Behind the Kiki: An Interview With Kirsten Miller (pt. 1)
Have I mentioned how much I love blogs that can you can set up to post in your absence. Ah, science!
Alrighty. Today we feature the third and last interview of a smart-type writerly personage of the kidlit persuasion. Voila, Kirsten Miller. She was grilled by Jen Robinson. She was sixty-minuted by Miss Erin (new term). Now she has me to face, and watch how she fares. If you’ve not read Ms. Miller’s truly fun Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City then you’ve done yourself a severe disservice. Tsk and yet again tsk. There’s not much we know about the elusive Ms. Miller. She works in advertising here in New York City and finding a photograph of her can be almost impossible. Speaking with her, though? Entirely within the realm of possibility.
I’ve just finished your latest Kiki Strike novel Kiki Strike: The Empress’s Tomb] and I’ve noticed that you are very good at pulling different elements and cool details into your work. For example, a deceased character in the book is a definite version of Sarah L. Winchester of The Winchester House. In another part we see a urinal with the signature "R. Mutt, 1917," on the side. Where do you pluck these little ideas from?
My head (much like my father’s) holds an amazing store of useless information. I collect strange facts the way crows gather shiny objects. (Actually that crow thing is a myth.) You’d think I would be a big hit at cocktail parties, but surprisingly few adults want to hear about the giant pigs that once roamed New York’s streets or the carp that spoke in Hebrew to workers at the New Square Fish Market. Thank goodness for twelve-year-olds.
When I’m reading, there’s nothing I like better than discovering a tantalizing snippet of information tucked into the text. That’s why I try to base many of the more bizarre elements in my books on fact. If anyone bothered to investigate whether there’s really a castle in the middle of the Hudson River or tunnels under Chinatown, she might be pleasantly surprised by what she found. I suppose it’s a way of making detectives out of one’s readers.
I do try to avoid adding details unless they’re meaningful in some way (or they make me laugh). The mansion of the recently-deceased socialite in The Empress’s Tomb, for instance, is a combination of the Winchester House and a Fifth Avenue mansion built by Doris Duke’s father. Both Doris Duke and Sarah Winchester were women who discovered that money could buy almost anything but happiness. A little nod to them fit the overall story quite nicely.
Okay. I simply must ask you this. In Kiki Strike one of the characters is taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital. While there, Ananka went to a nearby library branch. BUT instead of the super cool Jefferson Market Branch that used to house a women’s jail AND was where Mae West was tried for her play Sex Ananka went instead to the Abiele Branch which, nice as it is, does not exist. Why the switcheroo? New York Public Library can be protective of its name.
I’ve never been in touch the New York Public Library. (Just let them try to censor me, though!) I live a few blocks away from the Jefferson Market Branch, and I’ve always loved both the building and its bizarre history. I keep a mental list of spots around New York that I think would make fabulous settings. (India House, the Morris-Jumel Mansion, the Police Building, Pomander Walk, Weeksville, etc.) Jefferson Market has always been at the top of that list. At some point it will make an appearance in one of my books, but I didn’t want to waste it on a relatively minor plot-point. Now that I know that the NYPL is so touchy, I’ll be sure to come up with something extra special.
"Kiki Strike" was not the first girl-spy book out there, but it certainly feels like it. It’s a cliched question, but where did you get the idea?
The best spies are people that everyone else overlooks. (In the business, they’re called “Gray Men.”) For the most part, adults still see girls of a certain age as innocuous—if they see them at all. That gives girls the ability to fly under the radar, so to speak, in ways other people can’t.
My inspiration came from many different places, but I must give a great deal of credit to Arthur Conan Doyle and the Baker Street Irregulars. (Hence the name of Kiki Strike’s band of girl geniuses.) I’m a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes books, and I loved the idea of a pack of Victorian urchins roaming London in the service of the city’s most famous detective. However, I was always a little put out that none of them were girls.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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