Willow, Julia Hoban. After tearing through Willow's poignant story in record time, I found myself thinking about it for days (and days) afterwards, resulting in a number of questions. Happily, Julia was kind enough to satisfy my lingering curiosity with some truly insightful answers and I thought I'd share those with you today!
Welcome Julia! Okay, so both Willow’s parents were professors of Anthropology while Guy and Willow herself are no slackers when it comes to the subject. Where did you come up with all the background information for such sites/cultures? Are you a fan yourself or did you just do mountains of research?
That’s the only part of the book I didn’t research! I had to take an Anthropology class in college as a humanities requirement, and I’m sorry to say that it was tremendously boring! I remember one particularly warm day when the windows were closed and the heating was going full blast, I could barely keep my eyes open. Then all of a sudden the Professor said something about the first mirrors, and I sat bolt upright. I was wide awake in an instant, completely fascinated, I had never thought about the origin of mirrors before, but what an idea! I knew right then that I had to write about that somewhere, and when I started Willow, I decided it would be something Willow would talk about.
One of the other anthropological references in Willow is to Tristes Tropiques, an absolutely remarkable book that she and Guy discuss, in fact, I’d say they start to fall in love the minute they start to talk about TT. But as much as I love TT, it took me quite a while to decide to use that as the work that would be the bond between them. I assumed that most anthropology texts would not be familiar to my readers, but I wanted to refer to a book that would resonate in some way. Now Tristes Tropiques is the only book (to the best of my knowledge) that has never had its title changed for translation. The title is Tristes Tropiques in French, and when it was originally published in this country, that title was kept. It was thought to be too evocative, too provocative, to change. The literal translation “Sad Tropics” just doesn’t have the same melancholy beauty. I have to say I agree with the publishers, and even if you’ve never heard of the book, and even if you’ve never had more than high school French, I believe the title does have a certain resonance, that it does conjure up a certain mood.
I have to admit, I was one of those readers who had never heard about Tristes Tropiques. But now I find I have this sudden desire to go track it down...
While we're on the subject, by any chance is Willow's copy of Bulfinch's Mythology a slight nod to that classic text Mythology by Edith Hamilton? I have a myriad of high school and college memories from that book alone.
It’s funny that you should ask that! The entire time I was working on Willow I kept going back and forth between the Bulfinch and the Hamilton! I went with the Bulfinch in the end for two reasons: 1) I’m fortunate enough to have a rather beautiful edition on my shelf, and 2) although I also have memories of Edith Hamilton from high school, Bulfinch was my introduction to the Greek myths.
What was your inspiration for writing Willow in the first place? And was it always meant to be a love story?
Well, I’ve said this many times, so I hope that if your readers have seen other interviews with me, they’ll be kind and put up with a familiar answer. I wanted to write a book for all of us with self destructive urges, a book that would take one person from a place of self harm to a place of healing, and in doing so possibly make people question their own damaging behaviors. I chose to make Willow a cutter because it is a very dramatic and obvious form of self injury, but it could just as easily have been a book about overeating or doing drugs, or even something as innocent as watching too much television. You may be surprised to hear this, but when I was doing the research for Willow, I found that many of the treatment centers that dealt with cutting also dealt with internet addiction. My point is that even seemingly acceptable behaviors can be less than healthy. As for it always being a love story? Absolutely!! In fact at one point it had the working title: Willow: A Love Story, Sort Of …. That title didn’t last very long though!
As a YA author do you feel that you have a responsibility to write about such powerful – and highly sensitive - issues such as cutting or anorexia or how to deal with profound grief?
Well, no, I think that YA authors, all authors should write about whatever they choose to. However, I think when a YA author does write about certain subjects, then they do have a responsibility to deal with them in ways that are not incumbent on authors in other genres. Let’s talk about the sex in Willow for instance. If I had been writing a sex scene in an adult novel, I wouldn’t have felt the need to explicitly refer to birth control -- as I did in Willow. I would sooner cut off my arm than write a scene where two teens didn’t practice safe sex, unless that was the entire point of the scene, unless I was specifically writing to show the consequences of not practicing safe sex. I had quite a heated argument with another YA author about this by the way, they were in complete disagreement with me.
Were there any particular scenes that were especially painful for you to write? How did you, as an author, go about working through such traumatic moments in Willow’s story?
There was a scene that was tremendously difficult for me to write, and you may be surprised to hear what that scene was. I didn’t have any problem with the cutting scenes, or the more graphic parts of the novel, but the scene where Willow finally let’s go and starts to genuinely grieve? That was enormously hard for me. As a writer, as cliché as it sounds, the only way out is through, you just have to keep going and come out on the other side, only then can you take a look at what you’ve written and see if it holds up. It’s fatal to edit in the middle of the process.
Is there a particular book (or movie for that matter) you wish you had written?
There are a million movies and books I’d wish I’d written! I’ll just mention a few here: Sunset Boulevard, the best film dialogue in history, rent it immediately! Amadeus, the play NOT the movie, Tess of the D’urbervilles, Enoch Soames, a short story by Max Beerbohm, The Glass Menagerie, The Sound and the Fury --- I could die happy if I’d written that. One Hundred Years of Solitude, that’s another one I’d sell my soul to have written… You really don’t want to get me started on this, because I could go on forever!
What books do you find yourself recommending over and over and over again?
The Railway Children is something I recommend to everyone, Tess, The Glass Menagerie…. Interestingly enough, although I think The Sound and the Fury is one of the greatest books ever written, I don’t find myself recommending it that often, although a masterpiece, it’s definitely not the right read for everyone.
Isn't that the truth?! I haven't picked up The Sound and the Fury after it gave me no end of headaches in high school, but I'm sure I'd have a much better experience reading it now.
So many books come out each year, but are there any in particular that you are really looking forward to reading?
Invisible Things by Jenny Davidson, it’s the sequel to The Explosionist, and comes out in November.
Are you currently working on another project? Can you tell us anything about it? Please?
I am working on another project, and I’m afraid that I have to give the same stock answer that I’ve given other interviewers, I’m WAY too superstitious to talk about it until it’s finished. However, I can add something a little new this time --- I’m 75% done, and will be able to talk about it soon! I hope you’ll invite me back to discuss it!
Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by today Julia. It was a pleasure to have you!
Well, thank you for having me! It’s a real privilege to be able to discuss my work, and I’m honored that you were interested in hearing more about the thoughts and processes that went into writing Willow.
A quick heads-up and some mighty good news for all you UK readers: Just this month, Willow was re-released in the UK complete with a shiny new cover and title: Scarred. Trust me when I say it's one you won't want to miss!