Christina Baker Kline is the author of six novels. Kline is one of multiple keynote speakers attending the 2017 Savannah Book Festival, along with Colson Whitehead and James Patterson.
Her novels include, “A Piece of The World,” “Orphan Train,” “Bird in Hand,” “The Way Life Should Be,” “Desire Line” and “Sweet Water.”
Kline will be speaking at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 19 at the Trustees Theater on Broughton St.
District Staff (DS): First, is this your first time in Savannah? What brought you to this year’s book fest?
Christina Baker Kline (CBK): This will be my third visit to Savannah, and I’m delighted to be coming back. It’s such a beautiful city. I love the many parks and the cobblestoned streets. When the Book Festival invited me, I jumped at the chance. Plus, I’ll be happy to see some writer friends, especially Jonathan Rabb, who is a wonderful tour guide in addition to being a very fine novelist.
DS: Your writing extends beyond novels in essays and articles. What advice would you give to students about being flexible and adaptable in their writing styles?
CBK: It’s good to try out a lot of different kinds of writing, and the best way to learn is to read and analyze the writing of others. Whether you’re writing fiction or personal essays or nonfiction opinion pieces, you need to understand the requirements of the form. If you want to write a personal essay, read lots of personal essays. If you want to write op-eds, look closely at how op-eds you admire were constructed. I truly believe that you learn to write by reading.
DS: What’s your favorite part of the process?
CBK: Like falling in love, developing a story – doing research, taking notes, shaping the narrative – is incredibly exciting. Each one of my novels has entailed research, but the ones set in a different time and place require a whole different kind of investigation. Writing is seriously hard work. Sometimes it goes very well, but even when it does, I wrestle with self-doubt. Research and story-planning are pure joy.
DS: Your bestselling novel, “Orphan Train,” intersects multiple nonfiction and fictional elements to create a unique narrative. How did you prepare for writing such a fact-based story?
CBK: I wrote the orphan-train part of the story, 100 pages, all at once. I wouldn’t have been able to keep it all in my head otherwise. The present day story I wrote before and after. After I accumulated about 50 pages I wrote a rough outline to keep it all straight. At the end, I ruthlessly edited the manuscript. I didn’t want the factual information to feel force-fed.
DS: Who or what inspires your writing style?
CBK: Reading great literature is the best way to find inspiration. When I was in grad school I studied 19th-century novels: Middlemarch by George Eliot, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, Germinal by Émile Zola. Then I became obsessed with early 20th-century writers like Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce and Edith Wharton. Those novelists influenced me greatly. I still return to them, though these days I read a lot of contemporary writing.