Teen Press Corps members, Karen Cramer and Harriet Butler, interview The Towering Sky author, Katherine McGee
Harriet Butler: What inspires you to write?
Katharine McGee: Starting with a hard question! I feel like broadly, like, just what inspires me to write in general is that I love reading. And I’ve always wanted to be a writer. And I love that books bring people together in a way that really nothing else can. So, I feel like I’m one of those people who’s just always known that I wanted to write. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think that I wanted to be a writer. Even though I didn’t start writing very seriously until several years ago, it was sort of always in the back of my mind, and I read constantly. But as far as this particular series goes, this one was kind of inspired by all the dystopian novels that were coming out. So I started working on this in 2014. And I don’t know if you guys know this, but I used to be an editor of YA. So I worked in New York for four years, and edited young adult novels and was thinking a lot about the different things we were reading. And especially at that time, when it was the height of the Hunger Games, and Divergent and Darkest Minds. And I really just wanted to write a book set in the future that was not totally broken, where it’s, it’s a futuristic world, but it’s not dystopian, so it’s very much tonally, well you guys have read it, you know, it’s, it’s like Jetsonsy, it’s fun, you know, there’s still things that go wrong, but it’s not a broken world. So that was like the specific inspiration that that sparked those books.
Karen Cramer: What are you reading right now?
KM: Okay, so a couple of different things. I’m always working on different things that- Um I’m slogging my way through Neal Stephenson’s first book in the Baroque cycle, which is this adult epic, sprawling, historical crazy book with like romance and pirates and like computers. Very interesting. It’s called Quicksilver and that I like start and stop all the time, because it’s one of those tombes. It’s like over 1000 pages. I’m also currently reading Catwoman by Sarah Moss because I’m going to her event in Houston next month and I’m trying to catch up on all the Sarah Moss I haven’t read before I see her, and I also read a lot of stuff for research. So I’m reading some like nonfiction for my new, my new project.
HB: Was there a specific like moment or something that happened in your life that made you realize like, you wanted to be a writer, and this is what you wanted to do in your life?
KM: I can’t remember a specific moment, but when I was a child, I read all the time. And I still read a lot. But I mean, back then, I think that was all I did was read, like, when I was on summer break, when I was wherever. I’m the oldest child. And I think, I don’t know if you guys are the oldest or youngest, but when you’re the oldest, you kind of get dragged along in a way that the younger siblings don’t like, by the time the youngest rolls around the older ones are like in high school, they’re self sufficient, they can drive with the younger one. I don’t know. I felt like I had to always be in the car. I had this ability to just always have a book with me and be like, ‘well I can just take care of myself and read a book’ so I was always reading. So that’s just all my memories of being younger. Like, ‘Oh, my mom, forgot to pick me up for carpool’ or, ‘oh, I’m like, stranded somewhere, but like, that’s fine. I can hang out for three hours by myself because I’ve got a book,’ and I was always going to library. I I started reading to my younger sister when she was young. So like I said, I feel like books are just the most- they’re the best way to connect people. And it’s like, people can bond over books. It’s so much more meaningful than, like bonding over food or a TV show. Or it’s like this shared experience that you both have. And you both lived it, except you didn’t actually live it but it feels like you did. It feels like you went and did this adventure together. So I don’t know, I feel like it’s just like I said, it’s always been something I wanted to do since I can remember.
KC: What’s the best money you’ve ever spent as a writer like on a book or on nice pens or journals or whatever?
KM: Oh my gosh, I don’t know. But I do have this one thing that I’m waiting to buy that I really want. So there’s this antique map of Paris that’s really cool that I found online and it’s from like the 1800s and it’s this beautiful pink water colored map and somebody handdrew it and it’s got all the monuments beautifully sketched like the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. I love Paris. So after my next paycheck comes in, I think I might buy myself the Paris map and hang it on my wall in my office. That’s like the thing that is calling out to me is my antique Paris map which is probably really nerdy to say but.
KC: Do you see yourself in any of the characters in The Thousand Floor?
KM: All of them! I see myself in all of them in different ways. I think there’s like little pieces and probably every author would answer this like that, you have to put some of yourself into every character otherwise it just is impossible to write them. Even the villains have to have a little bit of something that you can relate to. So yeah, I find ways to sort of put little pieces of me in each of them. Like I was saying before, I have a younger sister and a younger brother but my sister was eight years younger than me and so she’s much- I feel much more protective of her because I’m almost like part-parent, if the age gap is big enough you know, you’re very- I feel like I helped raise her in some ways and so like a lot of that went into Ryland’s feelings about her younger sister Crissa or anyone who feels pressured into being perfect. Like I put any times that I felt like people were trying to make me be perfect, I can put that into Avery, so there’s, there’s ways that I like put experiences into each of them.
HB: why do you write for young adults? Like what made you want to write for that audience?
