An Interview with Will Hobbs
Edgar H. Thompson
EHT: What adventures have you been involved in lately that will find their way into your novels?
WH: In the summer of 1998, Jean and I were able to spend several weeks sea kayaking in Alaska. Although we have twenty plus years of river rafting experience, we'd never tried sea kayaking before, so we actually went on our first guided trip. We flew into Gustavus, Alaska, then spent our time paddling along the coastline of Chichagof Island, camping each night in tents, surrounded by major brown bear sign! That's prime grizzly habitat there, which was a big thrill for me. At first, we were kayaking among harbor seals, sea otters, and some rowdy Steller's sea lions. But after a few days, we found ourselves paddling right in amongst huge humpback whales, spouting and breaching all around us. It was an incredible feeling to be out on the water with these behemoths, one I hope to be able to share with readers in a future story.
EHT: You have won several awards for being an outstanding young adult western writer. In what ways do you think of yourself and your novels as being western?
WH: Yes, I do have two wonderful awards from the Western Writers of America, one for Beardance and the other for Far North. The award is called the Spur, and the plaques really do have spurs on them! Although I've never actually written an out-and-out Western, this award honors books which take place in western settings, including western Canada. I'm delighted to be in the company of writers whose books celebrate the West. Some of my personal favorites, A.B. Guthrie, Jr., Ivan Doig, Frank Waters, Tony Hillerman, and Mari Sandoz, to name a few, fit this description.
Seven of my novels take place in Southwest, in the Four Corners area which has been my home since 1973. I know these mountains, rivers, mesas and canyons well, so it's been natural for me to draw on my own personal experiences here. Ghost Canoe takes place on the storm-tossed tip of Washington's Olympic Peninsula, where I spent a lot of time hiking and exploring. My connection to the far North goes back to my childhood years in Alaska, and to four summers spent traveling more recently way up in northern Canada. These experiences inspired me to write Far North and Jason's Gold. I've always responded emotionally to Aldo Leopold's comments about the importance of having "wild places to be young in." As a teenager, I discovered the adventure, beauty, and challenges that wild places uniquely provide. As a writer, I hope to point young people toward this endlessly renewing source of hope and possibility, whether it be in the West or anywhere else in the wide world.
EHT: Do you plan to write any more mysteries, after Ghost Canoe won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Young Adult Mystery?
WH: Ghost Canoe was my first mystery, so the Edgar came as quite a surprise to me. That award, by the way, is a small ceramic bust of Edgar Allan Poe. As I look at my more recent novels, I'm discovering that suspense and mystery are becoming stronger and stronger elements for me. Even though I'd not thought of it as an outright mystery, The Maze was recently chosen by the Mystery Writers of America as a finalist for the Edgar. I'm only in the early, wool-gathering stages about my possible sea kayaking story, but I am thinking of this one as a mystery. We'll see!
EHT: Can you tell us anything about the novel that will follow Jason's Gold?
WH: I'm still resting up from accompanying young Jason five thousand miles, from New York to Seattle to Alaska, up over the Chilkoot Pass, down the Yukon River and finally into Dawson City. Whew! Researching and writing about the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-98 was one of the most exciting and involving projects I've undertaken. In addition to learning about all the adventure, hardships, and accomplishments of the Klondikers, I loved bumping into the 21-year-old Jack London along the way. Including him in the story, along with other historical characters, was a lot of fun, and will, I think, capture the imaginations of young readers. Bears, moose, canoeing the Yukon, winter... It was so hard to leave it all, I'm thinking about picking up where I left off. There's so much more story still to tell. Maybe get Jason and Jamie back together for some high adventure and suspense, and, who knows, maybe head for Nome!
Will Hobbs is the author of eleven novels for middle school and young adult readers, as well as two picture books, Howling Hill and Beardream. Six of his novels, Bearstone, Downriver, The Big Wander, Beardance, Far North, and The Maze, were named Best Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association, which also named Downriver one of the "100 Best of the Best Young Adult Books from the past 25 years." Far North was selected by the ALA as one of the "Top Ten" young adult books of 1996.
A graduate of Stanford University and former reading and language arts teacher, Will has been a full-time writer since 1990. He lives with his wife, Jean, in Durango, Colorado.
Hobbs's novels: Changes in Latitudes (1988), Bearstone (1989), Downriver (1991), The Big Wander (1992), Beardance (1993), Kokopelli's Flute (1995), Far North (1996), Ghost Canoe (1997), River Thunder (1997), The Maze (1998), Jason's Gold (1999).
Hobbs's Picture Books: Beardream (1997), Howling Hill (1998).
Please note that all Morrow and Avon titles are now available from HarperCollins Children's Books.
Reference Citation: Thompson, Edgar H. (2000) "An Interview with Will Hobbs." The ALAN Review, Volume 27, Number 2, 5-6.