Author Spotlight: Joanna Ruth Meyer talks Echo North
I'm so excited to be featuring Joanna Ruth Meyer on the blog for the second time! Joanna's mesmerizing debut, BENEATH THE HAUNTING SEA, released in 2018, and her second book, ECHO NORTH, has been one of my most-anticipated reads since I first heard about it last year!
A wholly enchanting novel, ECHO NORTH is something special for YA fantasy readers. The Gothic tone and imagery in this book made me feel as though I was reading a classic fairy tale. In addition to the evergreen themes of family and fate--I think the thing I loved the most about ECHO NORTH is that it's a love letter to storytelling, pure and simple.
ECHO NORTH releases today from Page Street Books and you can check out the synopsis below!
"Epic and engrossing. Magic pulsates through every page.” ―Kirkus, starred review" ✭
...a compelling, satisfying romantic adventure with metafictional undertones.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review“ ✭
"...beautifully written retelling..." - School Library Journal
Echo Alkaev’s safe and carefully structured world falls apart when her father leaves for the city and mysteriously disappears. Believing he is lost forever, Echo is shocked to find him half-frozen in the winter forest six months later, guarded by a strange talking wolf―the same creature who attacked her as a child. The wolf presents Echo with an ultimatum: if she lives with him for one year, he will ensure her father makes it home safely. But there is more to the wolf than Echo realizes.In his enchanted house beneath a mountain, each room must be sewn together to keep the home from unraveling, and something new and dark and strange lies behind every door. When centuries-old secrets unfold, Echo discovers a magical library full of books- turned-mirrors, and a young man named Hal who is trapped inside of them. As the year ticks by, the rooms begin to disappear and Echo must solve the mystery of the wolf’s enchantment before her time is up otherwise Echo, the wolf, and Hal will be lost forever..
And now, here's my chat with Joanna!
Hi, Joanna! Welcome and congrats on the release of Echo North. Can you share a little about the story and what inspired it?
Thanks so much for having me, Megan!
Echo North is a retelling of the fairytale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” which, like the better known “Beauty and the Beast” has its roots in the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche. My version follows a girl called Echo who’s an outcast in her village because of facial scars she suffered as a child while trying to free a white wolf from a trap. Years later, she makes a bargain with that same white wolf to live with him in his house for a year in order to save her father’s life. Cue magic and mysteries, an enchanted library, an enigmatic stranger, and an impossible journey…
I’ve always adored fairytale retellings, including Robin McKinley’s Beauty, Edith Pattou’s East, and Diana Wynne Jones’ Fire and Hemlock. In fact, I love these (and other) books so much I never thought I would do a retelling of my own. Echo North actually had its roots in a dream I had of a girl riding a caribou being chased by wolves across a snowy landscape. When I realized this story germ wanted to be an “East of the Sun” retelling, I first attempted to write it as a 10,000 word short story. That didn’t work, and I drafted the novel version during NaNoWriMo 2014. To give you an idea of how much the short story didn’t work, the final draft of Echo North clocks in at 87,000 words. :D
What’s your best tip when it comes to plotting a re-telling or re-imagining (especially when pulling from multiple sources)?
For me, one of the things I did was to purposely not re-read either the original fairytale or any of the retellings during the drafting process. I wanted to follow my version of the tale and see where it took me, without being overly influenced by other interpretations. I also wanted a little something more for the ending than the original tale offered, so I borrowed a big element from the Scottish ballad Tam Lin because it seemed to fit. So I guess my biggest tip perhaps is not to be so married to the source material that you can’t bring yourself to tweak it here and there to serve your story.
Echo Alkaev is such a relatable character. Did her voice come easily to you?
Her voice did come easily, right from the (now deleted, alas!) prologue, which began “I lost him to the snow and the ice and the wolves…” and the first chapter, which begins “I was called Echo for my mother, who died when I was born…” Something about Echo’s voice connected with me right away—maybe because of all of my protagonists, her personality is probably the closest to mine. I’ve written in third and first person, and I love both—I’m a firm believer that each story lets you know which way it wants to be told. This was Echo’s story from the beginning, and from the beginning, I knew it wanted to be told in her first-person voice.
How did you approach your worldbuilding for Echo North?
I wanted to set Echo primarily in a cold, wintery environment. Siberia was the coldest place I could think of, :D and when I started researching the landscape, I was swept away by its magic! In fact, some of the landscapes I digitally explored inspired whole sections of the novel. The world itself is inspired by our own world in 19th-century Russia, with a few magical adjustments….
I'm a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing Echo North teach you?
One of the biggest things I learned while drafting Echo is that sometimes, the best parts of the book aren’t part of the original idea, or even in the first couple of drafts! Echo ended up being built in layers, each draft—even up through final edits with my publisher—adding a new and necessary element. The first two drafts especially felt like they were lacking something important. When I was gearing up to write draft three, I asked myself a terrifying question: “What would happen if [SPOILERS REDACTED]?” and my answer to that question added something really special to the novel, an element that I think makes the whole thing. It was interesting to watch Echo grow like it did, and a relief to learn (re-learn?) that not everything has to be there from the beginning to make it into what it’s meant to be.
What are you reading, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
I am eternally infatuated with Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series. The sixth (and final) book comes out in March, so this is the perfect time to get caught up and flail (and sob!) with me!.
And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned (so far) in your publishing career?
I think perhaps that there’s more to the journey than you initially imagine… Four years ago, I was querying Beneath the Haunting Sea, and was just finishing up the first draft of Echo North. I couldn’t imagine anything past signing with an agent. Now, I’m working on my third book and already thinking about the next one. Writing and publishing certainly has its ups and downs, but I’m so grateful to be doing what I love, and to have connected with people along the way who enable me to do that.
Many thanks go out to Joanna for taking the time to tell us more about her writing journey and how ECHO NORTH came to be. Be to sure to add Joanna's spellbinding YA fantasy to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy (WRITE) NOW from retail sites like Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, or request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
And, as always,