KM: I love reading young adult books. I think that they- no matter what age you are, I think the stories and young adult are often so hopeful and so accessible, that there’s just something really lovely about young adult literature. I think a lot of the great works of literature that you guys study in high school and college if they were written today, many of them would be shelved under YA. Like if you think of Romeo and Juliet or like anything from I mean, even Frankenstein, the character’s like 19, like anything that was written with younger characters once upon a time was just called literature and now we’ve sort of created this category and it’s not that it’s a bad thing but I just mean these are stories that when you’re a young adult you’re coming into who you are as a person and you’re figuring out like what do I stand for and what do I like want to do with my life? And what matters most to me? And who matters most to me? And who am I in love with? And those are questions by the time you’re like lame and old like me and married like I’ve already picked who I’m going to spend my life with so the fun is that adventure of getting there, and that’s why Young Adult books are so fun is because it’s like the story of becoming the person that you’re going to be, so I really like them.
KC: So if you could have one piece of technology from the tower like anything in the future what would you pick?
KM: It would be the Hyperloop train, yeah for sure I love traveling, I love Paris, I mean I love traveling in general and I wish we could travel like that. I’d like floo powder too if you’ve got any lying around, like really anything.
HB: What has been your favorite thing about Austin so far?
KM: Okay well I’m from Houston so I’ve been to Austin before, but I love Austin. Sadly I have never lived here but I mean, the food is so great. I’m trying to get some the other authors to get tacos tonight. What what? What am I forgetting? My parents went to University of Texas, I grew up going to UT games. I went to one last fall, I haven’t seen one yet this year. So like, every time I come to Austin, it’s a little bit as a tourist. So it would be fun to spend more time here than just one weekend, I’m only ever here for a weekend sadly.
KC: What’s the first thing that you can remember writing like when you were younger?
KM: I had a journal where I wrote poems inspired by- Have you guys read the red wall books? Do you know what they are? Okay, yeah I was going to say you’re too young for them. They were so good. They were these adventures about animals. They were basically these big epic adventures in this fantasy world that was all animals acting like humans. And the main characters were like mice and badgers usually. The story was kind of always the same every time and the author wrote 20 or 30 of them. There were so many. And it was always like, there was an evil character. And they had to go on a quest and, like, put together puzzle pieces and, like, find some lost object that had magic and like, solve the mystery, and the clues were always poems so I wrote red wall poem clues. All the time like, I was like- I would try to find ways to make things mean different things like a clock with hands. I tried to pun on the clock and use like a thing with hands that- anyway, you know what I mean? I don’t really write poems in my books anymore. But yeah, I remember having like, journals and journals full of like poems that were clues that led nowhere.
HB: You said you lived in New York for some time? Is that what made you want to write your stories?
KM: Yes. So once I knew it was going to be like a future story in a big city and I was living in New York at the time it was very easy to just be like, this should be New York. Have either of you been to New York ever?
KM: Okay. So you know, I mean, even if you’ve only spent a little bit of time there, you know what it’s like. It’s very loud and fast and exciting and also like, can be overwhelming and so I felt like all that just lends itself so well to this future world that I was building
KC: What was your first thought when you saw the cover of your book?
KM: The covers? I love the covers so much. They did a fantastic job. I’m very happy with the covers I just I felt very lucky is this the first one?
KC: Yes the first one is right here.
KM: The calligraphy was hand done by one of the designers at Harper and it’s just so good like I feel like I got so lucky. The beautiful typography, and the inside, yeah they did a great job
HB: What Hogwarts house are you in?
KM: I’m a Ravenclaw, very much a Ravenclaw. I’m like the nerdiest of the nerdy. People don’t always know that right when they first meet me, but I’m like In college I briefly wanted to do an English PhD because I wanted to like spend my entire life studying like early modern plays. I really love just sitting and being alone reading for a long time, like love researching historical things. So yeah, sometimes I wish I had a little bit more of like Gryffindor or Slytherin in me at times. Like a true Ravenclaw can get- like there’s some self-damaging aspects of Ravenclaw like, you just aren’t aware of the world circling, time passing. Like wait, I just lost four hours going down a rabbit hole reading about like French history so yeah,
KC: And finally, what can readers expect to see next from you?
KM: You guys are gonna love my new series, if you like this one. It is, I’m so excited about it, it is called American Royals. Iactually had this idea before I had The Thousandth Floor and I kind of wish I’d written it first. Because I feel like it would have been so perfect to have come out like, three years ago, but such is life. It is America set in the present day with a monarchy. So it’s a what if world of if George Washington instead of being our first president had been our first king and you guys have studied American history recently, probably know, like, there was actually among our founding fathers this loud but small minority who did want an American monarchy because America like didn’t have any kind of good public education system. A lot of the people, they didn’t think were qualified to vote, which is why we have the electoral college and so there were people who wanted us to have an American King instead of having this whole system like presidents and voting. Well, that sounds really complicated, like a problem is not with the idea of King, it’s with this particular King, and like the fact that he’s in England. And so obviously in the real world, those people did not get their way but my what if is like what if they convinced everyone that that was the right call, and that we should have an American monarchy and George Washington should be our first king. But like I said, takes place in the present and it follows some of the members of the American royal family so it’s like England like we have we have a king and a queen and two princesses and a prince, it’s a lot of like fun romance and things happening at the American palace. I’m really excited about it, it comes out next September.
KC: That’s awesome! I’m excited!
KM: You’re gonna like it.