Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Kathryn Erskine

Kathryn Erskine is the author of several acclaimed books for young adults and children, including the National Book Award–winning middle grade novel Mockingbird.

Her new novel is Lily's Promise.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Lily’s Promise gives you an idea but, of course, it’s how she fulfills that promise that makes for an interesting story. Lily is a shy girl who was homeschooled by her father until he passed away. Now, she has to attend public school and, as she promised her dad, learn to speak out and stand up for herself. As she discovers, it’s a lot easier if you reach out and make a few friends. She also discovers that it’s imperative to speak out when you’re dealing with bullies and want to help your friends. I also like to think of Lily’s “promise” as her “potential.” Like young readers, she has a lot!

What's in a name?

I love this question because names convey so much. I try to give characters names that are appropriate to the time, place, and culture. I research popular baby names by year at the Social Security website, for example. However, sometimes I pick a specific or quirky name for a reason. That’s why I picked “Hobart” for Lily’s best friend. It’s an uncommon name and Hobart is a quirky character. He’s young and naïve for middle school, he wears a bowtie, and he’s obsessed with curling, a sport few know or care about. He provides laughter and, really, is the most loyal friend anyone could have.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Good question. I think it depends on the book. Beginnings are critical and do so much—introduce the character, the voice, the plot—but I probably tweak the ending more because that’s my last chance to talk to the reader, the last impression they’ll leave with, and I want them to put down the book with a satisfied sigh, even wish there were more and, ultimately, I want the characters to stay with them.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I was shy, like Lily, when I was young, which made moving from school to school hard because I was always having to break into existing groups. Once I found my niche, though, I became more like Hobart because I was comfortable, and because I’m generally a positive person who likes to have fun. And I’m like Lily’s mother, being a lawyer like her, and more of a realistic, down-to-earth (as opposed to gushy) kind of a mom. And yes, I made my kids do their own laundry, too, starting in kindergarten.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Lily’s Promise was partially fueled by the last administration and the apparent acceptance of behavior such as lying, bullying, and denigrating others. In fact, the bully in the book embodies those qualities. It was disturbing to hear of incidents of bigotry in elementary school on the rise during that period, and I didn’t want kids growing up thinking it was normal or OK, because it’s not. I want kids to know that they have agency and power, and they can use it to change themselves and their world. Libro, the metafiction character who comments on the characters and story, even addresses the bullies, and suggests how they can change.
Learn more about the book and author at Kathryn Erskine's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kathryn Erskine & Fletcher.

My Book, the Movie: Lily's Promise.

The Page 69 Test: Lily's Promise.

--Marshal Zeringue