Kat Rosenfield's Inland is one of those books you can't put down and when you finish you immediately want to re-read it. With beautiful writing and a complex premise, we wanted to know more about the story's origins and themes. So we took our questions straight to the source and today, Kat sheds some light on her eerie new novel.
Inland is such a striking and thought-provoking novel. What was the initial inspiration for the novel, and how did the story grow and change while writing it?
At the very beginning, the idea for Inland was sort of a thought experiment. This was a few years ago, when the big thing in YA was supernatural romance, which is like a foreign country to me — it's not at all where my natural inclinations are as a writer. So I'd already accepted that I would never be able to capitalize on this particular trend, but at the same time, I really wondered if there were some way to take that sort of subject matter and make it interesting to me, if there were a way through it to a story that I wanted to tell.
Eventually, what I found myself thinking about wasn't sea creatures, but the sea itself, and what a powerful force it is in people's lives. Some people feel drawn to the sea; they always have. They feel connected to it on an incredibly deep level. I started wondering: What if you didn't just love the sea, but you also believed that the sea loved you back? What would your life be like, then? And that was my way through. That was the moment at which the story really began to take shape.
That was always the heart of the story, that love of the sea, taken to the extreme, and the women who feel that connection. The more magical elements came later, as I looked to mermaid mythology and fairytales to fill in some of the blanks, and I did ultimately end up feeling comfortable with the supernatural elements of the book in a way that I didn't expect. I sort of dipped a toe in there, and then suddenly wanted to go a bit deeper.
There's a hint of fantasy in the story that seems intent on leading readers in various directions. What can you tell us about this particular element of the book?
That the vagueness is entirely on purpose. This story was always meant to be ambiguous and open-ended in that regard. What was interesting to me about that fantasy element was exploring how it would all play out in a real-world setting, where at some point these characters would necessarily cross the line into what certainly seems like madness, and how the people around them would deal with that. And I spent a lot of time thinking about the stories we tell about ourselves in an attempt to figure out who we are, and about how girls in particular struggle with being allowed to do this; there's always someone who wants to tell a teenage girl that she doesn't really know herself, doesn't really feel what she's feeling, even when what she feels isn't bizarre to the point where it might actually be crazy.
Basically, it's not coincidence that this fantasy is being presented to you by a bunch of characters — a bunch of women — who may or may not be reliable narrators. What you believe about that part of the story depends a lot on whether you believe them.
In addition to mental illness, you also address themes of loss, family and friendship. Why do you think these themes resonate so strongly within the YA genre?
You find these themes in adult books too, of course, but I think that YA readers are often trying to figure out the world around them, and figure out where and how they fit into it, and so understanding and exploring human connection — which is what we're talking about when we talk about family, friendship, and loss — is always going to be a huge part of that. Seeking out other people's stories makes you feel more connected to the world, it's so important for developing the ability to identify and empathize with others. But there's also such a feeling at that time in your life of, basically, "How do I do this? Is this okay? Am I being human correctly?!" Realizing that you're not alone, reading about a person who feels what you feel and has been where you are, is such a huge thing when you're a teenager.
As an MTV reporter and an illustrator, how does your creative process differ or remain the same when writing your YA novels?
My entertainment journalist brain actually seems to exist in a completely different sphere from my fiction-writing brain. I'm working on a project now that I hope will bridge that gap a bit, but writing one versus writing the other just doesn't feel like the same thing at all. As a reporter, I can't only write; I'm in frequent contact with an editor, watching Twitter in case a new story pops up, pausing to research something or suggest a different angle if a story isn't working. A novel is a totally immersive thing by comparison, or it can be. I might spend two weeks chipping away at a scene in tiny increments, and then suddenly things will click, and the next thing I know I've written 3,000 words and it's dark outside and I'm starving.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
When you suddenly get inspired, write it down, and for the love of everything, take the time to leave yourself a reasonably detailed note. (Speaking from experience: you will not actually remember what was going on in your head when you find a bar napkin in the bottom of your bag with "cheese the beast badger!!!" written on it.)
What is one thing your readers may not know about you?
When I'm not writing, I like to relax by painting watercolor portraits of chickens.
To dive into Inland, purchase your copy online and in-stores today! And for more YA author interviews, check out our Everything YA page!