There is an eternal debate amongst writers: whether to write “what one knows” or to reach out beyond one’s factual bank to craft a story. From my conversation with Hazel Woods about her recently released debut novel This is How I’d Love You, it’s clear that she sits on the latter bench.
Ms. Woods, a New Mexico based writer with an MFA in writing from Columbia University, is a good-humored, humble author who draws inspiration from images rather than feelings. For This Is How I’d Love you, an ambitious love-lorn saga set at the outbreak of World War I, Woods drew inspiration not from her high-spirited protagonist Hensley or her lover Charles, but rather from a single image: that of a chess set, mid-game, assembled in a living room, surrounded by no one.
You see, before the invention of the internet, where chess matches can take place over thousands of miles seamlessly and instantly and even against computers, many people played chess through snail mail correspondence, waiting up to two weeks between single moves. Woods was fascinated by this archaic practice, especially when she learned that her own great-grandfather was an avid player. And from this, the story of Charles, a young soldier away at war and locked in a chess-by-post game with the father of a young woman, was born. Woods says she was fascinated by this “different kind of entertainment” where one could be “satisfied without any immediacy” in entertainment. Talk about a throwback.
She then took to the library for some research about the people who would become Charles and Hensley. Woods describes the research phase as one of the most difficult parts of the writing process because it becomes easy to over-research, leaping from fact to fact endlessly and letting the impersonal tidbits get in the way of creative storytelling. But she trudged through, enthralled by the subject matter.
But Woods isn’t only interested in tales of historical romance. In fact, she is a great admirer of the short story for an author’s ability to “really develop a character with economy” and of books in general, though it wasn’t until high school that she considered writing as a career. Growing up as an avid reader-not-writer and self-processed bookworm, she read books of all shapes and sizes with abandon, not fully realizing that books were creations of the human mind. This illumination, she says, was akin to opening a box of fine European chocolates and asking “does someone actually make that?” for the first time and then diving in to do the same.
Now, many years later, Woods lives with her husband and two nearly-teenaged kids in New Mexico. Amid this hectic lifestyle, she sets incentives and timelines to make sure that words get on the page every day, even if it means sitting in a local library, laptop open, fingers not pressing the keys, thoughts going a mile a minute. She is openly self-conscious about how much of her process is not what’s going on the page, but rather what’s going on in her mind. “It’s just, so much about writing is not active,” she says, betraying a little embarrassment.
And yet, with the timely release of her first novel, right around the centennial anniversary of the start of the so called “War to end all wars,” perhaps these apprehensions can be put to rest. Readers will assuredly flock to their nearest bookseller to grab ahold of this meaty story and experience a certain shade of empathy for a time they’ve never lived. So, dear readers, buy yourself a box of fine European chocolates, a copy of This Is How I’d Love You, and as you read ask yourself “did someone actually make that?” about one or both.
This is How I’d Love You is now available nationwide. More info at: http://www.hazelwoodsauthor.com/
By Nicole Horowitz
Nicole Horowitz is a fourth year undergraduate at New York University, studying theater, film, counter-culture, and all things writing. As a So-Cal native, she enjoys movies and sunshine, especially during long New York winters. She hopes to move back post-grad, and to become a writer in the entertainment industry (or something of the sort).