Thursday, June 27, 2024

Q&A with Julia Phillips



Julia Phillips is the author of the new novel Bear. She also has written the novel Disappearing Earth. She teaches at the Randolph College MFA program, and she lives in Brooklyn.


Q: What inspired you to write Bear, and how did you create your characters Sam and Elena?


A: Bear was inspired by my feelings of stuckness and fantasies of escape during the first year on the pandemic, when how I was living seemed so impossibly far from how I thought things were supposed to be.


This book's main characters, Sam and Elena, have been grappling with that stuck feeling for a long, long time—until one day their lives are shaken up by the arrival of a wild animal. Sam and Elena are rooted in a Brothers Grimm fairy tale called "Snow-White and Rose-Red," about two sisters who meet a beast like this.


It was such a pleasure to sit in my home and imagine that visitation for myself. How stuck would I have to be to welcome a bear at my door?

Q: How would you describe the dynamic between the two sisters?


A: Sam is very much the younger sister to Elena's older: Elena is the leader in their family while Sam is supposed to follow what her sister says to do, and Elena is seen as more responsible and "good" while Sam sometimes acts like an uncooperative kid.


But underneath how they present to the world, Elena longs to rebel, and Sam longs for comfort and security. As a little sister myself, I found their dynamic to be a joy to explore.

Q: The writer Angie Kim said of the novel, “Intense, moody, fierce, and relentlessly suspenseful, Bear is a modern-day fairy tale about the tenacious bonds and complexities of sisterhood.” What do you think of that description?


A: I of course love it! Angie is not only a thrilling, brilliant writer but a dear, dear friend, and it means the world to me that she connected with this story.

Q: Your previous novel, Disappearing Earth, was also set on a remote island. Why did you choose San Juan Island in Washington state as the setting for this new book?


A: When I started this book, my ability to travel anywhere was really constrained due to both the global pandemic and my own new parenthood.


I therefore wanted to set a story in a far-from-me place that was totally gorgeous, so I could immerse myself in fantasy while writing...but not a place that was so inaccessible that fantasizing about it would become frustrating.


San Juan was—is!—perfect. It's a beautiful place, it feels magical, and its remoteness is adjacent to the Seattle airport, so getting there to research the book was possible.

Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm so excited to be working on another novel that's also about womanhood and isolation and threat, though no bears have showed up in it...yet!

Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Only that this book was so fun and wild for me to write, and I very much hope it'll be just as fun and wild for folks to read. Thank you for taking the time to check it out!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Julia Phillips.

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