By: Elana K Arnold
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: February 25th, 2020
You are alone in the woods, seen only by the unblinking yellow moon. Your hands are empty. You are nearly naked.
And the wolf is angry.
Since her grandmother became her caretaker when she was four years old, Bisou Martel has lived a quiet life in a little house in Seattle. She’s kept mostly to herself. She’s been good. But then comes the night of homecoming, when she finds herself running for her life over roots and between trees, a fury of claws and teeth behind her. A wolf attacks. Bisou fights back. A new moon rises. And with it, questions. About the blood in Bisou’s past and on her hands as she stumbles home. About broken boys and vicious wolves. About girls lost in the woods—frightened, but not alone.
1) You have used fantasy previously to explore painful subjects that threaten women, giving a twist to fairy tales and their happily ever after. What inspired you to rewrite these tales and did you always have specific tales in mind to explore specific topics?
I begin each book with a flash of an idea—either about a character, a setting, or a plot point. RED HOOD began for me when I had such an idea, one night under a full moon. Like DAMSEL, this book explores toxic masculinity and feminine power in a world laced with fantasy elements. RED HOOD is set in modern-day Seattle, and it’s a reimagining, of course, of Red Riding Hood, in which the Red Hood—my protagonist Bisou—gains power, like the werewolves she must combat—when the full moon rises… but unlike the wolves, for Bisou, with the full moon comes her menses.
All of my writing comes from a lived experience or observation, combined with “what if.” I got the idea for RED HOOD one night almost three years ago. I was ice skating in an outdoor rink up near Yosemite. The rink was ringed with trees, and the sky was clear. A full moon winked down. And I had just begun my period.
So, there I was—in the forest, in the trees, with a full moon above my menstruating female body. Looking up at the moon, I thought how interesting it is that both my body and werewolves’ bodies are on a 28-day moon cycle. And I thought—as I often think—what if?
What if there was a girl who, when she got her period for the first time, under the light of a full moon, found that with her blood came an ability? The ability to hunt wolves.
It could be written entirely in second person, so that the readers—you—become Bisou Martel, a menstruating teenage werewolf hunter.
This struck me as such a good idea that I was amazed and astounded that the book in my imagination hadn’t been written already, by someone else. So I began to write it, with a sense of urgency that I didn’t fully understand, at the time.
2) A book goes through a lot of different versions and rounds of editing before it’s complete. What are some “fun facts” or behind the scenes info you can share about the characters from your book or the world you created for it that may or may not have made it to the final draft of the book?
RED HOOD was an exceptionally fun book to draft, and an especially challenging book to revise. It’s difficult, I found, to revise a second person POV.
There were other challenges, as well. This book follows moon cycles, so I had to pay close attention to the lunar calendar as I wrote and revised, which gave me lots of hair-pulling moments.
And, there’s a section of the book that tells us about an older character’s younger years; researching the 1970s and 1980s for cultural references was both a pleasure and a challenge.
3) Who was your favorite character to write and who gave you the most trouble? If you could ask a character of your choice from RED HOOD one question what would it be?
I love all my characters, but Bisou’s grandmother, whom she calls Mémé, is perhaps my very dearest. In some ways, she reminds me of my Nana, who was the most important person in my life for many, many years.
Writing the book was, essentially, asking all my characters questions, and then listening for their answers, over the course of several years. I’ve asked the questions and received the answers; I feel satisfied.
4) What scene from the book are you most proud of (because of how you handled the atmosphere, characters, dialogue, etc)? Is there a scene that you had difficulty with and just had to “power through” to finish the book? Or a scene that made you very emotional?
There’s a fight scene near the book’s beginning. I wrote that scene—which is intense and bloody and epically rad—while sitting in a quiet café. I remember looking up when I was finished, looking around at the other people in the café, and thinking, wow. None of these people know the battle I’ve just been through. It was an awesome feeling.
5) What is on your desk or where you write? What do you need to write? Do you have a writer’s survival kit? What is your writing process? Are you a plotter or a panster? Which do you prefer: drafting or revising?
I don’t usually write on a desk; more often, I write on a chair or sometimes in bed. Right now, I’m tucked in, surrounded by my hounds.
At its most basic, I need my brain and my laptop to write. I don’t like writing longhand; I love the clickety-clack of my keyboard.
When I’m first exploring an idea, I usually begin with a burst of storytelling. I write until I hit a wall, and then I stop and research. Research is different for each book; for RED HOOD, I read and reread every version of Little Red Riding Hood I could find; I researched witchcraft, zodiac signs, moon calendars, menstruation, werewolf lore, poets of the 1970s, Quebec, and more.
Once my imagination is sparked by my research, I return to my manuscript and forge ahead until I hit another wall; then, back to research.
I love writing, and I love revising… usually, I think I love revising while I’m creating a manuscript, and then I think I love creating fresh material while I’m deep in revision. The truth is, writing is hard, but it’s so very satisfying to create a story that it’s worth all the challenges.
ELANA K. ARNOLD is the author of critically acclaimed and award-winning young adult novels and children’s books, including the Printz Honor winner Damsel, the National Book Award finalist What Girls Are Made Of, and Global Read Aloud selection A Boy Called Bat and its sequels. Several of her books are Junior Library Guild selections and have appeared on many best book lists, including the Amelia Bloomer Project, a catalog of feminist titles for young readers. Elana teaches in Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program and lives in Southern California with her family and menagerie of pets.
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