I am beyond thrilled to welcome the amazing Marie Rutkoski, author of The Winner’s Series to the blog to share her Bookish Firsts! The first two books of the series, The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime are out and I absolutely can’t wait for the last in the series, The Winner’s Kiss, out next March. Don’t these books look stunning together?
So this Bookish Firsts is also a first for me – it’s the first time I interviewed an author live for this feature. If I haven’t tweeted about it enough, I went to the YA Literature Convention or #YALC last weekend. This awesome event is a celebration of books and YA. It’s part of London Film and Comic Con and it’s basically three days of authors, panels, friends and lots of books.
Marie was attending the convention and I was thrilled that I got a chance to interview her one on one in the green room. I asked her some standard questions and also some more specific to The Winner’s Series, which is probably one of my favourites of all time. She was incredibly lovely and composed while I fangirled over her and her books. Just listening to and transcribing my interview, I am in awe of her intelligence and eloquence that shines though each answer. It was such a pleasure to meet her and I think I’m a bigger fan than I ever was!
With author Marie Rutkoski
What is the first book you ever read/remember reading?
Probably the first book I remember reading—I mean, I remember reading a book of nursery rhymes—but the one that made the first lasting impression on me, that had a proper narrative, was this book called The Seventh Princess. The author’s first name is Nicholas (Nick Sullivan). It’s about a girl that falls asleep on a school bus and wakes up in this fantastical land where princesses are sacrificed to the harpies. There are these harpies that scoop up the princesses and whisk them away, and then the princesses become harpies. And I loved it. I read it when I was in the first grade.
What is the first book your wrote (can be published or unpublished)?
That again was in the first grade. I wrote a story called The Midnight Cat. It was nominated or shortlisted for one of the young author awards. In US schools, there is this programme called ‘The National Young Writers’ Award’, where kids write books and win awards.
Anyway, it’s about this black cat that always goes out at midnight, that’s why it’s called The Midnight Cat. Then one night it doesn’t go out at midnight. The owner is very worried and takes the cat to the vet, and it turns out it has babies. I think the amusing thing about this book now is how much I invested in the cat and the kittens. The cat has a special name, it’s well described and the owner is like this… faceless person that has no name and no life other than to take care of the cat. So it’s all about the cat.
What is the first book you recommend to people you meet?
It really depends on the person. If I meet somebody that likes adult literary fiction, then I say you should read Elena Ferrante, who has written three books of a four book series about a friendship between two women growing up in a poor neighbourhood in Naples. And it’s really amazing. But, I don’t know that I would recommend that to everybody.
Me: If somebody wanted a YA recommendation?
Then I would think, do you want YA contemporary or do you want YA fantasy? If somebody wanted YA contemporary, I just read Huntley Fitzpatrick’s books, My Life Next Door and What I Thought Was True. I’m really excited for the next book called The Boy Most Likely To. I love her writing, and I love the romance, so I would recommend that. The most recent fantasy book that I read and wholeheartedly loved, was Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, so I would recommend that too.
Who is the first character you conceived for The Winner’s Curse?
Well, it was Kestrel. Actually I think that I had both Kestrel and Arin from the beginning. You may know that the book is inspired by this term in economic theory, ‘The Winner’s Curse’, which is what happens when you win an auction but the only reason you win is because you paid more than the item is worth. When I decided I wanted to write a book with that title, I tried to think of an auction where the winner would have to pay a steep emotional price—and what kind of thing you could win that would exact that kind of price. Then it occurred to me, what if the thing up for auction was not a thing, but rather a person? So I had two people, from the beginning – the buyer and the bought.
I probably started with Kestrel, just because that’s the person doing the action. The person buying is the one making the choice. What the readers don’t realise is that Arin is making a choice too. He’s actually offering himself up to be bought, for reasons of his own. But, it felt that I should start with Kestrel, because she’s making the very ethically problematic choice, and I wanted to know why—what is compelling her to do that? What is her nature like? Is this something in her nature, or against her nature? And, if it’s against her nature, why would she do that? So I did begin with her, then with Arin, but there had to be both of them from the beginning.
