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Jane Kurtz Planet Jupiter Blog Tour

May 12, 2017

  Photo by Jeri Candor

Q & A with Children's Book Author, Jane Kurtz


Natasha Wing: First of all, I'm excited to have read your new book, Planet Jupiter. I used to live in the Pacific Northwest and now live in Colorado so I know about the areas you write about in your story. It helped me connect to your settings easily and I felt that familiar tingle when you mentioned locations I recognized or have been to myself. So it was an extra fun read!

Jane Kurtz: That’s so great! It’s really fun to recognize places we know in a book and that’s exactly how I hope people will feel about the setting. Thanks so much for doing this blog interview.

NW: My pleasure. Now onto the questions...

Most authors change the names of stores, tourist sites, neighborhoods etc. in their stories but you didn't. How did you come to that decision? And did you have to get permissions?

JK: Yes, I know what you mean. When I wrote my last middle grade novel, Anna Was Here, I based the city in Colorado that Anna—alas for her!—has to leave on Colorado Springs, but I never named it. The town in Kansas where Anna lands is based on several towns, one where my husband grew up and another where he and I lived for five years, but I made up a name so I could invent specific geography to suit the needs of my story.

In this case, though, I wanted to plop my protagonist in a real place. I’m a fairly new transplant to Portland, myself. (Even though I was born here my parents moved to Ethiopia when I was only two years old.) All the details about the city and Oregon coast that make me laugh or sit up and take notice, I thought would intrigue readers, too. If you think of it, cities like New York City and Los Angeles and Chicago show up in plenty of fiction. I thought, why not Portland?  No need to ask permission to use a real place as the setting for your fictional story.

NW: I always like to learn something from stories, even if they are fiction. You mention a lot of plants by name, specifically grasses and weeds. Are you a gardener or was that something you had to research for your story? What kind of relationship do you have with weeds, love or hate?

JK: When I moved to Portland, it was to a house in a quirky neighborhood—essentially Jupiter’s neighborhood—and into a house that had been a rental for decades. The yard was an explosion of all those weeds I write about. Blackberry. Ivy. Bindweed. And more!  I wrestled enormous blackberry roots out of the ground and wondered what Jupiter wonders about dandelions.

NW: Oh, yes! I remember those tangled blackberry bushes! I've wrestled many a bush in Humboldt County, California. But I do miss the free roadside berries since I made lots of pies with them. (recipe is in A Slice of Humboldt Pie) Unfortunately, they were not a native plant.

JK: When I wrote for the American Girl Doll of the Year in 2010, I discovered the concept of how native plants support native insects and birds, and how what we plant can make a huge difference. In other words, I learned about Backyard Habitat from one of my book characters and then decided to live out her fictional choices in my real life! But I didn’t know about invasive weeds that choke out, say, Oregon wildflowers, until I moved here and happened to pick up a free booklet called GardenSmart Oregon. I told my sisters I was just going to putter in my new yard. One of my sisters later said, “You went from puttering to obsessed in two weeks flat.” Hahahaha. That’s the story behind all the plants and bees and other Save the Earth parts of my book.

NW: What does the term busker mean and how are you familiar with it? What is your special street performer talent?

JK: Buskers are street performers. I didn’t know that term, myself, until I started writing the first draft of Planet Jupiter. Once I learned it, I instantly knew that my character would know it, though. (An interesting and challenging thing about writing fiction is that the author’s brain is not identical to the viewpoint character’s brain.) I’ve never been a busker—I’m more shy than Jupiter is—but I do love to sing in public, so that’s where her brain and mine overlap. When she thinks that sibling voices sound spooky cool together, that’s also from my real life. I sing every week with my sisters, usually the tenor line although we like to mix it up.

NW: You lived in Ethiopia and one of your characters is from there. Jupiter asks Edom about Ethiopia and Edom corrects her misperceptions often. Are you drawing from your experience of people not being that familiar with Ethiopia and asking you those kinds of naive questions about your childhood country?

JK: Absolutely. I came to spend one year in the U.S. when I was seven (after having lived the rest of my life, that I could remember, in Ethiopia) and I felt as awkward as Edom does when people asked me questions about Ethiopia that I didn’t know how to handle. Also, my daughter-in-law is Ethiopian. And because many of my books connect with Ethiopia, I’ve met and talked with literally hundreds of families who’ve adopted kids from Ethiopia. I didn’t use anyone’s exact adoption story, but I used exact things I’ve heard come out of kids’ mouths for details and dialogue.

NW:  As the founder of Ethiopia Reads and an ambassador for literacy there, what is the proudest thing you've done for that country? What can others do to help the organization?

JK: I helped found Ethiopia Reads and for many years, my main role was fundraising to keep it going. Recently, though, I thought it was time to put on my creative hat. Since I’d had the chance to write ready-to-read books for children in the U.S. (Martin’s Dream, for example), I’d noticed that type of literature didn’t exist even in the few books for children that were being published in Ethiopia. Dick and Jane readers may seem dull. But when you see a child suddenly be able to make sense of black marks on a page, it’s thrilling! And Dr. Seuss and Kate Dicamillo and Mo Willems and so many other authors have put their creativity toward books that are easy but fun to read. So last year, my older sister and I created 10 Ready Set Go books—illustrated by kids and other volunteers. This spring, WEEMA, an NGO in Ethiopia, paid to have 900 printed in three different languages. Liz McGovern, Executive Director of Weema International said, "I can't tell you how much the kids absolutely LOVED the books! I have never in my life seen kids so engrossed and so determined to read. It was such a beautiful thing!"

Both here in the U.S. and in Ethiopia I am proud of every opportunity to spark a love of reading. Mostly people have helped by donating to Ethiopia Reads ( . Now we also have room for some volunteer help with illustration and photoshopping, which has been a source of joy and tremendous fun.

NW:  What was the hardest subplot for you to incorporate into your story? The father? The dog? Another?

JK: Hardest of all was to make all the threads tie together and come out in a satisfying way in the end. I was working with a lot of threads—subplots—and they all had to do with honoring my smart, active, brave, can-do girl character but finally also knocking her off her game enough for her to stop being a lone wolf, a rolling stone who gathers no moss. I had to scare her and get her in over her head. That wasn’t easy because she’s pretty tough!

NW:  Are you a gypsie or homebody? Have you eaten fried grasshoppers?

JK: My mom wasn’t very domestic. Although she first resisted going to Ethiopia, she eventually embraced it as a big and important adventure. Of course that attitude rubbed off on her five girls. I love the smell of airports. I love getting on a train or airplane. I have an aversion (as did my mom) to repetitive, tedious tasks. Although I’m now very rooted in my little Portland yard, I don’t think anybody would describe me as a homebody. (And I’m sure there’s a reason why my sisters and I loved to sing songs like the one about the raggle taggle gypsies :>.) Nonetheless, though I’ve had the opportunity to eat both eels and grasshoppers, I actually declined both…and contented myself with reading about the people who think insects are the answer to the world’s potential food shortages.

NW: I hear you, Jane. I ate a chocolate grasshopper when I was a kid, but don't think I could bring myself to eat even a fried one now. Or grubs, yuck.

Thank you, Jane, for your interesting responses and sharing your inspirations for your new book, Planet Jupiter.  Enjoy Portland! It's a great place to garden.

For other stops on the Jupiter Blog Tour please check  #JupiterBlogTour

For more information about award-winning author, Jane Kurtz, and her books read Jane Kurtz and You.



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