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Orphan Train: Author Interview with Christina Baker Kline


Orphan Train

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the author of a my new favorite book - the one I can't stop talking about, or thinking about - Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Interviewing her was such a cool experience and I learned so much about her, the book (what inspired her to write it!), and the life of a best-selling author.

A little background about the book from the Booklist review of The Orphan Train:

A long journey from home and the struggle to find it again form the heart of the intertwined stories that make up this moving novel. Foster teen Molly is performing community-service work for elderly widow Vivian, and as they go through Vivian’s cluttered attic, they discover that their lives have much in common. When Vivian was a girl, she was taken to a new life on an orphan train. These trains carried children to adoptive families for 75 years, from the mid-nineteenth century to the start of the Great Depression. Novelist Kline (Bird in Hand, 2009) brings Vivian’s hardscrabble existence in ­Depression-era Minnesota to stunning life. Molly’s present-day story in Maine seems to pale in comparison, but as we listen to the two characters talk, we find grace and power in both of these seemingly disparate lives. Although the girls are vulnerable, left to the whims of strangers, they show courage and resourcefulness. Kline illuminates a largely hidden chapter of American history, while portraying the coming-of-age of two resilient young women. --Bridget Thoreson

Orphan Train Interview

When you were in high school did you enjoy writing? Yes, I loved writing, but I wrote more poetry. I actually never finished a story until I got to college. I tended to write more poetry. Studying poetry in college helped me to become a novelist, and become more aware of language as I am writing.

Did you enjoy doing research in high school for projects or papers? In high school I liked learning things, but I was never one of those people who would disappear because of it. I used the research to get inspired for the writing part. I typically research until I have a strong sense of the story and have a good plan, and then start writing and then go back and fill in the gaps.

Because Orphan Train has so much history in it, how long did it take you to research and plan for the novel? It took around three years to research, write, and revise it. I actually learned about the story a decade ago because my husband’s grandfather was an orphan on a train and he was featured in an article on orphan trains, and that was how I first heard about them.

I read on your website that you used to be a personal chef, caterer, and cook. How did you transition from that to being a novelist? I did that in college and in grad school. I had already been cooking at a summer camp in Maine and then I worked as a private chef for a writer and his wife in Martha’s Vineyard after my junior year in college. I also worked as a caterer in grad school and I have always been really interested in cooking. Writing novels is the thing that I love the most and my other interests have supported. It’s easy to get caught up in other things and not leave enough time for your writing. I also love being out in the world and interacting with other people, and I like having multiple things going on at once.

What was your dream job when you were in high school? I wanted to be either a book editor or magazine editor and I still think it would be a really fun job. I do love what I’m doing, but I still do edit for other magazine and books.

Do you have any advice for someone that wants to become a writer? One thing I would say is to be sure that you have skills and develop skills that you actually like. I have been able to teach and edit, so I have the qualifications that I need to do other types of work. You need to make sure you have something else as well, because you can’t count on always making a living out of it since there are great years and others that are harder to make money. Sometimes writers say you shouldn’t get a job in the same field and that you should do something like waitressing, but I would much rather have a job in this field, like working with other writers. I find that so much fun.

Where do you get inspiration from for your characters and books themselves? From everywhere. When I’m working on a novel anything can work itself in, like dinner party conversations. I can fill the book with anything I want. If I overhear something at Starbucks it could go in.

What is your favorite book that you’ve ever read? I have a bunch, a number of them are 19th century books, I love Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. I also really love Virginia Woolf, but I read everything, a lot of contemporary books. I want to know what the other books on the top lists are like.

Do you have friends that are also writing or that you’ve met through writing? Yes, in fact I was just talking to one on Facebook. I do. I have a lot of writer friends. I really love that aspect and it’s really important to be a part of a community.

Thank you so much, Mrs. Kline, for taking time in your busy schedule to talk to me! I can't begin to tell you how much I enjoyed the Orphan Train, and if you would like to see more reviews on the book, check them out here.

Have you read Orphan Train? What’s your all time favorite book?