5 Questions for...Christina Baker Kline
Contributor
Written by
Five Questions
April 2013
Contributor
Written by
Five Questions
April 2013

Christina Baker Kline is the author of the new novel Orphan Train, the story of two women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and a troubled teenage girl with one last chance at redemption. Heralded in early reviews as “stunning,” “exquisite,” and “a revelation,” Orphan Train makes its April debut as a Target Book-of-the-Month-Club pick and an Audible.com lead title, with a four-star People magazine review and an upcoming feature on NPR's “All Things Considered.” Ann Packer calls it “a beautiful novel about the search for family that happens to illuminate a fascinating and forgotten chapter of American history.” Here, Christina talks to Deborah Siegel about her inspirations, her process, and where she finds the time for it all.

 

Deborah Siegel: I know you keep a “mood board” to help get you into the characters and settings of each novel you write. What was pinned or taped to your board for Orphan Train?

Christina Baker Kline: When I’m starting work on a novel I gather scraps like a magpie. On the Orphan Train board I hung a hand-carved Celtic cross on a green ribbon and a stone shamrock on a red ribbon from Galway; a Native American dream catcher from Maine; a silver train pin from a New York Train Riders’ reunion in Little Falls, Minnesota; postcards from Ireland and from the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. I tacked up note cards: “FOOD IN IRELAND 1900s” was one (“wheatmeal, hung beef, tongue, barley …”). Another listed ideas I wanted to explore (“links between misplaced and abandoned people with little in common”). On one card I scribbled a quote from a speaker at a Foundling Hospital reunion I attended in 2009, Wendy Freund: “In the absence of a clear story people create ghost stories about their lives. They construct phantom parents and entire lives for them. When they get the real information they move from a fantasy story to a reality. It can be hard and disillusioning. But it’s important to create a coherent narrative.” That quote informed the central themes of the novel.

Deborah Siegel: Much of the novel takes place in the Midwest (yay Midwest! my new home). And place in general plays a central role in this book. But I'm curious: what do you see when you look out the window in the room in which you write?

Christina Baker Kline: One of my favorite things about my study on the second floor of my house is the view: I look out over a park with a large oval pond. The dirty, squawking geese look so elegant from this distance! Recently, though, the pond was dredged as part of a someday-we-hope beautification project, so at the moment my view is a mud pit and a lot of dumbfounded geese.

Deborah Siegel: Okay, lady, you're a busy working mama of teenagers. When, exactly, do you find the time to write?

Christina Baker Kline: Truth be told, I’m not writing fiction these days. My novel has just come out, and it’s all I can do to keep up with Q&A’s like this one! When I am writing, though, I’m strict with myself: I try to finish four pages a day, 20 pages a week. (I write longhand, which I know is odd.) If I’m engrossed in my story I can write a page standing at the stove, or on the sidelines of a soccer game, or on the subway. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this three-ring circus that is my life, it’s that I’ve got to grab the moment as it presents itself.

Deborah Siegel: Hemingway said that he wrote standing up. What's your favorite way to write? Standing on one leg, in the minivan, while walking, on your iPhone?

Christina Baker Kline: This is going to sound strange, but I love writing in the back of a lecture hall or a music hall during a talk or a concert. It’s inspiring to feel that creative energy flowing all around me. I also like the ambient low-grade noise of coffee shops and generic cafés like Panera, where the staff leaves you alone for as long as you like.

Deborah Siegel: I love that your character Molly, the troubled teen who bounces through foster homes, comes in contact with Vivian, the 91-year old widow with a storied past, because of a minor theft--stealing Jane Eyre from the library. Did you ever steal a book from the library? And if not, if you had stolen a book when you were Molly's age, what book might it have been?

Christina Baker Kline: I did not need to steal a book; my parents were professors and thrust books into my hands at every opportunity. But I remember being utterly undone by Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being when I was about 17. I would’ve stolen that book, no question. 

 

For more information about Orphan Train--and to view the book’s haunting trailer—visit Christina Baker Kline’s website, www.christinabakerkline.com. Orphan Train is available everywhere books and e-books are sold.

 

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Comments
  • Paulette Livers

    Nice conversation. I'll look forward to reading Christina's new novel.

  • Congratulations, Christina!

  • Wendi Nitschmann

    Great interview. I love the idea of a "mood board." Will be looking for the book when it comes out - best of luck Christina!