If you follow me on Instagram, you saw that I got to meet and listen to Delia Owens discuss her debut fiction novel Where the Crawdads Sing. I reviewed it a few months ago and absolutely adored the novel, so I was PUMPED to meet her and hear what she would reveal about the novel. When introduced, I learned that Owens has written quite a few nonfiction books about wildlife, and she spent many years studying wildlife (like elephants, hyenas, and primates) in Africa (Botswana and Zambia). Also, she grew up in Georgia on a farm (she was a horse girl too!) and she got the title of the book from her mother, who used to tell her to go outside and play where the crawdads sing. Fun fact though- crawdads DON’T sing, haha.
To start things off, one of the audience members asked the burning question- How does Kya fend off the mosquitos? Laughing, Delia said explained that the North Carolina coastal marshes are actually rather windy. This broke the ice for everyone, and questions started flowing. Trying to be a smart cookie, I used my audio recorder app to catch answers to the questions- many of which I wanted to ask myself! I’ll paraphrase the questions, and then write Delia’s answers.
Why did (Delia) choose to have Kya abandoned at such a young age?
I had to be very careful to make this story realistic. I didn’t want something that just couldn’t happen… This story could have happened, it could’ve been true. She was abandoned, but by the time she was truly abandoned, she was old enough to survive. She knew how to build a fire in the wood stove, she could fish, she truly could survive. And that’s one of the reasons why I chose her to be close to the marsh in North Carolina- there is food, and I know I’m not an expert on the marsh, but I know it quite well and you can collect mussels and fish, there are things that you can eat to survive. So that was the reason I chose that age.
Why was education important to Kya?
Kya was a very intelligent person…and she was very curious, and she learned about nature when she didn’t have the words- she knew the birds and their feathers but she had to make up her own names for the birds because she didn’t know their real names. And there’s only so far you can go without and education, and her brain and her spirit were so ready to learn more. So I think it was very important that she became educated and then, then the sky was the limit. It’s like Tate says in the book, “Once you can read anything, you can learn everything.”
Your writing is so descriptive and in touch with nature- do you write outside?
I do a lot of writing in nature- nature is my muse. I get up at 4:30 in the morning and write because I’m an early morning person… and I’d write. But, if I get stuck on anything, I never sit there and just stare at the screen- I go outside, and I walk along the creeks. And I live in Northern Idaho in the beautiful mountains… when I get out in nature, the words just flow by. So I take a pad and write everything down. Yes, that’s where I do my best thinking.
Did you write Kya’s character based on your own personal experiences? Were you abandoned/ where did you get that detail?
I was not abandoned, but I did live a lonely life and a life of isolation. I think that that was one of the reasons I wanted to write about how loneliness can change a person. And not just loneliness but rejection, discrimination- all those things affect us, they change us. There’s a lot of me in Kya- the love of the outdoors, the exploring, the will to learn- but I think there’s a lot of Kya in all of us, because Kya taught us that we can do a lot more than we think. We can just about do anything that we have to do. She was strong. I worked very hard to make her believable but also to show how strong we can be.
In what order did you write the book- from beginning to end or the other way around? Did you plan the ending?
I started with the ending. I came up with the ending and I love the idea of that ending. So I went back to the beginning and built the characters up on that and then linked them from the beginning to the ending.
Audience member commented on appreciating the nature aspect of the novel, and asked, Did you visit the marsh to aid in the writing process?
The marsh is very much a character in this book, and the marsh became [Kya’s] mother, and the marsh represented nature, and nature is our mother. I feel very strongly about that, because we all need nature, and we don’t think about it very often that way. I worked very hard to develop that, and I’m glad you appreciated that!
I grew up in South Georgia, and my family used to go to North Carolina every summer on vacation, and we would go to the marsh a lot…so I knew the marsh really well. So when I was getting ready to write the book I did make several trips to make sure I got it right… and I knew when I went back it was the right place, and it did affect me deeply and I felt very much a part of that [place]. I love that environment. But if you’ll notice the book is written into two parts- part one is the marsh, part two is the swamp. I did that on purpose, and for poetic reasons. I feel like during our lives, almost all of us end up, at one time or another, in the swamp, in a darker place. This book is about, if you find yourself in a darker place like a swamp, move back to the light. A marsh is very light, and it’s very symbolic of those two parts of life.
