Marie Rutkoski grew up in Chicago, Illinois, the oldest of four children. She attended the University of Iowa, where she took Writers’ Workshop classes and studied with Pulitzer Prize-winner James Alant McPherson. After graduating, she lived in Moscow and Prague. Upon receiving her Ph.D. from Harvard University, she held dual appointments as a lecturer there in both English and American Literature and Language, and History and Literature.
Marie is now a professor of English literature at Brooklyn College, where she teaches Renaissance drama, children’s literature, and fiction writing. New York City is her home, and she thinks there must be birds of prey living in Washington Square Park; she can see large, wheeling wings from the window where she sits and writes. Marie has two small sons who try very hard to make friends with the family cat, only to be snubbed for the dark quiet of a closet.
Marie can tie a double figure-eight knot with her eyes closed. She’s learning how to play the violin. She’s a sucker for fancy tea, and her favorite dessert is crème brulée. Or maybe sticky toffee pudding. Tough call.
Q. How did the idea for the story in The Winner's Curse begin? Did it start with a moment? Did the characters or setting come first?
It did start with a moment! A friend of mine, an economist, told me about the economic term “winner’s curse,” which is when someone wins an auction by paying too steep a price. It was such an evocative phrase that I began brainstorming a story that could have that title, and I knew that I wanted my winner to pay a steep emotional price. I tried to think: What thing could be up for auction that would exact a steep emotional price? Then it occurred to me: What if the thing were not a thing, but a person?
When we do great harm to others, we also do it to ourselves; we violate our own humanity. So in that sense, it was clear how buying a person would exact a steep emotional price. But that’s not quite a story. Then I thought, Well, what if this slave has a secret, a certain power that the buyer can’t see?
So I suppose I began from the idea, then arrived at the characters. Setting came later, and was inspired by the ancient world after Rome conquered Greece, though most of the trappings of my made-up world seem to be from much later periods in this world.