Hi! P. J. Hoover here, and today I'm thrilled to feature our very own Kat Catmull, author of a book that is getting amazing reviews and acclaim. We here at The Inkpot are thrilled for Kat and all her success!
SUMMER AND BIRD by Kat Catmull (Dutton, October 2, 2012)
So with no more introduction needed, here's Kat!
PJHoover: You’ve run into an old classmate from high school and they’ve apparently been living in a cave because they have no idea you are an author. You tell them SUMMER AND BIRD just came out. They ask what the book is about. How do you describe it?
Kat: First I look shifty and uncomfortable and make some large, vague gestures. Then I say, “Well, it’s a late middle-grade fantasy? But not the swords-and-dwarves kind? More like the kind with some folklore and fairy tale, but magic realism, too, because the family’s emotional world is really realistic?”
And then when they start glancing over my shoulder to see if there’s someone else to talk to, I add hastily, “It’s about two sisters who wake up one morning and find that their parents are gone. They find a strange note from their mother that they interpret to mean ‘Come into the forest to find me.’ But they find a lot more than that in the forest: they slip into another world, the world of the birds, who are being ruled by an evil, bird-swallowing Puppeteer since their Swan Queen disappeared. The two sisters fight together and fight each other and their own fears and ambitions to find their parents, save the birds, and learn who they really are.”
PJHoover: What first sparked the idea for the book?
Kat: I was driving to babysit two little girls, the daughters of friends, and I thought I’d try being one of those cool kinds of babysitters who tell stories rather than read them. The names of the girls in the story, Summer and Bird, came to me instantly while I was driving, as did that first scene of their waking up in an empty house. As it turned out, the girls were not interested in abetting my self-identification as That Cool Kind of Babysitter, and had already picked out stories for me to read. But the idea stuck in my head, and a few years later I started writing it for real.
PJHoover: Do you give thought to the current market when coming up with story ideas and writing, or do you cast all that aside and let your muse take over?
Kat: For Summer and Bird, I was in such perfect ignorance of the current market that I could not have let it influence me if I’d wanted to. I read tons of MG, but most of it older stuff. Now I know a little more, but still I would say the market doesn’t influence my choices. Writing is so hard—I don’t see how I could bear to do it if I were writing anything but exactly what I wanted to write.
PJHoover: There are tons of books out there. What are five awesome reasons why SUMMER AND BIRD should climb to the top of a to-be-read stack?
Kat: Holy smokes. I am reading a lot of knockout middle-grade fantasy right now, from Goblin Secrets by our own EI-person William Alexander to The Peculiar, by Stefan Bachmann. So I feel rather humbly that my book doesn’t need to be elbowing anyone out of the way. But let me give it a shot:
1. A lot of reviewers have mentioned that this book is a great crossover read for adults, which means a lot to me, because that’s what I intended. Could be great book to read along with your child.
2. If you’re a folklore/fairy tale nerd, as I am, you will find much deliciousness in this book.
3. Although it’s a fantasy, it’s pretty deeply grounded in emotional reality as well. So if fantasy’s not so much your thing, but you’re interested in stories about the deep bonds and deep rivalries between siblings, and the different ways parents relate to different children: well, Summer and Bird is a lot about that as well.
4. My gorgeous cover was just named #2 on The Atlantic Wire’s “25 Most Wonderful Book Covers of the Year.” They called it “Melancholy, evocative, and totally vintage-now.” I mention this because “totally vintage-now” is a great description of the book as well. In other words, if you’re an old-school children’s book nerd—as, once again, I am—I think this book can really speak to you.
5. I’ve posted excerpts from reviews on my website, including starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist, which might do a better job of describing the book than I have!
PJHoover: How has the revision process been for the book? Harder than expected? Easier?
Kat: Harder, mostly because I had no idea what I was doing. First book! Also, I had no critique group—only a couple of people read my manuscript once it was finished (though they had some great and helpful suggestions that I incorporated before I submitted). Consequently, even the modest and excellent changes that my agent suggested were a bit of a shock; my edit letter, which was far more extensive, almost made pass out. But my publisher at Dutton, Julie Strauss-Gabel, is a superb editor. She made my book much better, and I learned an immense amount from working with her. And I am a lot sturdier now about feedback.
In general, I prefer revision to drafting, though. Drafting is so, so hard for me.
PJHoover: When it comes to marketing, what do you think makes the biggest difference in whether a book is successful?
Kat: Oh man if I knew that, I would be rich beyond dreams of avarice. If anyone out there DOES know, call me <makes ‘call me’ gesture>.
I think if you’re writing YA, and you’re someone like Maureen Johnson or John Green who writes terrific books, then being a social media genius as they are, on top of the great books—that would help. But the thing about social media is, you really can’t fake it. You have to actually be yourself, and your self has to be genuinely engaging, as in genuinely charming or warm or incisive or hilarious or whatever.
Also: that’s YA. All the social media genius in the world won’t help you reach a middle grade audience. So . . . For MG, I have no idea. Hope for support from bookstores, librarians, and teachers, and thank them with all your heart when you get it?
PJHoover: Finish this sentence, and tell us why. Writing is a lot like….
Kat: Writing is a lot like . .. (Sorry, what? Faced with that incomplete sentence I panicked and played online solitaire for 15 minutes).
PJHoover: What has been your favorite experience as an author thus far?
Kat: I’ve been loving reading at schools and school events. The other day I visited a girl’s school and talked with the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. When I read the first line of chapter 6 — “The Puppeteer was full of dead birds”—the whole room GASPED. I had no idea that interacting with kids was going to be the best part of being a writer, but it is.
PJHoover: Please share your favorite inspirational thought!
Kat: I tend to take comfort from sentences like Orwell’s “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.” Just because it’s nice I’m not alone! But for inspiration — well, I have this over my desk: an index card with a Venn diagram of two circles which do not intersect at all. The large one is labeled “Where the magic happens,” and the small one is labeled “Your comfort zone.” It’s a great reminder that when I’m feeling uncomfortable, uncertain, and scared, I’m probably in the right place.
Katherine Catmull is a writer and actor in Austin, TX. Besides her middle-grade writing, she is a sometime playwright, a freelance arts writer for the Austin Chronicle, acts on stage in various Austin venues, and does voice work for games like DC Universe Online (Oracle) and Wizard 101 (Myrella Windspar). Summer and Bird is her first novel; her second is also due out from Dutton Juvenile (Penguin) in spring 2014.
P. J. Hoover is the author of the upcoming dystopia/mythology YA book,
SOLSTICE (Tor Teen, June 2013), the upcoming Egyptian mythology MG book,
TUT (Tor Children's, Winter 2014), and the middle-grade SFF series, THE
FORGOTTEN WORLDS BOOKS (CBAY, 2008-2010). You can read more about her
and her books on P. J.'s website or blog.