An Interview with Kathy Lasky
Is there any information you can share about the upcoming movie deal with Warner Brothers? Can you share your feelings about being asked to write the screenplay?
KL: Donald De Line and his Warner Bros based company will be producing my children's fantasy series Guardian of Ga'Hoole as a CGI (Computer Generated Images) animated film. I will be working directly with him on the screenplay, as well as with Warner Bros. Animation president Sander Schwartz who will supervise and Lionel Wigram the Warner Bros production executive overseeing the project for the studio. I am shocked, simply amazed that they asked me to write the screenplay. But I think this is a very good sign. They obviously want to keep the movie very close to the spirit of the books. So this pleases me to no end.
Are there any particular authors/books that inspired you to become a writer?
KL: I have always read a lot and read widely. I would be very difficult to pin point any particular book . I read in so many genres. For example I love the way Larry McMurtry writes about the west. One of my all time favorite books was Lonesome Dove. And I love the way Jane Austen writes about families and society and manners. Even though she wrote almost two hundred years ago I think that what she said then can apply to now in so many ways. She was a real student of human character. And I love mystery writers like Anne Perry and Elizabeth George. When I was younger I loved stories about Africa and I have always loved Mark Twain. In truth there are just so many I don't know where to begin or where to stop.
What advice do you give to aspiring writers?
KL: My advice to aspiring writers is to read! Read! Read! Read everything--fiction, non-fiction. Read science. Read poetry. Read history. Read social science. Just keep reading.
Do you have a particular writing philosophy that you follow?
KL: Philosophy -- my goodness. It makes it sound as if I really have thought all this stuff out and every time I start a book it's as if I have never done it before and I wonder if I can indeed pull it off again. I guess if I have any philosophy it is that I try to be honest in my writing which means being faithful to the characters as I have imagined them and faithful to the world that I have created to place them in. I hate preachy writing. So I shy away from presenting moral absolutes, or perhaps I should say moral conclusions. I have always felt that it is more exciting and more responsible to raise questions than to answer them. I want to allow readers space to think independently and come to their own conclusions.
Did you ever take writing courses?
KL: In college, I took something called an expository writing course. I'm not sure what that really means "expository." But it had more to do with critical writing and not writing fiction.
How can kids relate Guardians of Ga'Hoole to their own lives?
KL: Well, again I hate to tell people how to read my books or even how to relate to them. My son once said something very interesting that to me was inspiration for writing The Guradians of Ga'Hoole. I asked him why he loved fantasy so much and he said the following: America has become obsessed with its children, and not necessarily in a positive way. We have become obsessed with protecting our children from images and concepts that may warp them in their fragile developmental state. In protecting our children, we have done them a grievous harm. We have prolonged adolescence to such a point that no one is sure where it ends. American youth do not have, in any significant form, a rite-of-passage, and little in the way of guidance into the adult world. American adolescence is a hallway filled with locked doors. There is a huge list of things that can't be done, but nowhere is there a list of things that can. Adulthood is seen as the removal of restrictions rather than the shouldering of responsibility.
That was why he loved reading fantasy because he saw young protagonists in books shouldering responsibilities, dreaming huge dreams and taking on huge tasks. I love that. So in many ways the characters like Soren and Gylfie and the rest of the band are doing just that. So maybe when kids read my books they will dream bigger, imagine larger things that they can do and find hallways filled with a few doors that are at least half way open.
What kind of feedback have you gotten about Guardians of Ga'Hoole from kids, teachers, parents? Do you ever get ideas for plots or characters from your fans?
KL: I have received a tremendous response, an overwhelming response from kids, teachers and parents. And it does inspire me. But so far I have had to come up with my own plots and characters. But I am always open to suggestions.
How do you research your books?
KL: Oh yikes! Where to begin? I have fat notebooks now filled with all my research and it is unending. I never seem to stop. I usually begin in libraries. I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts so I have access to some of the finest libraries in the world -- Harvard, MIT. I do some research on the Internet but am very cautious of the information I get there, as it can be faulty. I spent hours upon hours researching and trying to understand the physics of flight, feather construction, etc. A friend of mine who is a physicist has been most helpful in all the flecks stuff, or what I sometimes call in the books "higher magnetics". He was the one that told me about mu metal and how a magnetic field can be blocked by mu metal. But I love the research. It is never a chore for me.
Did you always want to be a writer?
KL: Yes, I think so.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing routine?
KL: There's not much to it. Since my children left home for college I have lots of time. So basically I go to work right away in the morning around 8:30 and work until lunch and often eat at my desk. Then I work until dinner, but I do try to take a break at least three or four times a week to do some serious exercise because if I don't all my joints just sort of freeze up. Sometimes when I really have a lot of work I'll get up at 4:00 in the morning and work for three hours or so and then go back to bed for a couple of sleep. I rarely, if ever, work after dinner. My brain just doesn't function that well in the evening.
What do you like best about writing books for young people?
KL: I feel that those years between say the ages ten and fifteen are really the most intense ones in a person's life. I always remember my mother saying to me: "Kathryn, people are going to tell you that these are the best years of your life. But they aren't. Things get much better." Kids are vulnerable, powerless, and yet this is when they are beginning to have emergent voices. There is an irony to that that from an author's point of view is very engaging. If I may use a sea analogy here: In the oceans of the world, the richest areas are where two currents graze each other. This is where you see the most fish and seabirds. For example in my neck of the woods -- well, sort of -- out on George's Banks and the Grand Banks, the once great cod fishing areas and sword fishing territory before we started fishing it all out, this region is where the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current brush by one another. It is just enormously rich in nutrients. To me, adolescence is like one of these zones. There is an enormous amount of richness there -- both emotional and psychic, but there is also a lot of pain. Border areas are never easy ones to occupy but they offer up great stories. So that's why I like writing for young people.