The Bird and the Blade
The colors on this cover seemed an appropriate choice for today.
1- What song do you think is today's equivalent of "Everybody Hurts"?
I was a huge R.E.M. fan when I was a teen, although my teen years happened well before "Everybody Hurts". Today's equivalent? Hmm, maybe something Avett Brother-y? "No Hard Feelings"? And, hey, speaking of R.E.M. Carrie Fountain's 2018 novel, I'M NOT MISSING
, is not only a fantastic book but a wonderful homage to R.E.M. I can't recommend it enough.
2- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words
Funny, unpretentious, anxiety-ridden, musical, kind.
Note: Funny, unpretentious, and kind are values I strive for, but I don't know how well I succeed. I definitely don't succeed at "musical" but that never stops me from bursting into song. I am, however, quite successful at being anxiety-ridden.
3- What ignited your passion for writing?
In a recent interview with Trevor Noah on the Daily Show, Jason Reynolds
talked about approaching his writing career as a service, that we, as writers, work in the service of kids. That resonates with me, and I think that idea is the same reason why I became a librarian, too. Books helped me grow up by showing me that the world was bigger than I imagined, and that I was not alone in it. As a librarian, I've been putting stories in kids' hands for a long time in the hope that they will find stories that do the same thing for them. Now, as a writer, I hope I'm offering a story that will move readers, expand their experience of the world, and inspire them to ask questions about who they are and what they think and where they fit in the world.
4- Would you share a picture with us of your book with your favorite fountain in Kansas City?
There are bajillion fountains in Kansas City, but my favorite is the one at Crown Center because you can play in it. Fountains should be played in, I think.
5- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?
My short term goal is to finish another YA book this year and maybe possibly a middle grade novel as well. My long term goals are to keep writing and improving my craft and (hopefully) selling. I don't ever need to be a bestseller or a household name, but I'd sure like to have a writing career ten, fifteen, twenty years from now.
6- What is your favorite book (by someone else), and what do you love most about that book?
One book? One?? There must be a twenty-way tie for my favorite book. So, off the top of my head, I'll go with I AM THE MESSENGER
by Markus Zusak (or really any book by Markus Zusak. That guy could write the phone book, and I'd read it). Ed Kennedy (the protagonist) is unapologetically vulnerable and self-deprecating and yet he figures out that he has as much potential to act and do good in the world as any other human being. Most of us are not exactly born to greatness, but we can do great things. And that part at the end when WARNING: SPOILER Markus Zusak puts himself in the book to prove his point?? Brilliant. Just brilliant.
7- Can you enlighten us as to what makes KC BBQ legendary?
It's the sauce, people. The sauce. Not the rub. The sauce, in all it's smokey-spicey-vinegary-molassesy goodness. Quite frankly, I'd eat just about anything slathered in Gates barbeque sauce.
8- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?
If there's one emotion I want the reader to experience while reading this book, it's longing. All three of the main characters in THE BIRD AND BLADE are longing for something they can't have (or think they can't have). In terms of a particular scene, I wrote the entire book because of the ending, so I definitely want the end to stand out in my readers' minds. More specifically, I hope that scene will inspire readers to question what it means to be brave and heroic, and to examine how we tend to privilege the male narrative (defeating others) over the female narrative (sacrifice and resilience).
9- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?
I've written a blog post
on this very topic! I have a Master of Arts in English, and I used to teach secondary language arts, and I've been a librarian for most of my professional career, but the one thing that truly taught me how to write was theater. I did theater all through high school, and I went to college on a theater scholarship. I learned the Aristotelean plot structure from theater. I learned character motivation from theater. I learned subtext from theater. I learned pacing from theater. Most importantly, I learned how to take criticism from theater. That last point? Pure gold. If you can learn how to listen to critique and use it to make your art better, you've learned the most important thing you need to know about doing any artform.
10- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?
Khalaf rubs his bottom lip with his thumb when he's stressed out or trying to work through some difficult issue. Jinghua refers to it as "Khalaf's Thinking Face."
11- #WeNeedDiverseBooks What's your favorite book with a diverse main character?
Sorry, but I definitely cannot limit my response to just one title. As a librarian who works with kids and teens, I'm thrilled to see so many great #ownvoices books coming out this year, especially by my fellow 2018 debuts: LOVE, HATE AND OTHER FILTERS
by Samira Ahmed, AMERICAN PANDA
by Gloria Chao, A GIRL LIKE THAT
by Tanaz Bhathena, A BLADE SO BLACK
by L. L. McKinney, and PEASPROUT CHEN: FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD
by Henry Lien are just a few that come to mind, and they're all wonderful. Also, I can't wait to get my hands on Kati Gardner's BRAVE ENOUGH
We know something about Gloria Chao and her awesome American Panda book around here. That interview was not too long ago!
12- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?
Timur Khan is a self-centered, irascible jerk and yet he loves both Khalaf and (by the end) Jinghua ferociously.
13- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?
The author motivates me more than anything. I love to meet writers, to listen to them talk about what inspires them to write. It's that human connection that makes me want to buy a book and read it.
14- How will you measure your publishing performance?
This is going to sound so barftastic, but quite honestly, I'm already successful. Just getting this far? Success. When I first started writing THE BIRD AND THE BLADE, I didn't intend to publish it. Writing that book was the one thing I did for myself at a time in my life when my sense of self seemed like it was being erased by motherhood. It wasn't until draft four or five-three years later-when I finally thought, "Hey, this might be good enough to publish." If this book inspires readers to learn more about the Mongol empire and the Song Dynasty? Success. If this book leads readers to seek out novels set in times and places with which they're unfamiliar, especially those written by #ownvoices authors? Success. And if this book causes even one non-reader to love reading? Huge, glorious success.
15- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?
Well, here's my two cents, and since my book isn't out yet, I can't really speak to its efficacy. One of my husband's favorite phrases is "Love the art in yourself and not yourself in the art" (pretty sure Constantin Stanislavski first said those words) and I think that sums up what little marketing philosophy I have. The truth is that I have no control over the market or how readers are going to respond to anything I write. The only thing I can do is write the best book of which I'm capable. So, I plan to write the next book and the next, developing my craft, and focusing on the art rather than myself in the art. In short, I'm just going to be the most genuine person I know how to be and write the best book I can write, and hope that leads to book sales in a roundabout way.
16- What is one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?
What's the book that made a reader out of you and why? (For me, it was MY FRIEND THE MONSTER
by Clyde Robert Bulla which I read when I was in the third grade, a book about a shy, awkward kid like me who found a friend in a monster.)
17- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?
Megan Bannen is a librarian and the author of The Bird and the Blade. In her spare time, she collects graduate degrees from Kansas colleges and universities. While most of her professional career has been spent in public libraries, she has also sold luggage, written grants, and taught English at home and abroad. She lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, their two sons, and a few too many pets with literary names.
The Bird and the Blade