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An Author Joins Us: Kate Klimo on The Daughter of the Centaurs

February 3, 2012

“The first volume of a trilogy, the novel serves as an introduction to Malora and her world as she discovers and is accepted by the centaur society…[T]he setting is intriguing, and enough pieces are moved into place to entice the reader to return for the next chapter.”—VOYA, February 2012

Bobbie: I’m very pleased to present the latest book from Kate Klimo, renowned author of the Dragon Keeper series and Publisher at Random House Children’s Books. The Daughter of the Centaurs, which went on sale January 24th, is the first title in a new Young Adult series called Centuriad by Klimo, and takes place in some distant future on earth, where mankind has been destroyed, after centuries of attrition, by bat-like creatures called Leatherwings, and a teenage girl named Malora, possibly the only human left on Earth is left to try and survive with a band of horses but is then captured by a community of centaurs, who eventually come to embrace her as one of their own. All at once suspenseful, imaginative and lush with description and vivid prose, The Daughter of the Centaurs enters on the scene as a treat for those both familiar with Klimo’s work but craving something a bit older than Dragon Keepers, and those who simply want a rich read (and maybe some details on horses too).

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Klimo speak about her writing and her career at a librarian presentation late last year, and I found it to be truly entertaining and absolutely inspiring. Most writers take influences and life experiences and use them to enrich their stories, and if they’re good at it, the reader is never reminded of the writer’s presence or aware of their intentions (Kate Klimo is one of them). She talked about her parents, both unfulfilled writers and the legacy that they left for Klimo; a childhood friendship that supported her imagination and desire to write; her children which inspired the Dragon In the Sock Drawer, and so much more. I can tell you from experiencing it first-hand, to hear her speak, raises your awareness of an author’s imagination and ability to provide for a reader. And, at the same time, you realize that she in particular is one that was not only to destined to write, but to create a world, as The Daughter of the Centaurs is a world, with its own creatures and clans, and atmosphere, and words . Her energy and attitude towards both writing and life itself leaves you wanting to know what’s coming next, not only for her characters like Malora, but for her as well.

Luckily, I was able to recreate a bit of what a few of us learned about Klimo and her writing at that librarian presentation, while in discussion with the author herself. I hope you enjoy it and the new series that she has presented to us.

Did you always want to be a writer?

From the very earliest age, I wanted to be a writer. I can even remember the opening of the first poem I ever wrote, in second grade. It was called, The Raven and it went something like this: “Across the sky like a shooting star, a raven flew. It looked like an inky black streak. I followed it to who knows where, to a land too beautiful for words. But this is how I will describe it.” And then I went on to overwrite a description of emerald leaves and ruby apples and sapphire pears and the teacher scrawled across the top of my paper, congratulating me for my lavish use of metaphor but wouldn’t the pears be topaz? And I said to her after class, not if they’re blue pears. In the second book of Centuriad, I have finally got those blue pears in. I wrote stories too. But I didn’t really get started until I met my best friend for life.

Can you tell me more about that friendship and how it shaped your writing?

I found my best friend for life, Justine, in fourth grade. The librarian at the Stenson Memorial Library was responsible for bringing us together. Before I ever knew her I had read her name in the sign-out cards of the books I took out. (Those were the days when you got a library card when you were old enough to print your name and sign out books.) Her name was always ahead of mine or trailing mine on the books I checked and re-checked out. Her name was Justine Krass. Even her name was magical to me. She had a big round, loopy hand and we liked the same books: the Chronicles of Narnia of course, Edward Eager, Mary Poppins, The Wonderful Journey to the Mushroom Planet, E. Nesbit, George MacDonald…all fantasy. Then one day, when a little blond girl with a plastic hair-band and her socks creeping down into her shoes and I were standing in front of the checkout desk, Mrs. Thackeray, the librarian, peered up at us over her glasses and said, “You two should make each other’s acquaintance. You like the same books.” That’s all it took to kindle a friendship that endures to this day. Justine and I promptly collaborated on a fantasy novel.

I know your first book was an adult title, can you tell us a little about it and how you ventured into the world of writing children’s literature?

