Thursday, July 28, 2011

Eleven Up: Interview with Karsten Knight, author of WILDEFIRE

I'm thrilled to welcome my agent-mate Karsten Knight, author of WILDEFIRE to the Apocalypsies blog!

Ashline Wilde is having a rough sophomore year. She’s struggling to find her place as the only Polynesian girl in school, her boyfriend just cheated on her, and now her runaway sister, Eve, has decided to barge back into her life. When Eve’s violent behavior escalates and she does the unthinkable, Ash transfers to a remote private school nestled in California’s redwoods, hoping to put the tragedy behind her. But her fresh start at Blackwood Academy doesn’t go as planned. Just as Ash is beginning to enjoy the perks of her new school—being captain of the tennis team, a steamy romance with a hot, local park ranger—Ash discovers that a group of gods and goddesses have mysteriously enrolled at Blackwood…and she’s one of them. To make matters worse, Eve has resurfaced to haunt Ash, and she’s got some strange abilities of her own. With a war between the gods looming over campus, Ash must master the new fire smoldering within before she clashes with her sister one more time… And when warm and cold fronts collide, there’s guaranteed to be a storm.

Wildefire hit shelves Tuesday and I can't wait for everyone to run out and buy a copy. If the gorgeous cover isn't enough to entice you, I managed to get Karsten to answer a few questions that will make you realize your volcanic need for his book!


How did the character of Ashline Wilde develop? Did she spring out fully-formed, like Athena out of Zeus's head, or was she more of a tough cookie you had to draw out over time?

Getting to know Ashline was like an arranged marriage (with a volcano goddess). She just sort of moved in one day, and started melting things. It took some time during our fiery little domestic partnership for me to see through her inflammatory instincts to get to know the loyal, funny, contemplative sixteen-year-old underneath.

Can you describe your path to publication? WILDEFIRE is your debut, but is it the first book you've written? What steps lead to your publication with Simon & Schuster?

WILDEFIRE is the…wow, I couldn’t even tell you how many books it’s been. I was writing novels the entire time I was in junior high, and high school, and then college. I signed on with my first literary agent when I was seventeen and went on submission twice, to no avail, When I graduated from college, started working as a college admissions counselor, and found myself on the road 14 hours a day, I didn’t write a word for two years. Not out of any sense of giving up or desperation; but the last thing I wanted to do on those nights when I stumbled into my hotel room at 10pm was to sit down in front of a laptop. I was drained.

When I lost my job in 2009, I reconnected with my inner Steinbeck and began the first draft of my teenage volcano goddess memoir. At the same time, I entered the M.F.A. in Writing for Children program at Simmons College. A classmate of mine, who worked at Simon & Schuster, was reading a draft of WILDEFIRE for fun and casually asked one day if she could “show it to someone who she thought would like it.” Unbeknownst to me, that “someone” turned out to be my future editor, Courtney Bongiolatti, who blindsided me one Monday morning last May with a 9am phone call, saying that she’d just finished reading and was about to make me an offer.

Which character in your book do you most identify with? OR...if Karsten Knight found out he was a GOD tomorrow, who would he be?

I know he doesn’t appear in the book, and this will probably make me sound like a total wine-o, but I’m going to have to go with Dionysus. Not just because I’m overindulgent, but because my Scandinavian pallor is really envious of Mediterranean tans.

The Pacific Northwest setting in WILDEFIRE really feels like an integral part of the story. I know you're from the Boston area, so how did you come to write a novel set primarily on the coast of northern California?

I have this weird theory that when you’re in high school, you’re more sensitive to the changes of season and climate than you are at any other point in your life. So many of my memories from being a teenager are paired with vivid recollections of the weather, especially the chill air of the New England fall. When I started writing WILDEFIRE, I wanted to pick a part of the United States with a really unique climate—and the redwood forests of Northern California in the late spring had a really eerie, misty ambience to them that perfectly fit the vibe of the story.

I have been asked the reverse of this next question a lot, so now I get to ask YOU--as a guy, was it difficult to write from the point of view of a teenage girl?

Well, it was at first. But then I watched The Twilight Saga: New Moon on repeat for days until I could fully appreciate Taylor Lautner’s abs. That was when I knew I was successfully channeling my inner teenage girl, and from there, it was a cakewalk. Growing up with two sisters also helped.

In all seriousness, I think one of the most egregious suggestions you can make in the writing world is that authors should only “write what they are.” Most readers seem genuinely interested in seeing the layers of complexity that evolve when an author writes from a perspective of the opposite gender. But I was very disheartened when I recently read one opinion that succinctly said, with regard to a man writing from a teenage female perspective: “Don’t even try.” I’m forever grateful that this belief isn’t commonplace in the open-minded YA community. Otherwise, the alternative would mean I could only write an MC who was a 20-something white male author, and I guarantee even my weekend shenanigans aren’t as entertaining as the hijinks of my 16-year-old Polynesian volcano goddess.

What kind of research did you do while writing this book? I know you're a dedicated writer... Did you *suffer* a trip to Hawaii to pay homage to Pele herself?

I unfortunately never made it to Hawaii while I was drafting WILDEFIRE. But I *did* use my tiki bottle opener from Hawaii a lot, so basically the same thing.

I know there's at least one sequel in the works after WILDEFIRE... Can you give any hints on what to brace ourselves for next? More kick-butt action? More smoldering romance?

Let’s just say that in book two, Ashline will be trading the marine cool of the Pacific Northwest for a locale a little more…tropical.


Name some books that have earned a permanent place on your All-Time Favorites shelf.

Marcelo and the Real World by Francisco X. Stork; the Myst trilogy by Rand & Robyn Miller; the Sabriel trilogy by Garth Nix; The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg, and my all-time favorite, How to Kill a Monster by R.L. Stine. I still own a few hundred R.L. Stine books. Most recently, Across the Universe—I think Beth Revis has some of the most fluid, elegant writing on the YA market right now.

You just received your MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College. (Congratulations!) Can you briefly detail what that program has involved and how you've benefitted from it?

The classes ranged from studying the history of the Picturebook to Contemporary YA Realism, but what I’ll really take away are all the contacts I’ve made. (I’m sorry, that was totally a “last day of summer camp” answer.)

Finally, since this is an interview for The Apocalypsies blog, name three people, living, dead, or fictional, who you'd want by your side to help you weather the apocalypse.

Charlie’s Angels. Or the three guys from the Hangover.

Visit Karsten at:

Or on Twitter: @KarstenKnight


  1. Heh, I would imagine that Charlie's Angels would be more useful in an apocalypse situation. I look forward to reading Wildefire!

    Also, what's your opinion on Mike Chang and Puck's abs from Glee? ^,..,^ j/k you don't have to answer that.

    It's always great to read books with main characters that are of the opposite gender from the author.

    Sniffly Kitty
    Sniffly Kitty's Mostly Books

  2. Great interview! I'm looking forward to reading this!

  3. What a great interview! I love that part about New Moon and Taylor :D
    And I can't wait to read Wildefire. That cover is really gorgeous!