Friday, March 20, 2015

Author Interview with Karen Hesse

The DMS was lucky enough to interview Karen Hesse. Lizzy reviewed her books Wish on a Unicorn and Out of the Dust, and it was great to share our thoughts about it and hear yours! We're excited to learn a little more about her stories. So, without further ado... take it away, Karen!

What inspired you to write WISH ON A UNICORN?

I was driving into Brattleboro with my young daughter when we saw a stuffed unicorn on the roof of an abandoned car in a small parking area. The car was riddled with rust holes and the tires were gone so that it sat on its metal rims. Inside the vehicle were sheets, towels, toys, books, pots, pans, lamps, blankets, pillows, etc.
 
My daughter only wanted to bring home that rain-soaked, bug-ridden toy, but I couldn’t bring myself to touch it much less carry it home. By some miracle the car, its contents, and the toy unicorn had vanished just thirty minutes later, as we returned home. Inspired by the mystery of the stuffed animal, where it came from, and where it went to, I wrote a very short story called Gift of the Unicorn.

How did you come up with the characters Maggie (Mags) and Hannie?
 


The characters in the story took shape from the car upon which the unicorn was perched. I tried to imagine what family might belong to such a car and Mags and her family slowly emerged.
 



You must do a lot of research for your historical fiction books. What was your research process like for A LIGHT IN THE STORM and OUT OF THE DUST?

My research process is much the same with every one of my books. I usually begin in the children’s room at Brooks Memorial Library to get an overview of my subject. Then, through inter-library loan, I begin requesting relevant microfilm of newspapers published during the time period I’m studying and books referenced in the initial search. Gradually my net widens as one book’s bibliography leads me to still more books. I read thousands and thousands of pages, interview people who have some memory, experience, or scholarship related to the topic. I listen to music, study art, watch cinema, read poems, plays, fiction and non-fiction from the period and about the period. As I front-load all of this information a story begins to form.

What are some of your favorite books from childhood? Were there any specific authors who inspired you?

The poetry and word play of Dr. Seuss delighted my eager ear. He was publishing as I was learning to read and develop a nascent sense of literature.

If you could befriend a character from any of your books, who would you befriend? Why? 
 
In a way I have already befriended all the characters from my books. I’ve listened to them; become engaged by their stories. I have given them voice, made space for them on the page. I don’t love all of them. I don’t even like a few of them. But I understand them, have compassion for them; I care about them all.

Where do you like to write?  


I work best at my desk-- an old flat, hollow core door resting on two hand-crafted wooden filing cabinets. My desk is usually a mess; often there is a cat resting on top of it, beside my keyboard, curled up against one tippy pile or another.


Do you listen to music while you are writing?
 
When crafting a novel, I often seek out or create a soundtrack of instrumental music from the period…or suggestive of the mood I’m trying to evoke.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Why?  

I am responding to this question during a frigid, ice-sheathed January in New England. My office is in the attic of an 1880 Victorian house and my desk stands beside an original, multi-paned, extremely drafty window. Even with the space heater on, I am freezing. At the moment I honestly would love to live anywhere warmer. But the truth is when I wake to discover a fresh fall of snow, I never hesitate but excitedly pull on my boots, my hat, coat, and gloves and off I go with my camera into the silent, wondrous woods.

The path to publication varies from author to author. Every author has a unique story and one that other authors can learn from. Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication?
 
It took many years, many tears, near successes, unbearable misses, patience, an unquenchable hunger for acceptance, and the right editor in the right place at the right time. 

Do you have any advice for new authors? 
 
My advice to aspiring authors: Take as much pleasure in words and the building of them into story as you take in the most decadent, delicious dessert. Write even if you think there is no hope of publication. Do it because you have no choice. Because something inside you is incomplete unless you are writing. Do it only if you can do it with all of your heart. Do not deceive yourself into thinking there is some sort of balance…your family, your friends, everything else comes second, even if you don’t mean it to. Do not take shortcuts. Be as honest in your writing as you would be speaking to those around you as you lay on your deathbed. If you still want to write after reading this, do it, every day. And try to keep everything else in your life from withering away from neglect.



