my late thirties. Mrs. Fredericksen and Mr. Doohan. Bless ‘em both.

All the work I have done, and all the play, inform my writing. Living off-grid for a long time shaped me, too. I missed a couple of decades of TV, probably a good thing. I do a lot of historical research for my books. But, the research never hampers my historical fiction. I use a lot of primary sources and they always enrich, guide, inform. I have never once felt constrained by facts.

I identify very closely with all my characters, so in a way, I have been all of them. I could live where Heart Avamir lives. (The Unicorn’s Secret) I did, in a weird way, but that's a whole story in itself.

My childhood influenced what I write in every way. I grew up in rural places, was raised by rural parents. I tend to write historical fiction and fantasy... both usually low tech, in cultures where people are close to the soil. As a child, my parents bought me non-fiction, almost exclusively. The first novel I loved was Molly Make Believe, an old book I found in my great Aunt’s apartment. Then came Black Beauty and then all the Farley books. In middle school I discovered fantasy and SF and was astounded at the created worlds, the possibilities of speculation, the massive intellects of the writers. I still am.

The best books are autobiographical to some degree. Your life has been extraordinary – you dropped out of the mainstream and lived off the land for many years. That gave you a rich vein of knowledge to mine.

I work alone, almost always, in my office at home. I often play music, quietly. Sometimes I prefer silence. If it is chilly, Rooibos tea is wonderful. The hardest part of writing is sitting still, indoors - I hate it. The shortest time it has taken me to write a book is nine days. the longest was fifteen years.

I don't want a day job, so I market as much as I possibly can. People just need to figure out what is comfortable, what works for them. I like travel, I love schools, speaking has become fun. I began as a nervous, two-puke speaker. I have improved vastly and now enjoy it. Part of my marketing and networking is I blog, but not as often as I should, even though I enjoy it. There is a blog on my website, too I have a MySpace page with, like 7 or 8 friends. Please, anyone, befriend me. There is lots of room at my lunch table. I do try to be web-present. It is hard to keep up with it, and travel, and write.

I get more email and letters and guestbook entries than I can keep up with. But, I love them all, I get 5-10 a day, counting guestbook, paper and, mostly email. I *love* knowing that kids like my books. I get a dozen or so every year that say something like, "I don't like reading all that much and I had never finished a book before yours..." and that *thrills* me.

Every book presents different obstacles, various areas of clear sailing. I like every genre I have written in and intend to try more. It's just the way my brain works; it's not a conscious business choice or a deliberate artistic decision. It is about the individual project for me, not the genre. Whatever takes my breath away - that's what I want to write. I like writing for all age groups. I seem to thrive on variety. Writing for kids is an obvious choice for me. I like kids. And I am head over heels in love with the possibility of touching a child's (or a teen's) life the way mine was touched by books. My schedule is simple: Full time -I just write full time.

The next Bologna Conference will be March 2010. More details to be posted shortly.


Anonymous said...


Karen Strong said...

Thanks for posting the interview! I love Kathleen Duey. She's a great writer and her books are wonderful.