Author Interview: Kari Maaren

Photograph courtesy of Phil Mills

Today I am interviewing Kari Maaren, author of the new YA fantasy novel, Weave a Circle Round.

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DJ: Hi Kari! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!

For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?

Kari Maaren: I’m a Canadian writer, cartoonist, musician, and university English instructor. I live in Toronto and basically do all the things. Weave a Circle Round is my first novel, but I also have a couple of webcomics, West of Bathurst and It Never Rains, and a couple of independent albums, Beowulf Pulled My Arm Off and Everybody Hates Elves. I am not fond of puns or elves, not necessarily in that order. I grew up in Vancouver, so whenever someone in Toronto complains that it’s “too rainy,” I laugh.

DJ: What is Weave a Circle Round about?

Kari: It’s an old-fashioned kids’ adventure story about a girl named Freddy who is just generally mad at the whole world, herself included. She wants to stay under the radar at high school, but her weird stepbrother and super-smart little sister draw attention to themselves and, peripherally, to her. Then a couple of bizarre new neighbours move in next door, and the weirdness begins to surge out of control. Saying too much more would constitute a huge spoiler, but basically, with WACR, you’ve got a mystery wrapped in a fantasy adventure sprinkled over with references to mythology and Romantic poetry, all tied up with a bow made of creepiness.

DJ: What were some of your influences for Weave a Circle Round?

Kari: That’s actually a pretty huge question. If you mean the influences for elements inherent in the story itself, here’s my answer: The story originally grew out of my love of Norse mythology. Is this at all apparent from any synopsis of the story you’ll read online? Nope…but the thread is there, lurking behind two of the major characters. As the title indicates, there’s a fair amount of Samuel Taylor Coleridge in there too. I love Coleridge because while sometimes he’s all, “Okay, I’m going to write a poem about frost now,” at other times he’s more like, “This poem doesn’t have enough undead sailors in it. MORE UNDEAD SAILORS.” WACR is full of mythology and fairy tales and basically just stories in general, so much so that I’ve got an author’s note at the end that explains all the references.

If, on the other hand, you were asking about my literary influences, then…well, let’s start with Madeleine L’Engle, with whom I was obsessed when I was twelve, and move on to Diana Wynne Jones, Philippa Pearce, Edith Nesbit, Diane Duane, and Terry Pratchett. Those are just for starters. I could sit here listing authors all day. When I was a kid, I was deeply attracted to stories in which ordinary children were pulled into adventures, and I guess I tend to write the kind of stories I would have liked to read back then. I also love stories about siblings. Stories about friends are great too, but most of the time, you get to choose your friends. You don’t get to choose your brothers and sisters (and stepbrothers and stepsisters), and that creates a whole new dynamic to explore.

DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?

Kari: My protagonist, Freddy, starts out as a miserable puddle of spineless cowardice and is forced to develop into a more functional human being. That’s probably a little unfair to Freddy, but it is fair to say that she isn’t exactly superhero material. She also has a bit of a grudge against the entire world at the beginning of the story. Maybe the most interesting thing about her is that she has no idea why she’s having this grudge. She thinks it’s for one reason, but it’s really for a very different one. Freddy’s denial of her own feelings about everything drives her throughout the novel. One of my friends has described WACR as being “about growing the hell up,” and that element centres on Freddy; she needs to figure herself out even as all these impossible things are happening around her.

Freddy is the only point-of-view character, but there are four other major characters: Freddy’s genius little sister Mel, their geeky stepbrother Roland, and the two mysterious neighbours, the unpredictable Cuerva Lachance and the cynical, acerbic teenager Josiah. They have their own arcs and sort of balance each other out, with the fairly ordinary siblings providing a contrast with the strangeness of the neighbours. As for cool quirks or habits: Cuerva Lachance has a lot of these, but the vast majority of them are major spoilers.

DJ: What is the world and setting of Weave a Circle Round like?

Kari: Weave a Circle Round takes place in the here and now. It’s set in Vancouver, Canada, in more or less this year (the exact year is never specified). A large chunk of the story takes place away from this setting, but, again, spoilers beckon. Let’s just say that while most of the story happens in what we might think of as the real world, unreal elements are constantly intruding. Cuerva Lachance and Josiah’s house becomes almost a world in and of itself.

DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Weave a Circle Round?

Kari: Creating the characters. These character had lived in my head for a long time before I wrote the story down, so by the time I started writing, they already seemed fully formed to me. Writing the interactions between Freddy and Josiah was especially fun because the two of them played off each other so well. The three siblings are fairly ordinary kids, whereas Cuerva Lachance and Josiah are both larger than life, so pairing up Freddy and Josiah for most of the book allows me to sort of bounce Freddy off the weirdness of Josiah and, in the process, shove her upwards into something resembling maturity.

DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?

Kari: From what I’ve seen in reviews (including blog and Goodreads posts) so far, there is never going to be any one answer to that question. I’m guessing it will be a combination of the characters, the weirdness, the house on Grosvenor street, the [spoiler redacted], the [spoiler redacted], the [spoiler redacted], and Cuerva Lachance. Seriously, this book is virtually all spoilers. A true spoiler-free review would read, “Freddy Duchamp is a fourteen-year-old girl,” then stop there.

DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began writing Weave a Circle Round? Was there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?