OUT OF THE DUST is written in free verse. Have you always been a fan of poetry? 
 
I began my writing life as a poet; it appears I will conclude my life as a poet, too. In the case of DUST, I wished to convey to readers Billie Jo’s landscape of longing, despair, and transformation, with as few words as possible. Sometimes the fewer words, the more the reader must fill in the blanks, must become a true co-creator of the story. 

What inspired you to write a book in this style?
 
I don’t think it was intentional. Most likely I listened to some inner voice that was determined to override my impulse toward a more conventional telling.

Are you currently working on a book? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it? 
 
I have two picture books and a volume of poetry scheduled for publication sometime in the next year or two. I write a poem each morning. After three years of faithfully following this routine I have produced some really dreadful verse, a great deal of moderately readable poetry, and a tiny pocketful of real stunners.





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56 comments:

  1. Unicorns are the best! Oh--and that chocolate cake is not helping me with my diet right now. I'll just close my eyes and imagine it's mine...

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    1. Stephanie- I love unicorns too. :) ~L

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  2. So fun to hear about origins of stories and characters

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    1. Brandi- I feel the same way! :) ~L

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  3. Unicorns (and dragons) will always have a home in my head and heart. Thank you for a fascinating author interview. Again.

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    1. Elephant's Child- So glad you enjoyed the interview with Karen. I totally agree with you about unicorns and dragons. :) ~L

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  4. I love Unicorns ... this book sounds good... I like the advice about writing, it is very truthful that if you are a writer, you will write even if it never gets publicized.. and it takes up a lot of your life... xox

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    1. Launna- I like Karen's advice too! And unicorns are amazing! :) ~L

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  5. Karen's encounter with the broken car and the stuffed unicorn is so sad - such heartbreak in that car. But it shows that inspiration is always around us, we just have to keep our eyes and hearts open and always be thinking about the 'what ifs'.

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    1. Jocelyn- Well said! Everywhere we look there is inspiration if we think about the possibilities. :) ~L

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  6. omg the cake!! and yes, my kitten does the same thing...ha that meme is awesome!

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    1. Beth Ellyn- Doesn't that cake make your mouth water! :) ~L

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  7. I love the story about the unicorn on the abandoned car. That is so mysterious - and perfect for inspiration. It's super impressive that Karen does so much research and writes in verse! Wow! Her books sounds awesome. Wishing her much success!

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    1. Lexa- Karen is such an amazing author. I didn't know she started her career as a poet, but Out of the Dust is so powerfully written that I am not surprised. I also enjoyed learning about the unicorn and the abandoned car. :) ~L

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  8. Fascinating back story for your inspiration! Congratulations on your success!

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    1. Donna- Glad you enjoyed hearing from Karen! :) ~L

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  9. Wow! That is some incredible advice she gives new authors. She explained herself very well.

    I also loved her description of the unicorn on the old car. It seemed so palpable.

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    1. Lauren- I was impressed with the thoughtful advice from Ms. Hesse too! I could also easily picture the unicorn and the car. :) ~L

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  10. What a wonderful interview from an inspirational author! The unicorn in the abandoned car is a fascinating start to a story, that's for sure!

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    1. Meradeth- So happy you enjoyed the interview! I liked learning about how the unicorn inspired a short story and a book. :) ~L

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  11. Live somewhere warmer, aye the same here

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    1. Blodeuedd- I would love somewhere warmer right now. :) ~L

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  12. I've read Out of the Dust. It's a quick and emotional read.

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  13. Hi, Karen! Great to meet you. We share an affinity for Dr. Seuss. I love the Unicorn inspiration. There's no place like home is there? Freezing cold or blazing hot.

