I’m pleased to welcome Julia Hoban, author of Willow to FictionVixen.com.
What inspired you to write this book?
JH: 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’s 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.
Describe some of the reactions that you’ve encountered about WILLOW? What was the most surprising?
JH: I’ve had so many! Truly. I never expected to receive so many heartfelt responses, and from so many different places! The other day I heard from two readers, one in Peru, the other in Hong Kong. This was amazing to me, as I assumed that no one beyond the corner grocery had even heard of me! In any case, when my husband came home, I rushed to the door and asked him if he thought that maybe I was an eensy bit famous now? He just looked at me and asked what was for dinner. The fact is though, I have been tremendously moved by the reaction to WILLOW. One type of response that has surprised as well as moved me is that I’ve heard from a fair number of young gay men and women. Some of them have told me that the “emotional honesty” in WILLOW made them decide to come out. There is a fair amount of LGBT literature out there, and I never expected WILLOW to impact people in that way, especially because the story doesn’t touch on any LGBT themes. I can say that I have been tremendously moved and honored by this reaction.
In your opinion, what are some of the most important themes in WILLOW?
JH: Well really, I think WILLOW is first and foremost a book about relationships. There are four major relationships in the book. The first is the one that WILLOW has with her parents, although they are no longer with her. There’s a famous play by Robert Anderson called “I Never Sang For My Father” and the first line is quite profound. It says “Death ends a life, but it doesn’t end a relationship.” This is something that all of us will learn at some point, and something that Willow has to learn throughout the course of the book. Unfortunately she has to learn this much earlier than most people. The second relationship is with her brother, which has been horribly fractured since their parents died. In many ways, the journey that Willow goes on throughout the book is one that re connects her with her brother. How does she embark on this journey? With Guy. It is her relationship with Guy that leads her back to her brother. Now, how does she connect with Guy? She connects with him through her love of books, and it is the love of books that is the fourth relationship in the book, and the one that ties everything else together. It is through talking about a book that she first connects with Guy. When she tries to talk to her brother about the same book (TRISTES TROPIQUES) the conversation is utterly untenable and literally sends her running off to join Guy and his friends. Willow tries to buy her brother a book, but fails utterly in this task, and buys one for Guy instead. And how do the barriers finally come down between her and her brother? When he discovers the copy of TRISTES TROPIQUES that she is planning on giving Guy.
Books play a large role in the story—what are some books that you read as a child that you hold close to your heart?
JH: That’s an easy one to answer! The Railway Children, The Railway Children, The Railway Children! Also, the Narnia books, and the entire Sherlock Holmes canon.
How did you research cutting?
JH: I did a fair amount of reading about the “technical aspects” of the disorder. Steven Levenkron’s book Cutting was very helpful. One thing that may surprise people is the amount of care many cutters take with their wounds. It may seem counter intuitive, why cut yourself and then clean and bandage the cuts? But that’s a real window into the psyche of a self injurer: as Willow says cutting is not a dress rehearsal for suicide. It is most often a way of stuffing down feelings that would otherwise be too overpowering. –- I also read many case studies, some rather harrowing memoirs, and these were invaluable. But as for getting to the depth of Willow’s need – I looked to the challenges I’ve faced in my own life. I have never been a cutter, but I have felt that kind of despair, that kind of desperation, that absolute inability to process pain in the correct way.
Who is your favorite character in the book?
JH: Now, I’m guessing that you’re expecting me to say Guy, and I do love him…. But I have a real soft spot for Willow as well. True, she’s high maintenance, but she’s also capable of great love and compassion, even in the depths of her pain. Look at the way she stands up for Vicki in the physics lab, and look at the way she responds to her brother’s tears.
Have there been any misconceptions about the book that you’d like to clear up?
JH: Well, yes, thank you for giving me the opportunity! I know that WILLOW sounds a little off putting to some people. If you look at the bare bones of the plot —the story of a young woman, who loses her parents in a car accident, and is so overcome with guilt, so isolated and alone, that she feels she has no other way to deal with her pain than by cutting herself, it sounds pretty grim. Believe me, I know! But while the above may be the basic outline of the book, the themes that WILLOW explores are really not so dire. WILLOW is really about hope, about redemption, and above all, about the power of love to heal. Now WILLOW is not the right book for everyone, no question, but I’d like to assure your readers who are a little … let’s say, frightened by the sound of it, that many, many people have told me that they found it to be a very uplifting book, a very hopeful book, and above all a very romantic book.
Why do you think that it is so important for teens to read?
JH: There are an infinite number of reasons, I’ll just give two here. One, reading can expand your horizons in ways you never dreamed, and introduce you to new worlds. Two, I can tell you from personal experience that I count many books as good and trusted friends, that there are books that have helped me through the deepest despair and through intense loneliness. That is what books can do to you and for you. Now WILLOW may not be that book for everybody, but if someone is able to learn from it, to question why they might treat themselves as less than they should, then this author will have truly done her job.
Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc. has generously offered a copy of Willow to one lucky FictionVixen.com reader.
To enter, leave a comment here answering this question: Do you think it’s important for teens to read, why or why not?
Contest is open until March 26th 9 PST. I will choose a winner at random and announce the winner on March 27. Giveaway is open to US residents only, no PO boxes please. Good luck to all who enter.