Welcome to Barren Island Books, an interview show in no way related to a popular music-based radio programme. Every Thursday, I will be exiling my latest guest to a remote island with only five books for company, selected from the categories I give them. It’s up to them to make sure they choose wisely, because they’re going to be stuck with these books for a long, long time …
My interviewee this week is Kay Kauffman, author of The Lokana Chronicles. When she's not being banished to a desert island, Kay can be found at suddenlytheyalldied.com.
Kay, thanks for joining us. First of all, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself – just so we know who it is we’re sending into exile. Illogical fears, unusual birthmarks, whether you’d rather wrestle a bear or punch a shark, that kind of thing.
A geek to the core, I reside in the midst of an Iowa cornfield with my husband and four children. When I'm not chasing the kids every which way but loose, you can find me penning fantastical tales of great heroism and twue wuv … and possibly procrastinating online.
I love Star Trek. I even have a cute story about how it brought my husband and me together. I’ve studied Spanish and French and would love to speak them – and others – fluently, but I don’t. My camera and my flute are old friends, so naturally I have a ridiculously large collection of photo albums (all filled to bursting with photos – must have more!) and sheet music. And I love to learn. My second dream job, other than author extraordinaire, is professional student. Sadly, there’s no market for that, it seems.
And what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
The original inspiration behind The Lokana Chronicles, which has expanded into a second book and may eventually include a third (I haven’t decided yet – I’d originally envisioned this as a standalone work, not a series!), came (quite loosely) from the myths (and the Disney movie) concerning Atlantis. Add in a heaping helping of caffeine and teenage dreams, and voilà! You’ve got something terrible. Add in a dash of maturity and a whole lot of polish, and things start to look up.
As for what would make someone want to have it with them in exile, well, it’s a rollicking good story, if I do say so myself. There’s love and murder and intrigue and tragedy and heroism and all the things that make a great book great. I just hope they’ve made my book great.
Great, now let’s move on to the books you’re going to take to the island with you. First up, it’s your favourite childhood book – perhaps the one that got you interested in reading in the first place, or the one you read over and over when you were young. Which will you choose, and why?
The Princess in the Pigpen by Jane Resh Thomas. This book is set both in Elizabethan England and contemporary Iowa (contemporary being the 1980s, if I’m not mistaken). My second-grade teacher recommended it to me, but I didn’t want to read it. I thought it looked dumb. She checked it out for me and made me read it anyway. I’m glad she did – I loved it. It got me interested in history and Elizabethan England and it was set in the same place I lived, so that gave it bonus points right there. I’ve read it a few times since and I still enjoy it. It’s just a good book.
Next, the book that made the greatest impact on your life. This could be one that inspired you to become a writer, or one that made you look at the world in a whole new way – maybe even one that resulted in real-life romance or adventure.
In high school, I struggled through Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. We didn’t read all of them, just the prologue and two of the tales (which two specifically have left me), but the work as a whole left me with an intense desire to try the story-within-a-story structure that he executed so well. I’ve yet to perfect it.
Louisa May Alcott’s books were also on my reading list in high school. Little Women was first, naturally, followed by Little Men and Jo’s Boys. I devoured every book my local library had by that renowned author. In the end, two of them stood out as my favorites: The Inheritance, about an orphan girl who discovers the truth of her birth, and A Long, Fatal Love Chase, which is a good, old-fashioned romance. The title says it all.
But for this question, I think I’m going to have to choose Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. The heroine of this story, Catherine Morland, is at one point accused of having read too many novels. The same could possibly be said of me.
For your third book – and you’re probably going to need this one, all alone on a remote island – I’d like you to choose your greatest comfort read. You know, the one you turn to when you’re sad or ill or just need a little pick-me-up.
I would have to choose Time Enough for Drums by Ann Rinaldi. It’s a coming-of-age novel set during the American Revolution about a girl who thinks she knows exactly how everything in her life works, only to find that she doesn’t understand anything at all because nothing is as it seems. It’s a terrific novel. I’ve read it so often that random passages often pop into my head for no reason and at the oddest moments. I can quote passages from it the way other people quote passages from the Bible.
Fourthly, it’s your unexpected treasure: a book you didn’t expect to like but did, maybe one outside your usual genre or that you picked up with low expectations but were pleasantly surprised …
East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I read a lot of Steinbeck novels in high school and I disliked each and every one intensely. I always suspected that my teacher was harboring romantic feelings for him, but I was never able to prove it. But then I was forced – ahem, I mean asked – to read East of Eden for my AP English class and wow, it was good! I later read Travels with Charley and liked that as well (although I still disliked Of Mice and Men when I reread it in college – perhaps I should try it a third time).
On the flip side, I reread Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn once, a favorite of mine in middle school, and it’s the only book I’ve found that I disliked upon rereading. Just goes to show that you can never tell about a book until you’ve read it.
And finally, I’d like you to choose your instant classic – the book you think most deserves to be read and reread by future generations. It’s up to you whether this book is already considered a classic or is something more obscure.
I think The Scary Stories Treasury by Alvin Schwartz should be an instant classic. Sure, it’s technically three books all rolled into one (Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones), but they’re all really good. Ghost stories are a fun tradition. Everyone loves to be scared, even just a little bit. And not all of these stories are scary – some of them are funny, like “The Viper.” I loved these stories as a kid and I love sharing them with my kids. I hope that someday, they’ll love sharing them with their own kids.
Right. We’ll get those five books packaged up ready for your journey. Since we’re not completely heartless here at Barren Island Books, we’ll also let you take one song/piece of music, one film and one other item of your choice into exile with you …
Let’s see … For a song, I think I’d choose “Way Back Into Love” by Hugh Grant and Haley Bennett from the Music and Lyrics soundtrack. It’s a great song and it really spoke to me when it came out.
For a movie, I would take The Princess Bride. It’s a classic, and it’s one of my favorite movies.
I’d also have to take some sort of writing implements with me. If I’m going to be marooned on a desert island, I’ve got to have something to do other than read and watch a great movie and rock out to an awesome song. So, world creation it is. My preferred writing tools are a Pentel Quicker Clicker mechanical pencil with .5 mm lead and a college-ruled notebook. But if you’re enforcing the one item limit, then I suppose I’ll settle for a laptop with a lot of memory.
Excellent. Now, before we whisk you away, you have one last decision to make: where you want your remote island to be located. You can choose anywhere you like for your exile, in this world or another.
Well, I wouldn’t mind being sent somewhere tropical, where the weather is always nice. That would be a big change from the weather here in the Midwest U.S. of A., but I think I could handle it for a while. I mean, if I’m going to be by myself, it’s not like there would be anyone around with whom I could discuss the weather anyway, right? So. Somewhere tropical. The island in Blue Lagoon, maybe? Or the one in Swiss Family Robinson? Ooo, yes, send me to the island in Swiss Family Robinson – I’d love to live in that treehouse. That was the coolest treehouse ever.
That’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
Thank you for having me! I’d write from exile, but there’s probably not a post office on my island.
If you are an author and would like to take part in a future edition of Barren Island Books, please get in touch with me via the Contact page.