Interview With an Author: Kiersten White

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author Kiersten White and her debut horror novel, Hide
Author Kiersten White and her debut horror novel, Hide. Photo of author by Noah Brazier

Kiersten White is the #1 New York Times bestselling, Bram Stoker Award-winning, and critically acclaimed author of many books, including the And I Darken trilogy, the Camelot Rising trilogy, the Sinister Summer series, Star Wars: Padawan. Her books have been published in over twenty territories, and her novel The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is currently in development with Sony Pictures Television. Kiersten lives with her family in San Diego. Her adult debut horror novel is Hide and she recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for Hide?

Most ideas are several ideas that suddenly, gloriously combine. In this case, it was an interest in Greek mythology and how we keep telling ourselves the same stories because we keep repeating the same cycles of violence over and over through the ages, plus an article on an actual hide-and-seek competition set in an abandoned Italian resort town that made me think, "gosh that sounds murdery." (It wasn't. So I made my own.)

Are Linda, Mack, LeGrand, Brandon, either of the Avas or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?

Less individuals and more experiences, if that makes sense. For example, Ava 2 engages with the commodification of self, how so many of us have to package and promote our own personal lives in an effort to get by professionally. Brandon represents innocence—even though he's had a lot of loss and hurt in his life, he's still so hopeful and meets the world with an open heart. Linda, of course, is a stand-in for a particular brand of generational entitlement, who wields niceness as a weapon while lacking a single kind bone in her body. And LeGrand is informed by my own religious extremist polygamist heritage as well as research into the current branches of that same belief system.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

I tend to write short and add in revision, so there aren't really any scenes or characters that didn't make it into the final version. This was a different process than normal for me, though. I write in very concentrated bursts, but Hide came together over the course of about three years. I'd work on it for a bit, set it aside, go back to it, set it aside, decide I wasn't going to be able to figure it out and was finished trying…and then go back to it. Some ideas and characters get under your skin and won't leave you alone until you do them justice.

Is the Amazement Park based on a real place?

I love the history of amusement parks in America and did a lot of general research—particularly on amusement parks with dark pasts or tragic accidents—but focused mainly on Coney Island. Not because the Amazement Park is based off of it, but just because the history of Coney Island is so fascinating and rich and bizarre.

Are you a fan of amusement/theme parks? Do you have a favorite one? A favorite attraction or ride?

As a Southern Californian, obviously I'm legally obligated to be loyal to Disneyland over all others, but Dollywood in Tennessee was surprisingly delightful, with one of the most exhilarating, smoothest roller coasters I've ever been on. Lagoon, a small amusement park in Utah, gets a shout-out to honor my childhood visits where I was so terrified of the haunted house I'm pretty sure I cried the whole time. As far as rides, I love the classic Disneyland ones for the nostalgia factor, and while I hate the nonsensical punctuation of Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!, the mechanics make it my favorite ride. All of the butterflies, none of the neck-injuring whiplash.

Are you a fan of "reality TV"? Do you have a favorite show? A least favorite? (I realize that you may not want to address this one, and if that is the case, please don't. But I also realize it might be so bad that it could be fun to answer.)

I am! Sort of. I love shows like The Great British Bakeoff, American Ninja Warrior, and Battlebots, where people excel at things they love in supportive environments and I love home renovation shows. I've never been much for personal family drama ones because I find them stressful to watch, and—throwing it back to Ava 2—I'm always uncomfortable when real people have to package themselves and especially their children for consumers. (Though the same can be argued for the ones I like! It's a conundrum!).

My least favorite is Sister Wives, which I've never watched and hold a deep grudge against for not only trying to make a misogynistic and abusive polygamist practice palatable, but also for once displaying a quote from one of my books without permission, credit, or compensation. They even messed up the quote so it didn't make sense anymore! If you're going to rip me off, at least rip me off correctly, Sister Wives.

What do you think it is about Horror, as a genre, that draws writers and readers to these types of stories?

