Rosemary Van Deuren, author of Basajaun, spoke with Hypable about her novel, her love of rabbits, her desire to write, and more.
Basajaun by Rosemary Van Deuren is about Cora, a clever human girl, and Basajaun, a rabbit that is much more than he appears to be. When Cora realizes that she can talk to Basajaun — and he can talk back — they form a friendship stronger than anything else the girl has ever experienced. Read our review.
An interview with Rosemary Van Deuren
Tell us five random facts about yourself.
1. I conceived and wrote the arts and entertainment interview column Flipside for idlermag.com — a webzine chosen by the Writer’s Guild of America West for “The Hotlist: A Guide to the Web’s Most Cutting Edge New Media Content” in 2011.
2. I am a former visual artist — illustration, painting, and sculpture.
3. My pet rabbit’s name is not Basajaun, but I have accidentally called him that on more than one occasion while I was working on my book of the same title.
4. I collect illustrated children’s books from the early 1900s through the 1960s. Those from the ’30s and ’40s are often my favorites because of the art styles from that era.
5. If you ever see me out and about in the world, there is a statistically significant chance I will be wearing a bandanna.
What made you want to become a writer?
I think a few years ago I might have had a different answer, but now I believe it’s just something that is inside of me, as aureate as that sounds. Regardless of any of the obstacles I’ve encountered — the same ones most writers face, really — I have doggedly returned to the medium again and again, with a credulousness that I sometimes don’t even fully understand myself. I can’t shake the lure of writing, or the desire to string words together. It’s the best way I know to make sense of the world around me.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
Like all authors, I want to create the strongest work I can, and feedback from others plays into that. So the most challenging thing is actually when you receive contradictory advice from different sources and you need to choose whom to believe. A professional once assessed Basajaun as too dark to market to children, whereas my editor Shawna Gore — who championed the manuscript in a lot of ways — identified the tone of the narrative as an asset. It’s a subjective game; you want to do what most serves the work. Some of these choices might even be obvious in hindsight, but they aren’t always apparent when you’re in the midst of making sweeping decisions about your own writing. Processing judgement calls about how your book will be perceived is much more difficult than managing the simpler criticisms most people imagine. Though we get those too!
What has been the best compliment?
All of them. Is that a helpful response? [laughs] All compliments are extremely flattering to me. Receiving praise from children is especially touching, and you always know that theirs is a genuine reaction. When an eleven year-old girl with thrill dancing in her eyes exclaims that Basajaun is “awesome,” I want to say, “Thank you. I wrote it just for you.”
What is easier to write, the first line or the last line?
Those are both reasonably painless for me, though the last line is less pressure, because by that point you hope the reader is invested in the world you’ve created. When I begin a novel, I have a solid vision of the beginning and the ending. What’s hardest to write is all the stuff in the middle!
What YA novel do you wish existed when you were younger?
I would definitely give T. A. Barron’s The Lost Years of Merlin epic and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy to my adolescent self in a heartbeat if I had the chance. Those are some of my very favorite fantasy books and although they were around when I was fairly young, I didn’t read them until I was an adult. Maria V. Snyder’s Poison Study / Study Series is excellent. Right now I’m reading Ari Berk’s young adult horror novel Death Watch and it’s seriously beautiful. I would recommend it to literally anyone — particularly someone who wants to write.
Did the Basque legend of Basajaun inspire this story in any way?
I love the Basajaun legend. Ancient Basque mythology is largely obscured by the later advent of religious influence in the region, and that conflicting atmosphere of change was actually the aspect of Basque history that initially drew me to its lore. Without giving away too much of the book, there are two characters in my story who represent very different kinds of enchantment. The disconnect between the earthy, countryside-based stories of old Basque mythology and the ecclesiastical sweep that followed highlighted an instance where two opposing types of ethos could have grown out of basically the same environment. So even though mine is an original story, I really wanted to pay tribute to the wonderful legends in that fascinating chthonic mythos. There are nods to a few of my favorite Basque mythology figures in the novel, most of all the title character Basajaun, so named, among other reasons, because of the book’s recurrent theme of size and fortitude, and what it truly means to be “little” or “big” on the inside.
Have you ever had a pet or seen a wild animal that appeared to be more than they seemed?
I briefly befriended a wild rabbit when I was five, and obviously that feels pretty magical to a child. The experience really stayed with me, and provided inspiration for Basajaun. I also own a pet rabbit who is my constant companion and was instrumental in the crafting of Basajaun as a rabbit story. Rabbits are fascinating because they’re one of the few animals in our culture that are simultaneously sold as house pets, bred as livestock, raised for food, and disposed of as vermin. That concurrent reverence and dismissal is interesting to me. Where do you draw the line between which animals meet with which purpose? On historical spectrums you can pinpoint where impartiality begins to divide, but if you go back far enough, on the longest scale, it’s ultimately just terrible, random luck that favors some beings and not others. It’s an effective construct for fiction because it mirrors the same struggles humans suffer in any culture where there’s inequality — when a society intimates that some people are deserving of just slightly better treatment than others.
If your readers could take one lesson or moral away from this story, what would you like it to be?
I hope to raise questions. I think saying to someone, “How do you feel about this?” resonates more than saying, “Let me tell you how to feel about this.” But I believe it’s important to remember we were all once small and afraid at some point in our lives. The lengths some individuals must go to make bravery a reality for them is never to be underestimated or undervalued.
What are you working on now?
My next novel. It’s still taking shape, but it’s sort of a thriller-esque book for teens, with a sci-fi element — something in a completely different vein than Basajaun. I’ve been plotting this one for a while, and the writing is going great. I’m really excited to share a new side of my prose!