“Former librarian Clare B. Dunkle is a writer worth watching. Gifted with the ability to create unique historical fantasy novels with a narrative pull like a Hoover, she wins fanatically dedicated readers right and left.”—Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
Today I have the pleasure of interviewing with Clare B. Dunkle, author of serveral books including BY THESE TEN BONES. Besides this recent re-release Clare has also written THE HOLLOW KINGDOM TRILOGY, THE SKY INSIDE, THE WALLS HAVE EYES and recently THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS. So, Please sit back and relax and join for a spell.
RR: Upon reading about your background I noted that you lived in Europe for several years. Did that experience influence your writing?
CBD: Oh, yes, tremendously. When we arrived in Germany, I hadn’t written a word of fiction since seventh grade creative writing class. When we came home seven years later, Holt had already published my first four novels. I think it was partly the isolation that did it: I honestly didn’t have a lot else to do with my time. But it was also that feeling of being at the heart of it all. I’d read folktales and history about Europe since childhood. Now, here I was, driving through dark German forests that looked like they could hold a gingerbread house or two and walking through crypts beneath the great cathedrals of Europe. The ancient buildings and landscape there really got into my blood and strongly influenced books like BY THESE TEN BONES.
RR: BY THESE TEN BONES was originally released in 2005 before the recent craze of werewolves that have now became mainstream in today’s YA literature. How do you feel about that?
CBD: Well, I’m delighted that it’s encouraged my publishing house to release a paperback edition. BY THESE TEN BONES is a favorite of mine. And I’m glad YA werewolves are getting their time in the sun—or, rather, moon. I prefer them to vampires.
RR: What is your book BY THESE TEN BONES about?
CBD: The story is set in the medieval Highlands of Scotland, a time and place when everyone believed in werewolves and knew to kill them on sight. Maddie, the town weaver’s daughter, becomes interested in a reclusive young woodcarver named Paul who comes to their town, but she can’t persuade him to speak to her. When a hideous creature almost kills the carver, Maddie becomes entangled in a life-or-death secret that could destroy her entire town.
RR: What kind of research did you have to prepare for BY THESE TEN BONES?
CBD: I was obsessive about my research for this book. Several of my ancestral lines are Gaelic, and my maiden name is Scottish, so I didn’t just want to stick characters in plaid and give them funny accents. I did quite a bit of nonfiction reading, took the family on a long Highland road trip with stops at all the living history museums we could find, and finally invited one of the world’s foremost experts on the medieval Highlands, Mr. R. Ross Noble, to read the manuscript and give me his comments.
It was an honor to work with Mr. Noble on the book. At the time, he was just retiring after twenty-five years of curating the Highland Folk Museum. Now he’s helping out UNESCO as a member of the Scotland Committee. I prepared him a special annotated copy of the manuscript, with the story in one column and my historical research pertaining to the text in another. He read the manuscript several times and was very supportive and helpful.
RR. Who was your favorite character in BY THESE TEN BONES and why?
CBD: Wow, that’s a hard question. I don’t think I can choose between Maddie and Paul. I love Maddie’s enthusiasm and optimism. It takes a lot to slow her down. But Paul has been through so much, and he feels things so deeply. Really, they’re so sweet together that I love them both.
RR: What do you want your readers to take away from your book?
CBD: You know, I never do write a book to try to get readers to take away a certain message. I feel strongly that that’s not what fiction should be about. Fiction is a chance for readers to have a new experience—a safe, risk-free experience—and I do hope that each reader takes away from my books something of value to him or her. But since each person’s experience coming into the story is different, I can’t predict what that person’s experience will be on the other side of the story either, and I think that’s as it should be.
RR: What was your favorite book that you read as a teen and why?
CBD: Sad to say, I read fewer books as a teen than I’ve done at any other stage of my life. School and university were so demanding! Fortunately, the books that were assigned in class were very worthwhile. Two books in particular have stayed with me as favorites, although you’ll wonder why because both of them were grim. The first was ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. That’s a fictionalized account of exactly what the title states: one day in the life of a prisoner in Stalin’s gulags. It’s surprisingly cheerful—just business as usual. And it’s so real. The first time I read it, I couldn’t put it down; I especially couldn’t stop to eat because that seemed like an insult to the prisoners. I don’t know how they had the strength to keep going. I know I wouldn’t have.
The other book is ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, by Erich Maria Remarque. It’s about life in the trenches in World War I, and again, it’s just so real. It’s amazing how humans can adjust and keep going in the middle of carnage and chaos. It’s almost unbelievable, really.
RR: What are you in the process of writing next?
CBD: My daughter and I have just completed a revision of her anorexia memoir, VANISHING GIRL. We’ve gone through trauma and heartache together, and I’m very proud of her for speaking out.
RR: What is on your nightstand now?
CBD: P.T BARNAM: AMERICA’S GREATEST SHOWMAN, by Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr., et al. It’s a fascinating read; that’s a slice of Americana I had no inkling of. Also THE GREAT CIRCUS TRAIN WRECK OF 1918, by Richard M. Lytle. It sounds like a joke, but what a tragedy! Eighty-six people were killed.
RR: With all the YA novels that are coming out this year, besides BY THESE TEN BONES, what are you most eager to read?
CBD: I can’t wait for my friend Jennifer Ziegler’s new novel, SASS & SERENDIPITY. It’ll be out in July from Delacorte, and so far I haven’t been able to wheedle a galley out of her.
RR: What is the best way for a reader to find you i.e. facebook/twitter/blog?
CBD: I am on Facebook, so that’s a good way to reach me. Also, I run my own website, http://www.claredunkle.com, and readers can find a web form there if they want to ask questions. I’ve posted photos there from my Highlands trip and other background information about BY THESE TEN BONES, as well as information about my other books.
RR: Thank you, for this great interview and I hope to see you again. It has been a pleasure as always.
CBD: Thank you for having me! It’s been great fun.
If you liked this interview and want to find out more about Clare please follow her to TEMPTING PERSEPHONE on Thursday.
BY THESE TEN BONES by Clare B. Dunkle
February 15, 2011
A mysterious young man has come to a small Highland town. His talent for wood carving soon wins the admiration of Maddie, the weaver’s daughter. Fascinated by the silent carver, she sets out to gain his trust. But there is an evil presence in the carver’s life that cannot be controlled, and Maddie watches her town fall under a shadow. One by one, people begin to die. Caught in the middle, Maddie must decide what matters most to her—and what price she is willing to pay to keep it.