Horror tells the truth. It takes the things we'd rather look away from and forces us to view them magnified. In that way, it can be deeply cathartic. I also think horror is really escapist. When my life is the most stressful and overwhelming, I turn to horror and think, "Hey! It could be worse."

What's currently on your nightstand?

I never read in bed because it wakes me up instead of making me sleepy! But two things are at the top of my TBR: Meg Elison' s Number One Fan about an author abducted by her "biggest fan" who is angry with her for not being who he thinks she should be—which actually might not be that soothing to read, ha. And an advanced copy of Kelly Link's new story collection, White Cat Black Dog. Kelly is one of my very favorite writers, so I can't wait to dig in and lose myself in her weirdo genius brain.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

I can’t! But if forced, that list would include Shirley Jackson, L. M. Montgomery, Stephen Graham Jones, Brian Jacques, and Ray Bradbury.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

Anne of Green Gables.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

There was one giant fantasy novel with such a steamy sex scene (which, in retrospect, was probably a closed-door scene but, to my thirteen-year-old self, was mind-bogglingly explicit) that I was terrified my mom would somehow know I had read something I wasn't supposed to. I hid the book and eventually threw it away. My mom and I talked about this a few years ago, and she said, "I tried to read what you girls were reading, but I hated the fantasy books so much I just couldn't make myself." Sorry, book. You were thrown away for nothing. (Don't Worry: it was not a library book.)

Is there a book you've faked reading?

Yes, absolutely, but I'll never admit it because it's usually the book of an author I know, or someone I'm doing a panel with...

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

I just bought The Last Unicorn—which I already own a copy of—because the new cover is so beautiful! And it's the version the author, Peter S. Beagle, approved. I also own at least seven copies of Frankenstein, because I can't resist a good new cover.

Is there a book that changed your life?

Okay, hear me out: Twilight.

There are a lot of very valid criticisms of the book and series, and I agree with them, but it came out just as I was still trying to make my first disastrous middle-grade novel work. When I read Twilight I thought, "Oh, I can do this." And I could! And I did! Twilight blowing open YA as a market allowed me to build a stable career, which has then allowed me to branch out into middle grade and adult.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. I always tell people it's the most fun they'll have being deeply confused for several hundred pages.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

When I read, I take photos of lines or passages that are particularly good so that I can pull them apart later. The first time I read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, I realized partway through I was taking photos of every single page. I only let myself re-read it every few years, so I don't wear out the wonder of Jackson's astonishingly perfect and deeply unsettling sentences.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

I recently attended an outdoor showing of The Princess Bride, and the communal experience of sitting and watching with other people who know and love the movie made me feel connected and happy—and also really excited as a writer. Stories mean things to people; they impact them, and they bring them together. Even silly, playful stories. It was a nice reminder.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

I recently spent time on the island of Lesvos in Greece, where I sat on a beach chair right against the water, re-reading a favorite book for the entire day while my spouse and kids played in the ocean or sat reading next to me. There was nothing else to do and nowhere to be but reliving a story I already knew I loved. It felt pretty near perfect.

What is the question that you're always hoping you'll be asked but never have been? What is your answer?

In person, it's always the opportunity to talk about more weirdness from the research I've done that didn't make it into a book. (Ask me about how much I hate Percy Shelley, or Vlad the Impaler's tactical brilliance, or Lancelot's half-giant BFF/possible boyfriend in Arthurian lore, or infant incubator attractions at amusement parks!)

What are you working on now?

I just turned in a rewrite of my next horror novel, which should come out next year. I don't want to say too much about it yet (it hasn't officially been announced), but it stemmed from my spouse making a perfectly innocent joke about the aftermath of a popular 90s children's show and me taking it to a terrifying extreme. So, par for the course around here. I'm also about to draft the last book in the Sinister Summer series, my gently macabre middle-grade mysteries, which is always a nice break from dredging up the ghosts of the past to instead write extremely silly, spooky adventures.

Book cover for Hide: A Novel
Hide: A Novel
White, Kiersten