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    1. Carol- I agree with you about there not being anyplace like home- even when we want to go somewhere else for a little while. :) ~L

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  14. I have Out of the Dust and I'd like to also get Wish on a Unicorn. Wonderful interview.

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    1. Medeia-Awesome to hear that you have Out of the Dust- I think you will love it! :) ~L

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  15. Great interview! I absolutely loved hearing about her inspiration for WISH ON A UNICORN. What a cool story! I can see why it captured her imagination.

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    1. Caryn- I loved hearing from Karen Hesse too. I am always interested in learning about what inspires different stories. :) ~L

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  16. I love cats, unicorn and chocolate:) Wishing you much success.

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    1. Sandra- Three of my favorite things! :) ~L

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  17. Aquele esfoliante corporal é maravilhoso! *_*

    Adorei a entrevista com Karen Hesse. Nunca li nada dela!

    Ótimo domingo!

    Beijo! ^^

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    1. Amanda- So glad you enjoyed the interview. Happy Sunday to you, too! :) ~L

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  18. Very excited to read this interview with Karen Hesse. And I'm also pretty excited that microfilm still exists! :D

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    1. Dianne- I enjoyed learning that Karen gets microfilm from different libraries. What an in depth research process. :) ~L

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  19. What an interesting way to get an idea for a book. I love unicorns, I have several statues of them.

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    1. Mary- I have several statues of them too! :) ~L

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  20. Great interview, thanks for sharing! Congratulations on the books!

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  21. Cat beside me now as I type away. And yeah, Dr. Seuss is sure a good pick. Ideas for books truly can come from anywhere

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    1. Pat- Glad you are being kept company by your cat! I am always amazed at the places ideas come from. :) ~L

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  22. Can you believe that I never read anything by Dr. Seuss??? I really have to! And then watch the movie, I assume, because I think they released one a while ago :)

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    1. Lola- I can't believe you have never read anything by Dr. Seuss! Wow! There are so many fun books by him. I hope you get to enjoy some of them soon. :) ~L

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  23. What a fabulous interview! And what a stepping off point for the book!

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    1. Kate- Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed it! :) ~L

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  24. I truly enjoyed this interview! I have read Out of the Dust, now I am going to have to put Wish on a Unicorn on my wish list.

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    1. Janet- How wonderful that you have read and enjoyed Out of the Dust. Such a good book. :) ~L

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  25. Wonderful interview..another lovely post. I love unicorns..so i enjoyed this very much!
    Wishing you a fantastic day!
    Victoria

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    1. Victoria- Unicorns are a favorite of mine too! Glad you enjoyed the interview. Hope you have a fabulous day too! :) ~L

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  26. I really enjoyed this interview and was fascinated and inspired by the origins of WISH ON A UNICORN. It's interesting how the most random of circumstances can trigger ideas for a story. Wishing you all the best Karen and thanks for sharing this interview DMS.

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    1. David- I thought it was interesting to learn about the origins of Wish on a Unicorn too. I love that we can get ideas anywhere! :) ~L

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  27. What a lovely interview! I particularly love Hesse's advice to aspiring writers, even if it does make me think I'm probably not meant to be one.

    Out of the Dust is a wonderful book; I will have to look for Wish on a Unicorn.

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    1. Lark- So glad you enjoyed the interview and that you read and loved Out of the Dust. :) ~L

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  28. I'm trying to picture Karen writing stories and poems in her beautiful-sounding room at her door-desk while listening to instrumental music (which is what I do, too). I have had a solid, good time reading her stories, and am really looking forward to her picture books and poems. Come to think of it, my very first Karen Hesse book wasn't Witness, it was The Cats in the Krasinski Square (a picture book).

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    1. Claudine- I love that you now have a clear image of Karen Hesse and her writing routine. It is wonderful to know that you have enjoyed her stories. I have never read The Cats in Krasinski Square- but I will have to look for it. :) ~L

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