Meet Heather Kassner.
Welcome Heather! Thanks for joining us today. Tell us a little about yourself
Heather Kassner loves thunderstorms, hummingbirds, and books. She lives with her husband in Arizona, waiting (and waiting and waiting) for the rain, photographing hummingbirds, and reading and writing strange little stories. Her debut novel, The Bone Garden, will be published August 6, 2019 by Holt/Macmillan.
The Bone Garden gives me the shivers from the title to the summary! How did you pick this particular title? How important are titles to you – meaning do you need to pick one before or after you start writing?
Shivers? Perfect! Titles are important to me, but unfortunately, settling on just the right one is hard! While writing, I had a working title, but not one that I liked. The title for THE BONE GARDEN only came to me after the book was finished and I was polishing it for querying. I added a line of dialogue with this phrase and finally found my title! It was such a relief.
You play with darker aspects of magic, dealing with odd creatures and creations and all the rules that go with it. What setup do you have for the magic system for The Bone Garden?
Miss Vesper made Irréelle from dust and bone and dark imaginings, so at its most basic, this magic system is one of creation. However, Irréelle’s biggest fear is that she’s not real, not in the same way as other children. One of the things Irréelle sets out to do is to understand this magic. So, while I can’t go into much detail about the system without spoiling what Irréelle finds, I can say that the reader learns more about it as she does. And there are some very unexpected (and creepy) discoveries!
Did you ever find yourself struggling with your main character Irréelle in a sense she didn’t quite fit in a particular place or scene as she came to life?
Irréelle is a sweet crooked-boned girl who feels as if she belongs nowhere. Fitting in is one of her greatest challenges. So, to some degree, she had to fight her way into every scene. But in the sense that I struggled with writing her, she was not the one who gave me the most trouble. It was another character entirely who initially entered the book too late and needed an earlier introduction, which I tackled during revisions.
How did imagination give birth to The Bone Garden from its infancy to the final manuscript to publication?
Before I knew anything else, I knew the very first line of THE BONE GARDEN, which has remained unchanged through revisions.“She descended into the basement, tasked with collecting the bones.”
I imagined the whole story around this one sentence, starting with questions as simple as: Who is she? Who tasked her with this chore? And what are the bones for? It was so fun thinking of all the possibilities, and I let my imagination run wild, sitting there with my eyes shut, envisioning this girl, and the house she lived in, and the bone garden itself. As I began drafting, I tried to keep those initial visions in mind and transfer them to the page.
During revisions, I needed to add some tricky scenes, and while I knew that this one thing needed to happen, I didn’t know exactly how to make it happen. Again, the thing that finally sparked my imagination was visualizing everything before I even attempted to write a word.
As a middle grade novel, did you have to remove scenes at any point that perhaps were too intense for a younger reader? For that matter, what called you to write for the middle grade level?
There are definitely dark moments in THE BONE GARDEN, both what Irréelle experiences emotionally and what she encounters magically. However, no, I didn’t remove any of those scenes. In fact, when working on revisions with my editor, the book twisted even darker. My hope is that younger readers will embrace the darkness, much as Irréelle does, and through it, find what makes them shine brightest.
As for what drew me to middle grade, it was this feeling of possibility. I wanted to see the world as I did when I was younger. I was so excited to write something fun. Something hopeful. And also, something a little strange and creepy. And I just hope readers enjoy the story!
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers today?
Maybe this goes along with your question about imagination, but music always inspires my writing too. My husband is a musician and he wrote a little something for me for THE BONE GARDEN that fits the mood so perfectly (and means so much to me).
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!
Thank you! It was so fun. 🙂