I went to Sarah Lawrence College with the express purpose of studying writing. I wanted to write grown-up books because wasn’t I a grown-up now? Hadn’t I put magic behind me? I was encouraged by my teachers, most of whom were famous writers. They encouraged me… I took a job in publishing after I graduated because I wanted to be closer to books…I woke up every morning at five o’clock, when my mother had always told me my mind would never be fresher, and I wrote a book that nobody wanted. I had my first child. My mother suggested that my friend Buffy and I form a writer’s group of two and gave us exercises to do. Ten things. Describe Ten things on the way to work. Describe Ten people you saw on the subway. Describe ten things about your hands. Write Ten lines of overheard dialogue. Then we’d critique each other’s ten things. This exercise led to writing a book together. The book went to auction and got me enough money to buy a house outside the city for my growing family…I got pregnant again and wrote another book, by myself, another grown-up book and it got published but it didn’t exactly burn up the world and it was missing something, something in which I was, as my children grew up around me, once more immersed: magic…I had another baby and wrote another book that nobody wanted that was steeped in magic but editors said grownups didn’t like magic. Magic was for kids. After that, with three children…I became a publisher and put my energy into my job and my growing family. The years flew by and my kids went off to school and one day, I was cleaning out my son’s sock drawer preparatory to converting the room to my writer’s study and happened upon the geode my boys had once tried so hard to crack open to find the crystals inside. We had found the geode on a vacation trip to the Pacific Northwest. I guess I must have said something or heaved a nostalgic sigh because my husband, who was also in the room at the time dismantling the bunk bed, came and peered over my shoulder. “The dragon egg!” he said fondly. “Say what?” I replied. “Don’t you remember you told the boys there was a baby dragon inside? That’s why they tried so hard to break it open. They were really frustrated when they couldn’t do it. You told them maybe the baby dragon wasn’t ready to be born yet.” “I did? Huh!” I said. Because of course the last fifteen years had passed in a blur and I had forgotten that, along with so many other things. I took the geode and put it on my desk in that boy’s bedroom- turned-study. I carried the nascent story about the dragon in the geode around in my head for a year or so before I finally sat down at that desk to commit it to paper. The baby dragon was finally ready to be born. After that, there was no stopping me. I wrote six books in six years Five Dragon Keepers and The Daughter of the Centaurs. I’m almost done with the seventh and I have lots more in my head that are clamoring to get out onto paper.

My favorite part about hearing you speak was learning about your parents and how they affected your writing. They were both such interesting people. Your mother was this strong-willed, larger than life person, who dreamed of writing but never published. And your father, well he was everything from an elephant boy at the circus, to a world traveler, a seaman by trade, and even a friend of Hemingway! And all of these adventures led to countless story ideas and a few published stories from him. But not a writing career. Can you tell us a little more about them?

Almost everyone who ever met my father was struck with the notion that he was very much the kind of man that Hemingway wrote about and spent his life proving that he was. But my father didn’t feel the need to prove anything to anybody except, as it turns out, that he could write.

After my grandfather passed away, we moved back East from Iowa, and my father went to sea for the rest of his working life, sailing as Chief Mate on an endless series of big cargo ships, mostly to South America.

His letters home from sea to my mother, every single one, are thoroughly entertaining. He talks about the characters on the crew, the “old man”, the passengers, the tricky weather, challenges loading cargo, and how much he misses her and us. But the big revelation for me is that he constantly writes about the books he is not writing…

Meanwhile, my mother liked to say that she had shore duty while he shipped out. She was in charge of raising five kids pretty much by herself and, when we were big enough, she went back to work as a secretary at the high school to put us through college. His salary fed and clothed and sheltered us. Her salary educated us. That was important to her. Because she never did get that college diploma … She was an unfulfilled writer, too! Day after day, in her journals she would jot down story ideas, character sketches. She would set due dates or deadlines for herself. Time and again, she would resolve to begin New Years getting up at five o’clock in the morning to write while her mind was still fresh. And over and over, she would chastise herself for failing to comply with her own mandate to fulfill her deep need to write…

In my mind’s eye I am picturing a venn diagram of my parents, who are two overlapping circles. They were wildly different people (which is probably what attracted them to each other in the first place) but they both dreamed of writing. That dream is where their circles overlap. And I figure that, in a very real sense, I am the embodiment of that overlap between my father and my mother.

One Comment leave one →
  1. hooray4books permalink
    February 3, 2012 11:50 am

    What a lovely post! Love the Venn diagram analogy!

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