The Thorn and the Blossom's Theodora Goss on creating a double-layered story
The Thorn and the Blossom -- which will be released today -- is a book unlike any you've seen before. It's actually two stories in one; the accordion-style binding contains perspectives of both star-crossed lovers Brendan and Evelyn as they meet, are separated and then meet again over a span of years.
We caught up with author Theodora Goss to ask about the inspiration behind this lovely little book.
Westword: Can you tell us how the concept of this book first came about?
Theodora Goss: Here's how it happened. I had a good friend who was an editor at Quirk, and we'd worked on things together before. We'd been in the Interstitial Arts Foundation, a foundation that works on really weird, quirky, cool art. So we knew each other from that, and Stephen Segal called me up one day. He said, "I have this idea for a book format, it's going to be an accordian book. I want you to write two stories -- they each need to work as individual stories -- and together, they have to add up to tell a greater story." And I said, "I don't know, that's not the way you usually tell stories," but I was fascinated by the concept, and I thought what we had to do was a love story, because that's the quintessential story from two points of view. He didn't want it to be a retelling on both sides, though; the stories had to work together to form a greater whole. It was this interesting collaboration where he came up with the format, and I came up with a story proposal and wrote the story, and there was an artist who created the cover and the illustrations and the way the book looks in the flip case. So in a way, it was sort of a collaboration between three people, and I'm responsible for the story.
It's a great concept; I've never seen anything like it before.
I've never seen anything like it, either! I've seen books where you can flip them in some way, but the only ones I've ever seen are children's books. But I was thinking this morning that what it really looks like is a Japanese scroll. I've been to a museum and seen Japanese poems done this way, where it'll be a long sheet of paper and it will fold, and there will be a long illustration that goes the entire sheet of paper, and this beautiful calligraphy.
Where did you find -- or come up with -- the central fairy tale that Brendan and Evelyn's tale revolves around?
That's a very interesting question. I'm always tempted to say, "Oh, it's an old folk tale, and I found it in an ancient volume while I was in a library somewhere," but the truth is that I made it up. But it is based on old stories -- it's just my own version. There's no such thing as the "Tale of the Green Knight" -- not really. There is in my head, but what there is, is a sort of tradition that I was drawing on, which are actually a couple of different traditions. There's the tradition of the Green Man -- so in Celtic mythology, you'll find these nature figures, and you'll often see depictions of a Green Man on old churches, he's a dying and reviving god associated with fertility. And then there is the courtly love tradition, with the actual poem Sir Gawan and the Green Knight.
It struck me that there was something much older than the fourteenth century in there; there was a kind of mythic resonance to it. It's got to have its basis in seasonal myths, so that's where my take on it comes from, is thinking of these old Arthurian stories of people like Gawan who do go off and fight giants, and do fall in love with beautiful queens, but there's also this whole mythic level to it, where Gawan gets to chop the Green Knight's head off, and the Green Knight wants to chop his head off, but he avoids it. It has to do with dying and reviving gods and nature gods. So I put this all together in the "Tale of the Green Knight," and somehow or other that just came to me, and it mirrored the modern story. And having these different levels to the story, I think that's something I just do in stories. I have this way of looking at the world that sees these mythical things.
Can you talk about how the cover and the artwork in the book work so well with your story?
I've never met Scott McKowen but he's obviously psychic, because he read that story, and I looked at it, and it was like, "Yes! That's it, that's it exactly." And I was just blown away by it. What I really love about it is that when you look at the book, I think of it as the book version of The Secret Garden. Remember how we all read The Secret Garden as a kid and loved the idea of a garden hidden away? This is like the book version. The cover is full of blossoms, and seeing this tangle of flowers and vegetation, and the way he drew Brendan and Evelyn, I think, is absolutely perfect. In a certain way they are idealized -- you can see them in this armor or in this long dress -- but they also look very real. I think he absolutely got it.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Hopefully it's a fun experience to go through something like this and, in a way, create the story yourself, because how you choose to read the story actually creates your own experience. I did this -- knowing that some readers would get mad at me -- because I'm not giving them the big climactic moment they might want; they have to create that themselves. The book is a little more interactive. It's not the sort of thing that you would read night after night, but hopefully it's a fun read.