Kirsten Miller is best known as the author of the Kiki Strike novels, a series following a group of six girls adventuring in New York City. Her latest book, The Eternal Ones (Razorbill), follows the adventures of Haven, a girl from a small southern town who discovers that she might have lived a past life, and that her lover from her last life might be living in New York. Miller herself notes that she’s “the only person who lives in New York City for her health. I’m deathly allergic to a mold on trees in the South, and if I had stayed down there, I’d be making a trip to the hospital at least once a year.”
The Eternal Ones tells the story of a girl who moves from a small southern town to New York City. Are there any other parallels between Haven's life and yours?
You mean other than the fact that I came from a small Appalachian town and moved to New York City? No, I think that's the big one. I always wanted to write about a girl who made the same journey I'd made. There's definitely a culture shock there, moving from a very small, claustrophobic place to a big city where anything could happen.
Other than that, the big similarity is impulsiveness, the need to see the rest of the world. Like a lot of people, when you grow up in a town you didn't choose, you suspect that there might be something waiting, someone you need to find, you need to know. It’s a pretty universal experience.
Past lives are a major theme of the book, of course. What sort of research into past lives did you do? Do you believe in past lives?
I wouldn't say I’m a believer, but I find it a very interesting notion. I’ve read quite a bit on the subject. A man who died in 2007, Ian Stevenson, is considered to be the foremost authority on reincarnation. He was the head of psychiatry at the University of Virginia. One of his patients left the school a great deal of money so he could devote himself to studying reincarnation. Stevenson went around the world talking to children who claimed to believe in past lives. He took a serious approach, looking for kids who had no interactions with the families they claimed to belong to.
He wrote a book called Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation. Like I said, I’m not a believer, but some of these studies are incredibly compelling, even though he never felt like he found the smoking gun. But there are stories that suggest it’s a possibility and my mind is open.
The Ouroboros Society is a wonderful example of a secret society. Were you influenced by any of the classic secret societies, like the Hellfire Club?
All of these things -- the secret societies, reincarnation, underground cities [in the Kiki Strike books] -- are things I've always been interested in. The Ouroboros society isn’t based on any one in particular, but I have read a great deal on the Hellfire Club, Skull and Bones, and others. I guess they're all mixed in a little bit.
Unlike the characters in the Kiki Strike books, Haven generally has to deal with her problems on her own. How different was writing Haven's tale compared to the adventures of the Irregulars?
I’m not interested in portraying weak, namby-pamby heroines. That’s something that bothers me. The girls in the Kiki Strike books are all extremely strong and confident, but they do all have each other; they’re six girls acting in unison. Haven, as strong as she might be and with all of her inner strength, is facing the greatest leap of faith of all: falling in love. Even the strongest of heroines can get flummoxed. There’s no one else who can help you figure out if this is the person you want to be with. I think Haven’s challenge is a little harder because of this.
I don't know if I've ever seen Pentecostals in a YA novel before, and certainly not treated as serious characters. Are the Frizells based on personal experiences, or the results of research?
The snake-handling church is based on a real place not far from where I grew up. There are a lot of things, growing up in the South, that people didn't want to talk about, but you knew that kids at school went to the church, and it wasn’t a big deal. In pop culture, they're portrayed as freaks, but in real life, they're normal; they’re religious and interesting people.
Growing up in the mountains of North Carolina, I remember one of the lessons my mother taught me; you have to teach kids a thing or two now or then. There was a man who lived down the road from us, a true mountain man. She took me to see him, and we talked to him for a while. My mother told me that he was the smartest man she had ever met. I’m pretty sure he never even went to high school. She made the point that the way most people perceive mountain folk is often very wrong. When I set out to write books I wanted to have characters who sort of turned people's expectations on their heads. I tried to portray mountain people as being as three-dimensional as they really are.
Beau is a great supporting character who transcends the "gay best friend" cliché; how did you come up with him?
Well, Beau is a character who based on two people in my family. He has a personality like my brother (who is not gay), but he’s also influenced by another member of my family whom I've always admired a great deal. There’s a scene in the book in which Beau brings a Barbie lunchbox to school, that I borrowed from this person's life. I was always awestruck by him. There’s no way, even as a kid, he'd be anything other than himself; he never pretended. In the South, that took an amazing degree of courage. I hope he finds the portrayal of Beau very flattering.
Have you shown him the book?
No, I tried to get him over for dinner, but he has a much more interesting social life than I do!
Has Hollywood expressed any interest in The Eternal Ones or Kiki Strike?
Yeah, there's been a lot of interest in Kiki Strike. The problem is that it's the story of six girls, and Hollywood likes to have boys in the mix. There’s some stuff going on, but I shouldn’t talk about it, if only to avoid being murdered by my agent. But Hollywood should want these books. I mean, they have man-eating rats!
Are you planning a sequel to The Eternal Ones? What about more Kiki Strike books?
I just finished the first draft of the Eternal Ones sequel -- I don’t have a title yet. Second books are a lot of fun to write. It’s easier to leap right into the action, and this one is pretty darn fast-paced. And “yes” to Kiki! The third (called The Darkness Dwellers) is already in the works, and should be done pretty soon. Hopefully, it will be out pretty soon after that. Each of the Kiki books has a theme. The theme for this one is etiquette. Naturally, it’s a lot of fun -- just imagine Kiki taking on etiquette!
Any other projects you’re working on?
Every author has a blog. I have two; I have to go the extra mile. No, it’s largely because they're so much fun to do. I figured out a while ago that I’ve got no interest in writing about Kirsten Miller. I’ve been writing the Kiki Strike blog for four years now. It's gotten very popular. Basically, it contains everything weird and wonderful that I come across. Along the way I'll write about things, like monkeys escaping from a research center, that I know will end up in the Kiki Strike books. It’s fun to leave hints in the blog.
For The Eternal Ones, I focus on past lives. People send in pictures, so I tell them who they were.
How have the readers reacted to your “readings?”
Most of them love the readings. They're pretty nutty. There've been people who have been bearded women, or on their own island in Tierra del Fuego. When I started, I didn't know how many folks would send pictures. Now I have a backlog miles long, and I’ve got to figure out how I can get them done!
What authors do you consider your influences?
There are a lot of them. I adore the stories of Michael Chabon. Growing up, I lived in this small town that had just one small bookstore. This was long before Amazon, and I'd read about this book, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, and I just knew that I needed to read it. I went through the most laborious process of ordering and waiting weeks for it in the mail. It’s probably the book I’ve read more times than any other. There’s something about it that captured my imagination. I still think of Pittsburgh as a magical place with cloud factories and punk librarians. What he did to Pittsburgh, I try to do to New York in the same way, because I think New York City is the most magical place on earth if you're open to seeing the magic.
The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller. Razorbill, $17.99 Aug. ISBN 978-1-595-14308-2