Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow


by Erin Bow

Fantasy YA


5 autographed copies will be given away on Friday, November 15, 2013.

About the book:

In the world of SORROW’S KNOT, the dead do not rest easy. Every patch of shadow might be home to something hungry, something deadly. Most of the people of this world live on the sunlit, treeless prairies. But a few carve out an uneasy living in the forest towns, keeping the dead at bay with wards made from magically knotted cords. The women who tie these knots are called binders. And Otter’s mother, Willow, is one of the greatest binders her people have ever known.

But Willow does not wish for her daughter to lead the lonely, heavy life of a binder, so she chooses another as her apprentice. Otter is devastated by this choice, and what’s more, it leaves her untrained when the village falls under attack. In a moment of desperation, Otter casts her first ward, and the results are disastrous. But now Otter may be her people’s only hope against the shadows that threaten them. Will the challenge be too great for her? Or will she find a way to put the dead to rest once and for all?

Exclusive interview with the author:

1) When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Have you had other jobs along the way?

I’ve been writing forever — my mom recounts that as a toddler I used to make up song lyrics and demand to have them transcribed. So my earliest recorded work is “No Dogs Allowed in the Grocery Store,” set to the tune of “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.”

But I didn’t always know I wanted to be a writer. I guess I didn’t think of it as something people did, you know, for a living. Also, at an early age I imprinted on Carl Sagan and the ʹ70s “here is your universe, on PBS, and also LSD” show Cosmos, and decided I wanted to be an astronomer. At university I dithered over my major — English or physics — and eventually picked physics on the grounds that I could teach myself to write, but teaching myself about eigenvectors was kind of a tall order. I specialized in particle physics, and spent a couple of terms at CERN and at Los Alamos Labs (not the bomb part). Science is still part of my life: I currently have a half-time gig writing for the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.

2) If Oprah invited you onto her show to talk about your book, what would the theme of the show be?

It would probably be one of those solemn weepy ones about grief. I would be inappropriately hilarious on it and never get invited back.

I don’t mean to write books about grief — it just happens. But hey, the next one is about sacrifice!

3) Desert Island time. You can bring one person and one thing. What would you bring?

My husband and a giant pallet of duct tape. …. Wait, that sounds kind of weird.

4) When you start a new book, do you like to outline the entire story or fly by the seat of your pants? What about your characters? Do you figure them out entirely before you start writing or do they reveal themselves to you along the way?

I usually start a book with a character (or two) and a bit of what I call “original equipment” — something a bit more than a premise, and a bit less than a plot. For Plain Kate, for instance, the original equipment was: “There’s an orphan girl named Katerina Svetlana, called Plain Kate. She’s going to be forced to sell her shadow, which will gain her a talking cat.” For Sorrow’s Knot, it was the question: “In a world where knots give people the power over life and death, what would it mean for someone to have too much of that power?” I had that, and the character, Otter — the daughter of such a too-powerful figure, and someone struggling with too much power herself.

Plain Kate was an easier book to write than most, because the original equipment also gave me the plot of the opening act. Mostly this does not happen, and I just have to follow my characters and their baggage around until something interesting happens. Then I generally have to throw everything out and start again to get to the interesting part straightaway. Then I write to the middle of the book, where I get stuck. I stay stuck for a few weeks or a few months, despair, and consider getting a job in a bank like a normal human. Then I have a breakthrough moment and stay up all night writing a five-page treatment of the second half of the book and the ending, which allows me to start writing again.

That treatment, by the way, has to date always turned out to be wrong.

I don’t normally work on my characters, or at least the major ones. They seem real to me and I have great faith in them. I just try to stay true to them and not force them to do anything they wouldn’t do — which is probably why I have so much trouble with plot.

I think every writer has some things they struggle with and some things that come to them as gifts. For me, characters are gifts and their original equipment are gifts — just don’t ask me who or what they are gifts from.

5) What scene or bit of dialogue in the book are you most proud of and why?

In Sorrow’s Knot, I’m really proud of the storytelling scenes, especially the first one. This is, in a way, a book about storytelling — the way we sometimes get trapped inside our own stories.

The storytelling scenes were a technical challenge, though, because people telling stories are harder to make interesting and dynamic than people doing things. Also, storytelling is sacred in Otter’s culture, as it is in many indigenous cultures, and I didn’t want to tread on anyone’s sacred ground.

So these scenes were important to the theme, critical to the plot, and tricky to write. And they are AWESOME. I just read one on the radio as the seed for a “spooky stories for Halloween” call-in show, and I made a grown radio host alternately grin and shiver with dread.

About the author:

Erin Bow was born in the Midwest and studied particle physics in college, eventually working at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland. She then decided to leave science in order to concentrate on her love of writing. She lives in Kitchener, Ontario, with her husband, James, and their two daughters. Erin Bow can be visited online at

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