Author Spotlight: Kim Zarins
Sept. 9, 2016
Today we welcome YA author Kim Zarins, professor of medieval literature at Sacramento State University, whose modern retelling of the Canterbury Tales, SOMETIMES WE TELL THE TRUTH (Simon Pulse) hit the shelves on Sept. 6.
Be sure to enter her giveaway for a copy of SOMETIMES WE TELL THE TRUTH.
Congrats on your upcoming novel, SOMETIMES WE TELL THE TRUTH! Tell us about it.
It’s basically Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales…retold with modern American teens! A class full of high school seniors take an all-day bus ride to Washington D.C. On the ride there, each student tells a story, and the winner will get an automatic A. So the book is full of their stories, but it’s not a short story collection—the links between the tales tell a larger story about Jeff the narrator and his self-realizations and growth.
You are obviously uniquely qualified to write this story. Can you tell us about your background and how this book came about?
I’m a professor and a medievalist, and I’ve been teaching Chaucer for years at Sacramento State University. So you can safely say I have Chaucer on my mind, and have been thinking a lot on how to make Chaucer relevant and exciting to students. The book came about rather magically—an editor approached my agent and asked if I would be interested in writing a YA retelling of Chaucer. I loved the idea immediately and submitted four chapters and a long outline (a 75-packet, all told). The project was accepted, and now the book has come out September 6! Dream come true!
Like The Canterbury Tales, SOMETIMES WE TELL THE TRUTH includes bawdy, explicit scenes. Was that an issue for you or your publisher, and has that affected how the book is marketed?
One thing I love about my publisher is that they are willing to go anywhere as long as the story calls for it. I thought it would be inauthentic to have the characters tell clean stories with clean language—because, as you note, Chaucer’s tales (some, not all) can be quite bawdy. And it’s important to show the spectrum of personalities and tales. So I’m glad I got to keep that range of tone and content. Since the novel is young adult and marketed for ages fourteen and up, it’s not really an issue. Plus, I’m one of those people who believe that books can be a safe place to explore certain issues that might be more dangerous in real life.
How long did it take for this book to go from idea to publication?
About a year and a half—very fast indeed! But that turned out to be positive. Sometimes you can tweak the same novel for years and years, which gives you lots of time for second guessing (and third and fourth guessing). When you write against the clock, you just have to put your ordinary fears aside and go for it.
What projects are you working on now? Any other adaptations?
I’ve been doing some academic writing inspired by writing this novel. I really thought about one of the characters (Chaucer’s Pardoner) in depth, and reading the scholarly criticism on the Pardoner made me feel there was more to be said about him. Besides my academic writing, I’ve written another novel and am currently revising it.
What writing advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same advice you would give to aspiring authors?
I would say not to tweak a manuscript endlessly. Revise, but then go ahead and start a new project. Move on, and be flexible. SOMETIMES WE TELL THE TRUTH is my third novel, and I think that made it easier to write and made me ready when the opportunity came about.
I love hearing about your friend the scrub jay. Can you tell us about him, and will he ever figure in one of your works?
As all my Facebook friends and Twitter followers know, Joe is my dear scrub jay friend. Our relationship sort of centers around food. He takes nuts from my hand and always weighs them to make sure he’s selecting the best nut. Then I watch him bury them all over my front yard. He taps the nut into the ground, looks at it from a few angles to make sure it’s buried well, and then the crowning touch is to put a leaf on top. We both like the deal we have going, and I hope it lasts for years to come!
He was definitely an important writing buddy while I was writing SOMETIMES WE TELL THE TRUTH. I would LOVE to write a book about him, but I don’t have a concept yet. Maybe someday! For now, our time together is more about freeing my mind and enjoying this beautiful, perky friend.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
Hmm, I can think of lots of things, but they tend to be the kinds of things I’d rather people continue not to know about me! Well, here’s one: a dentist told me that I’m a tongue thruster. What this means is that my tongue pushes against my teeth when I swallow, and it’s supposed to go to the roof of my mouth. How do people swallow like that?! I never figured out how to fix it, but since then, I get nightmares where I’m doing some public speaking, and then my tongue pushes my teeth, and my teeth fall out. Fun, huh? Okay, maybe that was too much information.
Where can people find you online?
I have a public Facebook page (my personal Facebook page is really for people I’ve met before) and also my Twitter account is @KimZarins. My website is www.kimzarins.com. I would love to hear from you!
Kim Zarins has a PhD in English from Cornell University and teaches medieval literature at Sacramento State University. Her YA contemporary retelling of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Sometimes We Tell the Truth, will be released on September 6, 2016. When she isn’t reading, writing, or teaching, she hangs out with her family in Davis, CA, and coaxes a scrub jay named Joe to take peanuts from her hand. You can find her at www.kimzarins.com, on Twitter @KimZarins, and on her public page on Facebook at Kim Zarins.