This may be my first international Friend Friday of the year! Katherine Marsh grew up in New York but now lives in Brussels with her family. She is an Edgar-award winning author and is here today to speak about her latest novel, The Door by the Staircase.
Thanks, Kirby, for hosting me.
Before I tell you about my latest book, I want to tell you about my chickens.
One day, a few years ago, my husband took our son to a petting zoo birthday party. Somewhere in between the hedgehog viewing and the birthday cake, the star attraction, a pot -bellied pig, made a run for it.
My husband, Julian, is from Maine, which means he has some familiarity with farm animals. The pig, on the other hand, was not from Washington, D.C. and as he ran higgledy-piggledy from one city yard to the next, Julian leapt over some bushes and nabbed him.
The petting zoo owners were very grateful to have their pig returned and as they chatted with Julian, they revealed their side venture: renting chickens. The next thing I knew, Julian was giving me a card for Rent-a-Coop and hinting, not so subtly, that his birthday was coming up.
This is how we ended up with four chickens—Kiev, Marbella, Saltimbocca and Imogene. They started off as rentals but it wasn’t long before we purchased them outright. My kids enjoyed their funny T-rex walk and collecting the daily eggs but it was Julian who was really smitten. He bought them a new coop with an automatic door, spent days constructing a run, and even installed cable so he could watch them from work over the “chicken cam.”
Before I tell you what happened next, I should tell you a little about my book. (This is a good lesson in writing: always make ‘em wait.) THE DOOR BY THE STAIRCASE is the story of Mary, an orphan who is desperately looking for a home. So when an odd old woman shows up at the orphanage offering to adopt her, Mary is out the door faster than that pot-bellied pig. There’s only one problem: the old lady turns out to be doing her grocery shopping. Or to put it another way: the old lady is the child-eating Russian witch, Baba Yaga, and she’s feeling peckish.
Most kids would hit the road but Mary isn’t most kids and she really wants a home. She makes a crazy decision to stay with Baba Yaga in her house on chicken legs. With the help of a young magician she meets in the neighboring town and the witch’s own servants, Mary tries to tame her.
Nature is a hard thing to tame. To get back to the chickens, we had clearly tempted fate by naming them after chicken dishes. Less than a year later, a fox broke into the run and killed Chicken Marbella. Fortunately, we heard the attack and were able to save the others. But foxes are as crafty and relentless as Roald Dahl portrays them. A few weeks later, the fox tunneled under the reinforced perimeter. The final slaughter was caught on the chicken cam.
Now I want to be clear about something. My family is not vegetarian. In fact, we eat chicken often, maybe even twice a week. But that didn’t mean we weren’t heartbroken. We had come to love those birds. We mourned them as family.
It’s interesting to think about how something or someone becomes family. Even biological parenthood—and I’m talking about our own species—is funny that way. We fall in love with strangers. They disobey us, hurt us, bewilder us. They even have the nerve to grow up. And yet we love them. We would even give our lives for them.
I thought about this after the chickens died and as I wrote THE DOOR BY THE STAIRCASE. I have an inkling of the answer. But I’m over word count now. So you’ll just have to read the story of Baba Yaga and Mary.
Katherine Marsh’s debut middle-grade fantasy, The Night Tourist, won the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery. She followed it with a sequel, The Twilight Prisoner. Her third book, the YA historical fiction novel Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, was a New York Times Best Book of the Year. The Door by the Staircase was published in January and is an upcoming Junior Library Guild selection. Katherine lives in Brussels, Belgium with her husband, two children, and cat, Egg. You can visit her at www.katherinemarsh.com