When you were building the fantasy world that Kestrel and Arin live in, what was the first thing you wanted to plan or set out?
It was the cultures, the differences of cultures. I knew that I had a coloniser, and the colonised. So it was pretty important to me that they were culturally different. I was inspired by the dynamic between Rome and Greece, after Rome conquered Greece. I took an ancient art class in college and I remember my professor talking about when the Greeks were conquered, beforehand, the Romans had admired them so much for their artistry and philosophy and religion, everything. Suddenly, these conquered people had become slaves in Roman households, and were reciting poetry at dinners and teaching their children. I was just fascinated by that abrupt reversal of status. So it is true that the Valorians and then also Herani are modelled somewhat on the Greeks and the Romans.
And one more for fun: who is the first book character you had a crush on?
Ooh! I had so many book crushes! It would be hard to think of my first. My very first crush on a fantasy character was on Atreyu from The Neverending Story. But it was kind of the movie. He was so beautiful. I think I found out that the actor was from Denmark – I don’t even know if that’s true or not—but I remember telling everybody at school that I had a boyfriend and he was from Denmark, because I wanted Atreyu!
So that was probably my first fantasy crush. But I have many book crushes these days! What are your book crushes?
Me: Arin is probably up there as a book crush of mine. Actually, both Arin and Kestrel are pretty amazing. What makes me really crush hard, is someone that goes through a really incredibly story arc. So Kestrel and Arin, because they both go through so much—they are both beautiful, incredible people that are dedicated to their race and bettering their world, and they go through so much to get there.
I think you’re making a really smart observation about love for character and love for the narrative itself. Because when I think of, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I love Spike, because he changes so much and gives us a really great story. He goes from this certain sort of person and then he evolves dramatically.
Me: I don’t know if you watch Avatar: The Last Airbender?
Me: And Zuko…
Me: …is like my all-time favourite crush, because his story arc is incredible. And seeing him first as this bratty prince, grow up into this crusader who is fighting against his father and his kingdom is just amazing.
I totally agree with you and I am 100% behind Korra and Asami (from The Legend of Korra). I think that is an amazing pairing. But, with Zuko… I wanted him to be with Katara.
Me: I DID TOO [major vocal pitch increase and Zutara shipper feels going on inside me at this moment]. I’m such a Zutara fan.
I know, it makes total sense. [My love for Marie here pretty much reaches dangerously high levels.]
Me: Yes, that’s the way I thought their stories were going to go, like full redemption.
I say that, acknowledging that Mai is really badass, and I think she’s not a bad person for Zuko. In real life, they might make better partners than Zuko and Katara, but if we’re talking about a story, then Zuko and Katara certainly work.
So basically, Marie loves Zutara. This revelation alone basically made my experience. Thank you again for the wonderful interview Marie!
About Marie Rutkoski
Marie Rutkoski is the author of several novels for children and young adults, including The Winner’s Curse (March 2014). She grew up in Bolingbrook, Illinois as the oldest of four children and decided early on that she was Someone Who Loved Books.
After attending the University of Iowa and living in Moscow and Prague, she studied Shakespeare at Harvard University, where she honed her skill in referring to herself in the third person.
Marie is now a professor at Brooklyn College, where she teaches Renaissance drama, children’s literature, and fiction writing. New York City is her home, and she thinks there must be birds of prey living in Washington Square Park; she can see large, wheeling wings from the window where she sits and writes. Marie has two small sons who try very hard to make friends with the family cat, only to be snubbed for the dark quiet of a closet. Marie can tie a double figure-eight knot with her eyes closed. She’s learning how to play the violin. She’s a sucker for fancy tea, and her favorite dessert is crème brulée. Or maybe sticky toffee pudding. Tough call.