I met Kathy Erskine in 2004 at the Writer’s Workshop at Chautauqua and am thankful to have been friends with her ever since. She is the author of several award winning books including Quaking, and The Absolute Value of Mike. Her most famous work (to date) is Mockingbird, for which she not only won The National Book Award, but also recently claimed The Dolly Gray Award, and others. Kathy was born in the Netherlands, and has lived in Israel, South Africa, Scotland, and Canada. She now lives with her family in Virginia. You’ll see the influence of many cultures in her answers below!
Thanks for joining us Kathy! I was wondering if you ever gave nerdy traits to any of your characters.
Shannon, the main character in a teen road trip novel I’m currently writing, has a nerdy trait. She’s a smart and somewhat sassy 15 year old who is interested in medicine, especially psychology and western approaches to medicine like acupuncture. While others might think it’s a bit weird, she finds that it’s very helpful knowledge to have with an ailing grandfather and an enigmatic older brother whom she’d always assumed was just a jerk.
Ooooooh. I love having a peek into your work in progress. Shannon sounds interesting! I remember when I learned what the word acupuncture meant. There was this joke about a doctor sticking you with a bill… Anyway, are there any well-known fictitious chicks you admire?
Hermione Granger. She is a wonderfully nerdy chick. I love that girl! So smart, and she doesn’t waste time worrying about people who make fun of her nerdiness. Do you see how many scrapes she gets herself and her friends out of?
Great answer! Who doesn’t love Hermione? What is one of your favorite ways to flaunt your brain power, Hermoine-style?
Speaking other languages–not that I speak much of any other language but it’s fun to be able to say and understand a few things when you go to another country or meet people from far away. It’s also fun to throw a phrase or two into a paper or a speech. I think it makes you look tres intelligent. Muy inteligente. Molto intelligente. Sehr intelligent. You get the picture!
I guess you picked up some of these languages while living abroad. As a nerdy chick, what was the best part about living in other countries?
I loved learning about a new culture, finding out how people in that country view Americans and the U.S. in general (often very eye-opening), and what the nuances in their language say about the culture, such as asking about one’s family before moving on to other topics. It’s fascinating seeing the similarities in so many languages for words like mother, father and coffee (my favorite drink). Linguistic differences fascinate me, too. For example, in Zulu, there are different terms for “good bye” if you’re staying and saying goodbye to those who are leaving, or if you’re leaving and saying goodbye to those who are staying. On the other hand, there’s one basic greeting used at any hour, rather than good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, like we have in English. For a nerdy chick like me, that is cool stuff!
What is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a nerdy chick?
Being the youngest person to pass the Foreign Service exam — written and oral parts.
If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Who cares what the other kids say — be yourself and be proud of it. Hey, that sounds like the advice Kara would give in THE BOY PROJECT! She is one smart, nerdy chick! Thanks Kathy!
In your opinion, what’s cool about being nerdy?
I think Mike finds this out in The Absolute Value of Mike! He has to learn so much about so many different people and things in order to acomplish his goals.
What’s something you like to do that might be considered a tad bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?
Playing brainy games like SET or SWISH (spatial relations), Scrabble, Boggle, Trivial Pursuit, strategy games, and cards. I even have quiz games and Sudoku on my iPhone. Part of the fun of playing board games and card games, though, is the camaraderie and laughter of your friends and family, whether you’re winning or losing.
Kathy, Kathy, Kathy… I can’t believe you didn’t mention that brainy game that you and your family introduced us to… the game where nerdy chicks can conquer communities and dominate a civilization… the game I hear going on in the background even as I write this (“I’ll trade you two ores for a wood.”) … Settlers of Catan! Nerdy chicks you must check this game out!
Can you share a favorite song or quote that speaks to your inner nerdiness?
There are so many. Here’s a quote and then I’ll tell you some songs that are, well, a little nerdy.
“Be calm, be steadfast, be courageous.” — Mary McLeod Bethune,
As for songs…
–the Highland fling or sword dance music so I can perform those dances (preferably in private).
–Pata Pata and other African songs so I can sing (also in private) in a different language, including the click sounds in Xhosa!
–random national anthems and regional songs–O Canada, Scotland the Brave, and Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrica being my favorites.
I see that foreign influence again! Thanks Kathy for showing us your inner nerdiness! And if you’ll make a video of yourself dancing the Highland fling or sword dancing, I’d love to embed it here! To learn more about Kathy, and to view the trailer for Quaking, visit her website at www.kathrynerskine.com. You can also follow her blog, find her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.