Kate Messner's first book, a historical novel set during the time of the Revolutionary War, combines real life and imaginary characters. In this interview, Kate talks about her book, Spitfire, her writing habits, and her favorite young adult authors. She also offers advice to aspiring writers.
Do you consider yourself a born writer?
A born writer? Unfortunately, no. I love the idea of children showing up in the world with beautiful language just spilling from their crayons, but I’m afraid it’s not much of a reality - at least not for this writer. I’ve always loved stories and books, and I’ve always found magic in literature. When I was a kid, I’d escape into Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume books for hours on end, and after a while, I decided I wanted in on that magic, and I started writing. Like most writers, even though I liked it, it took me lots of practice before I was any good at it (and some days, I’m still not very good at it!).
When did you decide to become an author?
When I was seven. School was over for the summer, and I missed the research and the writing, so I started assigning myself these little reports. The rain forest. Gorillas. Sharks. The shark story was my favorite. My parents put it on the refrigerator, and that’s the first time I was “published.”
I’ve always loved learning about history and digging into the past, so historical fiction is a favorite genre for me. I absolutely love having a license to ask zillions of questions and explaining that I’m working on a book. (The truth is, I’d probably be asking the questions anyway, but it sure sounds a lot better this way!)
Tell us about your historical young adult novel, Spitfire. What is it about? What inspired you to write such a story?
Spitfire is about a girl who disguises herself as a boy and fights in a Revolutionary War naval battle on Lake Champlain — the Battle of Valcour Island. If you visit my website, you’ll see some pictures of Valcour Island, which is truly a stunning place. I live on Lake Champlain, not far from there, and I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that an important Revolutionary War battle took place right out there on the lake. Then in 1997, the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum was doing a survey of the lake bottom and discovered the last remaining gunboat from Benedict Arnold’s fleet in 1776 on the bottom of the lake. That’s when my fascination turned into a bit of an obsession, and I did everything I could to learn more about that battle.