Our talents end up defining us in ways that aren't always great. I thought that would be an interesting idea to explore.

How did you first start writing fiction?

I was the typical little sister who wanted to be just like her older brother. When I was growing up, my brother wrote phenomenal stories, so I wanted to write them, too.

And yet you're the one who ended up with a writing career.

[Laughs.] I kind of stole his talent.

One of the best things that ever happened to me was having an older brother who quite literally is a genius, while I'm just smart. Everything comes naturally to him, while I'm a typical overachiever. I think it really was a gift that I've always had to work very, very hard to master the skills I want to learn.

So if writing isn't your true talent, what is?

Packing suitcases. I used to joke that if I was ever in the Miss America pageant, I'd pack a suitcase for the talent competition. I can pretty much pack anything. Before I start, I pile everything I'm taking on my bed. I like to get a visual. I figure out what is the bulkiest thing and what can go into corners and the toes of shoes, and what can go on top of what.

I hear you also have a very talented cat.

Henry. He's completely nuts. Probably his most impressive skill is that he can turn lights on and off from the switch. He likes to do it in the morning if he thinks he's not being fed on time.

It took me a while to figure it out. I'd leave in the morning thinking that I'd turned off all the lights, but when I came home, they'd be on. Then one day, my roommate caught him in the act. She heard this thump, thump, thump, and saw him leaping up against the wall and flicking the switch.

Luckily, in the apartment I have now it's very difficult for Henry to reach the lights, so my electricity bill has gone back down.

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

About the book

"A Tangle of Knots" by Lisa Graff was just published by Philomel Books. Recommended for ages 8 and up. 240 pages; $16.99.

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