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.
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.
Read the reviews!
Read the reviews!
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