Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Brixen Witch- Interview with author Stacy DeKeyser
Today, as a special Halloween treat, I welcome Stacy DeKeyser, author of The Brixen Witch, a fantasy for 10-12 year olds.
“Rudi Bauer ran for his life and cursed his bad luck. He would never have touched the gold coin—much less put it in his pocket—if he’d known it belonged to a witch.” Thus begins the story of a boy, an enchanted coin, and the hex he brings upon his village. Rudi must confront a mountain witch, a mysterious stranger, and a plague of rats in order to erase the curse that threatens to steal away the town’s most precious treasure.
Could you tell us a little about an alpine village and its mountain witch cross-pollinated with the Pied Piper tale to produce the Brixen Witch?
I’d wanted to write about a mountain witch for a long time, ever since visiting the Italian Alps and hearing local legends. But I could never figure out what her story should be. I finally abandoned that idea, because I became reacquainted with the Pied Piper story, and became obsessed. My storyteller’s brain was really bothered by it: so many loose threads, and no satisfactory ending. Mark Twain supposedly said, “The difference between fiction and real life is that fiction has to make sense.” I agree with that. I decided to try writing a new version of the Pied Piper story; one that made sense.
I found Robert Browning’s Pied Piper poem, beautifully illustrated by Kate Greenaway. Those illustrations reminded me a lot of the village I’d visited in the Italian Alps—the one with its own legend of a mountain witch. Suddenly, my Pied Piper story also had a witch, and to me they fit together perfectly. (Just don’t ask me where the golden coin came from. I have no idea.)
My favorite line from the book was “You know it’s bad luck to talk of such things…” What a great way to heighten the mystery and drama. How did it come to you?
It popped out of Oma’s mouth during an early conversation with Rudi, when she tells him to return the witch’s coin. I knew Oma had a long history of dealing with the witch, but I also knew she would be tight-lipped about it. Then, during a later draft of the story, I realized that Oma was not the only character who avoided talking about the witch – the entire village did. (They’re a superstitious lot.) Thus, one throwaway line became a kind of refrain throughout the story.
Rudi inadvertently brings an avalanche of bad luck to his alpine village. His parents are oblivious, and Rudi must make things right on his own. Yet, unlike many other modern fantasies, he does live in a warm and supportive community: Otto the baker, Marco the blacksmith, Mistress Tanner and Rudi’s Oma who guides him with her cryptic wisdom. Can you tell us about how the community of Brixen took root in your imagination?
As a kid reader, I preferred to have grownups out of a story as much as possible, even though I knew it wasn’t always realistic. I guess I always assumed that adults were lurking somewhere, just not “in the way.” And I think that’s how kids like things in general, especially early adolescents. They like feeling in charge of their own lives, and they certainly have to deal with so many things on their own. But they also want to know that parents, and other supportive adults, are there to back them up if they need them. I decided Rudi would feel the same way. And I do think community is very important. One line from the book is: “No one paid attention to whose child was whose. Every child was a child of Brixen, and that was enough.” I believe that, and I’ve been lucky enough to always have been a part of communities where that sentiment was the unspoken rule.
You mentioned in a previous interview that you had to research rat catching for your book. Can you tell us about your hunt for that information? What other research did you have to do for this book? How important is it to have accurate facts in a fiction book?
The more accurate the true stuff is, the more readily a reader will believe in the stuff you’ve made up. I probably started by Googling “rat catching,” and went from there. I was really lucky to find a self-published booklet from 1895, written by a real rat catcher in England. He went into great and gory detail about catching rats. But I was also struck by the obvious pride he took in his work. I modeled Herbert Wenzel the rat catcher after him. I also researched Germanic names, and the local flora and fauna of the Alps, so I could get those little details right.
Rudi is a terrific character. Will we be seeing him again?
I hope so! I’m working on a book about the further adventures of Rudi and friends. Stay tuned!
Your first two books were biographies. How did you make the leap from nonfiction to fiction? Do you think you’d ever go back to nonfiction?
Each genre has its own challenges. With nonfiction, the information is already there. The author’s challenge is to sift through it, and then find a fresh way to write about it. With fiction, you start from scratch, which to me is very scary. But it’s great fun to create whole new worlds and characters. I still write nonfiction, but now it’s essays and blog posts. If I ever happen upon a really compelling topic, I’d consider writing a nonfiction book again. Never say never!
What project/s are you working on now?
As I mentioned above, I’ve started a new story for Rudi. It’s based on another traditional tale. That’s all I’ll say for now, because I believe in jinxes.
Thank you, Linda!
Thank you, Stacy, for your generosity in sharing your story, and your writing process. Readers, if you would like to know more about Stacy and her work, you can visit her website at http://stacydekeyser.com/home.html or you can check out her blog at http://stacy-dekeyser.blogspot.com/