Are you working on anything new, and if so, how long do we have to wait before we can read it?!
I am writing another novel, and I am so grateful that right now I don’t have much time to write because I’m out doing this! So I do want to write and I have started one. I know basically what I want to do. I want to write another novel that has the same theme of our ancient behavior and how it affects us today. It’ll be totally different [than Crawdads] but I want to stick with that sort of idea.
In your opening statement, you mentioned losing touch with your group of girlfriends growing up. Have you since reconnected?
Yes, and they are still my best friends today. I have dedicated the book to them. [Growing up] the four of us used to take the train from Thomasville, GA to Boston, GA which took about fifteen minutes, and we’d go over there and spend the weekend with the twin’s grandmother, Dani (spelling?). So Barbara, the twins and I would sit around her kitchen table and she [Dani] taught us a toast: Here’s toldja, and I’d never see’dja, I’d never know’dja. And we’d pour Coca Cola into shot glasses, and we would drink, we would say that toast ten, fifteen times, just over and over! So now when we get together, that’s the first thing we do, we sit down and say, here’s toldja, and I’d never see’dja, I’d never know’dja. But we don’t put Coca Cola in [the shot glasses] no more. (audience laughing)
How long did it take you to write Crawdads?
Oh I’m always embarrassed to answer this question so a lot of disclaimers here… It took me ten years to write this book. But, I was doing other things. Truly I was! It was after I came back from Africa, I still had a project going on there in Africa so I was raising funds for that. I was doing research on grizzly bears and wolves in norther Idaho, and I was doing a lot of other work. So, I would get up at 4:30 and work on the book but I didn’t think it would really ever happen! It was sort of like a hobby. Then one time I put it away for two years- put it in a box and just thought, ah, you know, I tried but it didn’t work. Thank goodness I brought it out again! So it wasn’t ten years of working every day. (laughs) I don’t know why I feel like I have to explain it, but [shrugs]. (audience laughs)
What are some of your favorite books?
One of the books I love the most is Aldo Leopold’s The Sand County Almanac, because it’s nature writing and I love that. One of my other favorites is books is West With The Night by Beryl Markham, I love it and I love her writing and it’s about Africa so I love that part of it. To Kill a Mockingbird, I love it. It was very important to me for this book because it made me realize that it’s okay to see the world through a little girl’s eyes. We can see a lot through a little girl’s eyes.
Do you ever get writer’s block?
I get up early in the morning and write, but the way I really write is I always keep a little pad with me- I have one with me now! And when I go to sleep at night, I take the pad of paper, a pen, and a flashlight. Because I just write all day long, and things come to me in my mind- maybe when I’m working on a certain chapter- and I might write on the computer but then as I go through my day, whatever I’m doing, things keep coming to my mind to make it better. I don’t sit at the computer and try to make it better- I get out and go do something else, and words just come to my mind. And so, when I wake up in the morning and look at my little sheet of paper, and I’ll think, Oh, I had a great idea last night! And I’ll look at my little pad and, you know, won’t be able to read it at all! (audience laughs) Or I’ll say, that’s not very good, why did I think that was so great? (audience laughs) But I have a whole box filled with these little pieces of paper and can go through those and find some of the words that ended up in the book, or phrases- like “The marsh became her mother.” It was on one of those slips of paper, and it came to me from somewhere, I don’t know where, but I wrote it down on my scraps!
Alright, those are all the question and answers that I managed to get recorded, but I sure think there’s a ton of great information in them! I hope you all enjoy getting to learn a little bit more about Delia Owens and her novel. I am so glad that she could come to Lexington, that Joseph-Beth was able to host, and that I happened to have the night free to go enjoy this!