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Publishers’ Preview: Middle-Grade Novels: Five Questions for Erin Bow

Publishers' Previews: Special advertising supplement in The Horn Book Magazine

This interview originally appeared in the January/February 2019 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Middle-Grade Novels, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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Girls aren’t supposed to train eagles in Kazakh Mongolia, the locale of Stand on the Sky, but Aisulu is determined.

1. What surprised you most as Aisulu came to (literary) life?

That my girl from Mongolia started out as a boy from Kansas! His family were to be naturalists, and he would have the job of re-wilding a hawk. The boy-and-hawk story was dear to me, but it wouldn’t quite come together. Then in 2014, I saw Asher Svidensky’s photographs of young people training in the ancient Kazakh art of eagle hunting, and my story came to life and flew away from me. I chased it, and I ended up spending the summer of 2015 living with a family of Kazakh nomads — a trip which, I assure you, was full of surprises.

2. Were you inspired by The Eagle Huntress documentary?

The documentary folks were inspired by the same photographs I was, but in a different direction. I went to Mongolia to find the shape of an original story. They went to tell the story of one of the children, Aisholpan Nurgaiv. As luck would have it, The Eagle Huntress came out the year after I made my trip, so I didn’t even get to use it for reference. I’ve seen it since, though: I cheered!

3. Tell me the most interesting thing you learned about eagles.

A golden eagle goes from just-hatched to full-flight in three months. They grow in front of your eyes — it’s so fast.

4. What will you remember best about the Mongolian landscape?

Goats. Some might argue that goats don’t qualify as landscape — but those people haven’t seen the way a herd presses close to camp at night. I would go out to pee and their eyes would catch the flashlight, hundreds of floating green eyes in a dark, eddying mass of goat. Even the Mongolian sky can’t quite compete on the strength of the memory.

5. What pulled you to realism after writing four sci-fi/fantasy novels?

I keep writing the books that young me needed to read. Characters facing serious illness are common enough, but what I wanted was the story of the sibling who is well while a family rallies around the one who is ill. The child loved, but left adrift. I’ve rarely seen that story told, which is a pity because it’s common. It is, in fact, mine.

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