Kari: I mentioned “growing the hell up” above, and that just about covers it. It’s a coming-of-age tale, but one that doesn’t revolve around a love plot or a Chosen One story (well, the latter is not entirely true, but, again, [spoiler redacted]). Instead, you’ve got this girl forced into an adventure she doesn’t choose, an adventure that doesn’t require her to save the world or get the guy or bear the Boon out of the Other World to effect the salvation of her society, but that instead just throws all these choices at her while simultaneously informing her none of her choices ultimately matter. It’s all dressed up in fantasy trappings, but it’s still basically about being a teenager and finding out life isn’t fair. There’s a reason Freddy has more problems negotiating high school than she does navigating the interior of an impossible house.

DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Weave a Circle Round that you can share with us?

Kari: Let’s try:

“But school was…well, it was school. There were black holes that caused, on a daily basis, less terror.”

Cuerva Lachance in a nutshell:

“She time travels constantly. She does it because she can’t.”

And, finally, Cuerva Lachance’s explanation of why crying doesn’t help:

“I know everyone says it does, but isn’t it really just that you scream tears all over yourself until you’re on the point of throwing up, then stop out of pure frustration because nothing has really changed? What good does it do? It’s not going to stop the divorce. You’re off doing it in private, so no one who matters is even going to notice it’s happened. No magical tear fairies are likely to turn up, feel sorry for you, and make everything go poof. As far as I can tell, crying about something you can’t change is a slightly more sophisticated version of throwing a tantrum because the sun has melted your ice cream.”

DJ: Now that Weave a Circle Round is released, what is next for you?

Kari:  I’ve been working on another novel. I don’t want to say much about it yet because no one besides me has seen it, but it may actually be slightly weirder than Weave a Circle Round. In the meantime, I’ll continue to put out my current webcomic, It Never Rains, while marking endless mountains of papers by first-year undergraduates and trying not to pull out all my hair in the process.

DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?  

Website: http://karimaaren.com/

Blog: https://wobtalk.wordpress.com/

Facebook: I don’t have an author page at the moment, but I’ve been posting writing-related news on my personal page and setting the posts to public. https://www.facebook.com/kari.maaren.7

Twitter: https://twitter.com/angrykem

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14685211.Kari_Maaren

Google+: https://plus.google.com/114677676805013509816

Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/profile/304265160

Bandcamp: https://karimaaren.bandcamp.com/

DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Weave a Circle Round that we haven’t talked about yet?

Kari: WACR teaches us all a very important lesson: when your baby sister picks up a book at random and reads out the first few lines of a bizarre poem written by a man hopped up on opium, for pity’s sake, pay attention.

DJ: Is there anything else you would like add?

Kari:  I wrote Weave a Circle Round in 2010. It’s taken seven years for it to work its way to publication. I’m a forty-two-year-old debut author, and I’m here to tell you that if you’re frustrated because you just got another rejection, and you’re sure you’re never going to be a real writer, and you wonder if you should just give up and become a psychotherapist, keep going. You can become a psychotherapist too if you like, but don’t give up on the writing. You never know what’s around the next corner.

DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!

Kari: You’re welcome!

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*** Weave a Circle Round is published by Tor Books and is available TODAY!!! ***

Buy the Book: 

Amazon | Barnes & NobelGoodreads | Kobo

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About the Book:

Discover your inner child once again in this debut fantasy adventure for fans of Madeleine L’Engle, Diana Wynne Jones, and E. L. Konigsburg.

When the unexpected moves in next door, anything can happen in Weave a Circle Round, Kari Maaren’s debut in this YA-friendly fantasy adventure.

Freddy doesn’t want people to think she’s weird. Her family makes that difficult, though: her deaf stepbrother Roland’s a major geek, and her genius little sister Mel’s training to be the next Sherlock Holmes. All Freddy wants is to survive high school.

Then two extremely odd neighbors move in next door.

Cuerva Lachance and Josiah definitely aren’t normal. Neither is their house, which defies the laws of physics. Neither is Freddy’s situation, when she suddenly finds herself stuck thousands of years in the past with her very, very weird neighbors. And that’s only the beginning.

“I adored this brilliant book from start to finish. It left me reeling with delight and I can’t wait for the rest of the world to get as lost in its pages as I was.” —Charles de Lint

“I’d have loved this book when I was twelve, and I love it now.” —Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy-Award winning author Jo Walton


Photograph courtesy of Phil Mills

About the Author:

Kari Maaren is a Toronto-based writer, cartoonist, musician, and university instructor who likes writing stuff about monsters and gets unreasonably upset when her students abuse the common apostrophe.  She was born in British Columbia and would still like to go back there eventually because she misses all the trees.  She tells everybody that she absolutely does not have any magical powers.  If you want to find out more about her, you should check out the rest of this website.  I mean, seriously:  this page is basically redundant.  One thing it does say that all the other pages don’t is that Kari would like to apologise to the Norwegian businesswoman who shares her name.  Norwegian Kari Maaren must deal on a daily basis with the existence of some Canadian Kari Maaren who has comics and geeky ukulele music all over the Internet.  Jeg beklager så meget, norsk Kari Maaren.

That picture, incidentally, shows Kari playing her ukulele at FilKONtario.  The fact that she is wearing a kazoo around her neck is a warning that she is either already playing “Everybody Hates Elves” or is on the verge of launching into it.  Her T-shirt proclaims that she believes in Sherlock Holmes and that Moriarty was, in fact, real.  That is probably more or less all you need to know about that.


 

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