As Joanna Ruth Meyer waited in line for tea, I breathed a sigh of relief. Not only had she thankfully ended my 376th time reading the same sentence over and over again, but I had also chosen her favorite table. There. Already, we had another thing in common. We were off to a good start. She had written ECHO NORTH, I had read ECHO NORTH. It was a good time. As we sat in the corner table against the window overlooking the fluorescently illuminated commercial fountain, we just talked books. We had a lot in common – our love for Tolkien, Edinburgh, lyrical language, fantasy, fairy tales, tea, our table – but it was all about the books. They were all around us, amidst the crying children and scraping chairs, and regrettably mild weather of November in Arizona. For Joanna, however, November means more than just patiently waiting for a semblance of winter. It means writing for NaNoWriMo – writing and rewriting and rewriting two and a half more times to eventually produce the copy of ECHO NORTH on the table before us.
Interview with Joanna Ruth Meyer: ECHO NORTH
Anna Gerwig: In the novel, Echo is named after her mother’s heartbeat and Hal and the Wolf both mention that they’ve read a story about a girl named Echo. How did you choose the name? Is it supposed to be connected to the myth?
Joanna Ruth Meyer: It wasn’t. I liked the word and the concept. I thought it was really interesting. It was one of those names I’ve always wanted to write a character for. Sometimes I have to search for characters’ names, but she always had hers.
Anna Gerwig: It also reminds me of the two timelines, in a way like a repetition.
Joanna Ruth Meyer: Yeah! That works.
Anna Gerwig: Echo was inspired by some myths. Were those stories you always found interesting?
Joanna Ruth Meyer: It’s very influenced by Beauty and the Beast, one of my favorite fairytales.
Anna Gerwig: Which is why we needed a ball scene!
Joanna Ruth Meyer: Yeah! It’s basically a retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon which, along with Beauty and the Beast, come from the Cupid and Psyche myth. And so, basically, Ivan’s book at the end is more like the original, with a white bear and the girl trying to light a candle and riding on the backs of the winds. It was interesting, but…
Anna Gerwig: You got to make it your own.
Joanna Ruth Meyer: Exactly. The whole “don’t let go” thing is from the Tamlin ballad, which is a Scottish ballad, which I learned from Fire and Hemlock by Dianna Wynne Jones. The whole time travel thing just spiraled from random thoughts. I love fairytales and retellings of fairytales. I never thought I would do one, because I love them so much, I didn’t know if I could do it justice, but it just kind of happened.
Anna Gerwig: The book mirrors added your own spin. How did those come into the story?
Joanna Ruth Meyer: That came from trying to solve the question: how do I get a girl and a wolf to interact? So I thought she would interact with his human self in book worlds. And who doesn’t want to explore an enchanted book?
Anna Gerwig: Yes – a wolf and a girl… that is an interesting problem.
Joanna Ruth Meyer: Yeah and I had to face it anyway, because they had to connect as well. So they had piano lessons and tending the house.
Anna Gerwig: There are moments when he’s really brooding over the curse, so having those moments in the house and book mirrors are really necessary to understand his character.
Joanna Ruth Meyer: Right. And they’re kind of like the different parts of his personality.
I love that concept [of the book mirrors]. It’s kind of poking fun at myself and other authors for all of our detail world building behind the scenes that no one ever sees.
Although sometimes backstory is so necessary that it does show up.
For drafts, I keep things I cut in a separate folder. Like the lighthouse was in the original draft, but I cut that in drafts 2 and 3, but I loved it so much I figured out how to keep it.
Anna Gerwig: What led to the element of Echo’s scars? How did you decide to represent her relationship with that physical and emotional struggle?
Joanna Ruth Meyer: It was important to me to have a character that wasn’t traditionally beautiful and it was also interesting to play with the whole beauty and the beast combo. It was an important thread I wanted to be in there and I think it’s important, if you add that to the story, to deal with it, too. She’s very affected by it and I like that, throughout the book, she comes to accept that and accept that part of herself, to the point where she’s proud of it, when Hal knows it’s her fault but she wouldn’t trade them for anything.
Anna Gerwig: I liked how her transition was a process, which really respects that experience and past. It was so impactful that in the previous timeline, she didn’t have scars, because that was what she always wanted, but, like you said, she wouldn’t trade them.
Joanna Ruth Meyer: Yeah and then at the end, I was trying to draw out a comparison between her and Mokosh, because Mokosh is also ashamed of her appearance and wants to change it, and they handle it differently.
Anna Gerwig: That juxtaposition is really strong. I think that’s why I hurt for her– she deals with the same struggle as Echo, but has a different response.
Joanna Ruth Meyer: Yeah, and in the end Echo can see herself in Mokosh. It kind of gets into what beauty is and what it means – it’s not superficial.
Anna Gerwig: It was so powerful. I also liked, at the end of the novel, it wasn’t just happily ever after – like “yay we’re saved – everything is great.” She and Hal had tension they had to work through. Did you always know you wanted to include that last piece at the end?
Joanna Ruth Meyer: Yeah, that was really important to me, too, because you know, it’s not just instant happily ever after. They didn’t know each other, really, and they had to build a relationship on something, as they worked through the trauma together. The whole epilogue wasn’t in the first draft. There was so much that had happened. Hal had so much guilt and Echo was dealing with a lot of insecurity, and those are real, true feelings that I wanted to show and explore more.
I like that line where Echo reflects, saying she thought the journey and rescuing would be the hardest part, but it’s not. It’s finding that relationship with this man.
Anna Gerwig: Is it hard to let the world and characters go?
Joanna Ruth Meyer: Yes and no. I’ve sworn off companion novels after the one I’m working on now, but…. My editor doesn’t know this, but I do have a companion novel idea for Echo.
Anna Gerwig: Oh wow. Does it involve Mokosh?
Joanna Ruth Meyer: It does not, but she might have to come into it. She was a character that really grew a lot in the drafts. She was like barely in the first draft and then I needed her as a red herring and then she developed her own character and I wound up liking her.
Anna Gerwig: Yeah I really felt for her.
Joanna Ruth Meyer: I love the part two so much. I love what it means after everything that’s led up to it. And it was really fun to write the first part in past tense and then switch to present tense. It was really cool and no one made me change it.
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