Q&A with Julia Phillips, Author of Disappearing Earth

Julia Phillips is garnering rave reviews for her debut novel, Disappearing Earth, and there’s a reason why: the writing and story are simultaneously suspenseful, complex, and beautiful. Indeed The Wall Street Journal describes it as “fascinating [and] immensely moving.” Set in a remote part of Russia, Phillips not only illuminates what the region is like but she also deftly brings a diverse cast of characters to life.

So, delve a bit deeper into Disappearing Earth with us and learn about Julia Phillips:


Tell us a little about your book.
Disappearing Earth, my debut novel, opens with the disappearance of two young sisters on Russia’s remote Kamchatka Peninsula. Every chapter that follows moves us forward one month in the girls’ search and focuses on a different woman in their community. Over the course of a year on Kamchatka, we come to know the detective on their case, the witness to their abduction, and the mother who’s waiting for them to come home. Where the characters’ individual experiences come together is where we find the clues to solve the sisters’ mystery. The book is about how violence affects our lives in ways large and small, and how, ultimately, we can help each other through that pain.

Is there a character or situation that you’ve written about that you feel contributed to your growth personally or professionally?
You know, I would say that everything I write about has somehow contributed to my growth. Writing is an experience of exploration and discovery. It constantly demands that I try harder, dig deeper, and learn more. So every situation in a story, every character on the page, pushes me to think, feel, and move through the world in new ways.

Related to that, what was the most challenging character or scene you wrote in Disappearing Earth and why was it a challenge?
The most challenging scene to write was absolutely the story’s climax. I don’t want to say much about what happens there for fear of spoilers, but I will say that from a craft perspective, it was a delicate, challenging thing to try to weave the many threads of this book into a scene that could be wholly satisfying. It took so many drafts before it felt right.

Growing up, what was your favorite audiobook/book?
Growing up, I would not stop reading The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. The edition I had was an immense powder-blue paperback–it must have been 800 pages–and I would lug it around with me to school, on car rides, and on vacations. Every story in there shocked me. The villains stuffed into barrels! The heroes decapitated! I couldn’t get enough. I loved that book so hard that the pages turned transparent from finger oil and the cover peeled off.

Did the experience of listening to your audiobook reveal something about your work that you didn’t expect? If so, what?
Hearing Disappearing Earth‘s audiobook blew my mind. More than anything, it made me think about how I read, which is often quickly, in silence, absorbing paragraph by paragraph rather than taking the time to savor each word. Listening to the audiobook exercised different reading muscles. It made me pay sharper attention to these sentences I’ve grown used to through years of revisions. I’m forever grateful to Ilyana Kadushin, the audiobook’s narrator, for that gift.

 


Disappearing Earth

“Phillips plots with methodical flair; the depth of her storytelling prowess reveals itself…Disappearing Earth wades through darkness with heart.” —Entertainment Weekly

“A stunning, powerful debut novel. Phillips’s characters [have] deep humanity; her portrayal of Kamchatka is superb. The novel’s many characters are introduced in the preface, which calls to mind all those classic Russian novels with sprawling casts. But at the same time, Disappearing Earth is utterly contemporary.” —BookPage (starred review: Top Pick)

“Mesmerizing….The story reads as a page-turner without relying on any cheap narrative tricks to propel it forward, and the strength of Phillips’s writing—her careful attention to character and tone—will grip you right up until the final heart-stopping pages.” —Vanity Fair

Dive even deeper into Disappearing Earth by checking out our Q&A with narrator Ilyana Kadushin!