TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Eowyn: I have very good hearing – my family jokes that I have the ears of a bat. But it’s actually kind of a curse. When I first sit down to write, the littlest noise irritates me to the point that I can’t focus. I’ll be begging everyone, please stop walking around, please turn down the TV, in fact, just turn it off. But once I’m swallowed up in the story and writing away, it’s like I go deaf. Loud music, daughters arguing -- I can’t hear a thing.
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
Eowyn: This is a difficult question for me, because I’m such an avid reader – I have many favorite writers, and I keep finding more. Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine was probably the first book that really stunned me, that made me want to be a better writer. Wallace Stegner, Jonathan Safran Foer, Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, Ernest Hemingway, Marilynne Robinson, Larry McMurtry … I could keep going on and on. I also find poetry incredibly inspiring to the writing process. Some of my favorite poets: Olena Kalytiak Davis, Seamus Heaney, John Haines, Mary Oliver. See, you’re going to have a hard time shutting me up.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Eowyn: I hate to be wishy-washy, but I would have to say a bit of both. I like to have a rough outline in my head, but it constantly changes. I like to have some idea of the narrative arc, but I’m not afraid to let the story take its own path – in fact, I love it when that happens. It’s the same with characters – I’ll try to sketch them out some, but I want them to surprise me. Writing is the most thrilling to me when it’s about discovery.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Eowyn: Making time for it. Like everyone else, I have the normal daily demands of work, family schedules, etc. We have a rural lifestyle with its own demands, and we’re building our own house out-of-pocket as we live in it. But it’s more than all that. I enjoy a lot of different pastimes. I like to read, and go to the opera, and sled, and hike, and hunt and fish and make wildberry jam, and visit with friends and family, and sometimes knit. And did I mention, I love to read. I am easily sidetracked by all these other fun things. But once I’m absorbed in my story, it’s so exciting that I wonder why I don’t spend more time doing it.
TQ: Describe The Snow Child in 140 characters or less.
Eowyn: Ah, a bookish tweet! “1920 Alaska. Jack & Mabel isolated and sad. Until they build a child of snow, then catch sight of a little girl running through the forest.”
TQ: What inspired you to write The Snow Child?
Eowyn: I work as a bookseller at Fireside Books here in Alaska, and one night I was shelving when I came across a children’s illustrated version of the classic Russian fairy tale of the snow maiden. I read it standing there in the store, and I knew this was it. This was the plot line I had always been looking for. It was a magical story set in a landscape that could be my own backyard. I ended up abandoning an entirely different novel I had been working on for five years, and in less than a year I had a first draft of The Snow Child.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Snow Child?
Eowyn: It’s funny, because it never felt like research. I was just following my own fascination. After I stumbled on that children’s book of Snegurochka, I discovered many different versions told over hundreds of years in Russian lacquer paintings, opera and ballet. All of it fueled my imagination. In terms of Jack and Mabel’s life on their homestead, it was informed by my own. My husband and I grew up in Alaska. We have a vegetable garden, hunt moose and caribou for our own meat, gather wild berries, heat our home with a woodstove, and try to live a somewhat self-sufficient lifestyle. When I wrote about Jack field dressing a moose, I didn’t have to do any research – we do that every autumn.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?
Eowyn: Esther, although she came to me late in the process, was the easiest character to write. I loved her from the beginning, and she was a wonderful relief from the sort of sad, somber mood in Jack and Mabel’s house. I’ve known a lot of Alaskan women like her, so she was like an old friend. Perhaps predictably, the snow child Faina was the most challenging character. She was a great lesson to me as a writer – the information you withhold from your reader is as important as what you share. I have pages and pages about her from earlier drafts that I ultimately discarded because I knew I needed to trust my readers and allow their imaginations to work.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in The Snow Child?
Eowyn: The scenes in the wilderness -- Jack’s moose, Faina leading Mabel into the mountains. These are the places I know and love, so it was a joy to me to be able to write about them. I like novels that sweep me away to a faraway place, and I wanted to be able to do that for other people. I wanted to bring readers to Alaska and show them what I admire and fear about it.
TQ: What's next?
Eowyn: My next novel shares some similarities with The Snow Child. It’s set in historic Alaska and has some fantastical elements. But I’m imagining this next one as something a bit more epic and adventurous. In the meantime, I’m still having a lot of fun with The Snow Child. I’ve been doing some traveling far from Alaska – Winter Institute in New Orleans, an event in Denver at the fabulous Tattered Cover, and a visit to the England and Scotland to promote the book there.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Read Eowyn's guest blog about The Snow Child here.
About The Snow Child
The Snow ChildReagan Arthur Books/Little, Brown (February 1, 2012)
Hardcover, 400 pages
Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart--he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone--but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.
This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.
Letters from Alaska (blog)
Some Foreign Covers