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3 Questions for Kathryn Lasky, Author of The Escape (Horses of the Dawn Book 1)

It’s a brand new year and we have a brand new book from the bestselling and award-winning author, Kathryn Lasky.

Horses of the Dawn: The Escape by Kathryn Lasky

Here’s the synopsis from publisher:

The horses are in danger. They were rounded up by the two-legs and forced onto a boat to cross the wide ocean. The journey went badly and the boat was deemed too heavy, so the two-legs forced the horses into the sea and sailed away, leaving the herd to die in the deep.

By a miracle, the horses survived and made it to land. All but one — the ghost horse, the leader of the pack. Now it’s up to her daughter, only a filly, to take charge of the terrified herd. Stranded in a new land, surrounded by two-legs, will the horses find a way to live safe and free?

I had the opportunity to ask Kathryn some questions about her brand new book. (Questions are in bold, responses are below.)

Q#1: (The obvious question :) ) Why horses? Were you into horses and horse books growing up?

Kathryn Lasky: Actually I was not into horses as much as one might think. I did like horse books a lot. But the impetus for writing this book came out of something other than just being a horse lover. It came out of my passion for history. I think going back to my earliest recollections of elementary school I can recall the social studies curriculum that taught us about the Spanish Conquistadors and their early explorations of the New World. We were taught of course that the Spanish brought the ‘first’ horses to the New World. Hernando Cortes is credited with bringing these horses to the continent in 1519.

We all know so much about the Spaniards—Cortes, De Soto, Ponce De Leon. I think one of the first real tests I ever had to take, say in the second or third grade was matching the explorer with the territory he explored. We were supposed to draw a line between the explorer and that territory—like Ponce De Leon to Florida, De Soto to the Mississippi River and Louisiana.

Over the years it seemed to me that the stories of these explorers and their lust for gold had become almost threadbare , or worn out from being told so many times in history books, in curriculums and in novels. What new could one say? And then I discovered this little tidbit that I had never heard about which was that there had been horses in the New World but they had disappeared millions of years before the Spaniards had arrived. So that when that first horse of Cortes set a hoof down on the soil of the mainland it was for that horse a return of sorts. For it was on the continent of the New World that the first horse Eohippus equus, known as the Dawn Horse, had evolved. Of course the Dawn Horse did not look much like the modern horses we know today. It was tiny, no more than ten to twenty inches in height. Over the vastness of time that tiny creature changed and became the progenitor of three other species of horses much closer to what we now consider a modern horse. But those horses then vanished perhaps two million years before the arrival of Cortes.

This was all incredibly intriguing to me. So I thought why not tell the story of the Spanish coming to the New World from the horses’ point of view. Winston Churchill once said that history is written by the victors. THE ESCAPE is in one sense a novel of alternate history in that it is not being told from the perspective of the victors or the vanquished, but of the horses. I think of it as an equine retelling of the coming of horses to the New World which for them was ultimately a homecoming after millions upon millions of years.

Q #2: Some of your reviews have mentioned violence against animals in your plotline. How do you know when violence is right for a story? Did you have any qualms about including these scenes?

KL: Violence is unfortunately part of history. It is the blood thread that is shuttled through the warp and the weft of history. There is violence against people as well as animals. I think violence is only abused in literature when it is put in arbitrarily or gratuitously. All the instances in my book are documented. For example Bernal Diaz de Castillo’s traveled with Cortes to the New World and in his definitive history of the Spanish Conquest he reports a battle in which the Indians (of what is now Mexico) cut off the head of a horse and sent it around to villages to prove that horses were not Gods, but mortal. This was quite key to the subsequent events for until that moment the Indians of the Yucatan peninsula believed that the Spaniards  as well as these immense animals on which they rode were immortal. So to answer your question you know it is right when it is a part of the story that supports a deeper comprehension of the period and the characters in that story.

Q #3: You were recently on my blog for your YA novel The Extra — how do you juggle writing such different types of books?

KL: It is wonderful. To me these two books on one level are not that different. The Extra is an historical novel just as The Escape is. In The Extra set in Nazi German I chose, as I did with The Escape, to tell it from a more uncommon perspective—that of a Roma (Gypsy) girl and not that of a Jewish person as a victim of the Nazis. So again I have taken a slightly offbeat angle to explore a very well known time period. And with both books I get to do what I love most—dig into history (I love research), figure out a new take on old events, find some unique situation that possibly got overlooked in other accounts—be they novels or nonfiction—then try and run with it.

Thank you, Kathryn, for being on the blog!

Stay tuned, because next week I’ll host a giveaway of the ARC (Advance Review Copy) that Kathryn Lasky mailed me (you have my permission to be jealous). I’m halfway through the book now, and I can tell you it’s definitely exciting! I think fans of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series will love this one too.

But if you just can’t wait to see if you’ll win the giveaway, the book launches today, so go ahead and order your copy from Amazon or from your local indie bookstore!

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