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Q&A with Kat Hawthorne

Ever wonder what goes on in the mind of a children's horror writer? We interviewed author Kat Hawthorne to get a glimpse of the thought processes behind The Boatman.

Isabel Wixon, protagonist of The Boatman

What do you think is relevant or relatable in your book?

Well, I think the human condition is relevant. Being lonesome is relevant. Feeling sad is relevant. Finding new and interesting ways to cope with those feelings is relevant. In The Boatman, Izzy was so scared and so sad and felt so alone all she could see was the bad side of things, real or not. She didn't always see what was actually there, her mind filled in the blanks with incarnations of her feelings. A talking spider, a living ventriloquist's dummy, a ghost girl who keeps losing her head (literally!), and a monster that is so lonely himself he lures the souls of sleeping children onto his boat and traps them. People do all kinds of things to deal with negative feelings. For Izzy, identifying a monster and giving it a name helps her defeat her sadness. Why did you feel that you had to write it?

Izzy actually fell out of my head quite interrupting another writing project that I haven't been able to return to. She's pushy that way I guess. She came out quickly—the first draft was complete within a month. The editing happened quickly too. Izzy had something to say and she wanted to say it NOW. Who was I to argue with that? What is the story behind your story? What inspired you to write it? Was there a personal story or someone who sparked your idea of the book?

First of all....I have always liked spooky books for kids. I blame my grandma for that. (She was a librarian and my reading selection as a youngster was quite robust!) I have always believed that books are safe places. They are places you can visit to get out of your own life and try on someone else's skin for a while. In good books, readers travel with the characters and deal with whatever the characters are dealing with, without actually having to experience it in real time. But that's not always the case. Maybe the characters are faced with a problem the reader is experiencing at the same time, maybe it's a problem the reader is currently feeling overwhelmed by. Maybe they thought they were the only one feeling it. That's lonely. But then the reader watches as the character overcomes the problem—comes out on the other side of it more powerful than they were when they went in. That's a big deal when you have big problems you don't know what to do with. Things in life are scary sometimes; sometimes bad things do happen. But empowerment happens too. That's what I want to show readers. Some children do not know how to process death and grief. How does your book give children an avenue or a way to understand both? Was that one of the reasons why you wrote it?

As I said above, in this book, the main character has invented a way to process all of her big feelings. It may not be the best way, and it may lead her through some other dark times, but it is a way, and it works for her. It can be hard to make sense of death and loss no matter who experiences it, and everyone deals with it differently. Things don't really change for Izzy during the the course of this book. But her perception of those things changes, and that makes all the difference.

Why did you inject humour into The Boatman? Did that humour flow naturally into your writing, or did you want to include it? If yes, why did you feel you had to with this book?

The Boatman is written in my natural writing voice. I've tried to write stories that are more serious and discovered that doing so is just not a skill I have! Kids can deal with tough things—they are stronger than we give them credit for. Presenting the hard things in a way that is less hard helps with digestion though. Humour is the Tums of books about hard things.

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