Questions and Topics for Discussion
As the Great War rages, an independent young woman struggles to sustain love—and life—through the power of words.
It’s 1917 and America is on the brink of World War I. After Hensley Dench’s father is forced to resign from the New York Times for his anti-war writings, she finds herself expelled from the life she loves and the future she thought she would have. Instead, Hensley is transplanted to New Mexico, where her father has taken a job overseeing a gold mine. Driven by loneliness, Hensley hijacks her father’s correspondence with Charles Reid, a young American medic with whom her father plays chess via post. Hensley secretly begins her own exchange with Charles, but looming tragedy threatens them both, and—when everything turns against them—will their words be enough to beat the odds?ABOUT HAZEL WOODS
Hazel Woods lives in New Mexico with her husband and two children.A CONVERSATION WITH HAZEL WOODS
1. What was the inspiration for this novel? What type of research went into writing it?
Actually, the very first bit of inspiration for this novel came from the knowledge that my great-grandfather had played chess via the post, sometimes with partners as far away as Europe. I’m not sure why, but this really sparked a kind of curiosity and longing for the time in our not-so-distant past in which entertainment and communication involved vast amounts of effort and patience. From that spark, came the voices of Hensley and Charles and their desperate plight.
I read my great-grandparents’ courtship letters to get a feel for language and atmosphere. What a treasure trove! I also looked at a lot of photographs from the time period and read about the earliest American troops to serve, most of them through the American Field Service.
2. This Is How I’d Love You oscillates seamlessly between the bloody European warfront and the dry, dusty lands of New Mexico. Did you have particular locales in mind when creating these environments for the reader? Was it difficult to channel these environments through a historical lens?
The town of Hillsboro, New Mexico is the actual place where my great-grandparents settled. That locale was pretty easy to render—I’ve seen lots of photographs from when it was a bustling mining town in the early 1900s. When I was younger, I was lucky enough to drive a bit through France and Germany and that countryside made a lasting impression on my imagination. As I was doing research about the front lines, I imagined all of those beautiful vistas and fields overrun by the machinery and brutality of war.
3. In this age of Facebook, Twitter, and social media, do you think that letter writing is a lost art? What value do you place on handwritten correspondence?
I am absolutely one of those sentimental types who values handwritten correspondence much more than any kind of electronic communication. My husband and I wrote letters for the entire first year of our relationship and I cherish them. I just recently found a couple of letters my father wrote to me when I was away at summer camp the year I was thirteen. It was the 4th of July, and he alternated every letter of the salutation between a red and blue pen. That detail is so charming and sweet. It reveals something that an emoticon never can. Having lost him nearly ten years ago, that piece of paper is a direct, priceless connection to him. I hope I can leave behind similarly unique written artifacts for my children.
4. What other historical periods interest you as a writer?
I think with the right character, I could immerse myself in any time period. It’s human beings that fascinate me most. So, I probably won’t be setting a book in the Cretaceous period, but otherwise, I am interested in all settings.DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
- Why do you think Hensley chose to begin her correspondence with Charles? Was it the result of boredom? Curiosity?
- When Hensley and Sacha first arrive to New Mexico, Hensley describes it as an “irrelevant place” compared to her hometown of New York. Over the course of the novel, do her feelings towards Hillsboro change? What experiences or interactions help her to broaden her understanding of the area?
- On page 4, Charles comments that Sacha Dench was “hardly the kind of dutiful patriot that he had expected to volunteer for such an assignment.” Given his political opinions, why do you think he chose to engage in correspondence with Charles? Would you define him as a patriot?
- Discuss Charles’ upbringing and his relationship with his parents. How does their ambivalence about his career choice affect him? After he returns home from war, does his relationship with his parents change?
- Though Hensley’s mother has been deceased for years before the events of This Is How I’d Love You, her presence is a guiding force throughout. Given the information that is revealed about her mother through memories and flashbacks, how would you describe her? At what points of the novel does Hensley feel closest to her mother? After Hensley discovers that she is pregnant, how does her connection with mother become more profound?
- How does letter writing function as a form of escape for both Charles and Hensley? Compare the letters that they write to each other versus letters that they write to other characters in the novel. What strikes you the most about their correspondence? What letters in the novel, if any, resonated most strongly with you?
- Discuss Hensley’s relationship with Teresa. How is emboldened by her friend’s independence? How do they both help each other to heal from their emotional wounds?
- On page 249, Lowell Teagan remarks that Hensley’s gender “makes her helpless.” How does Hensley act in defiance of that statement? In what ways does she challenge the expected role of womanhood after her father’s death?
- There are several scenes throughout This Is How I’d Love You that describe the gruesome realities of war. What scenes or details impacted you the most? Were you given a new perspective on the war from your reading experience?
- Describe Hensley’s relationship with her brother. How do their personalities differ? How does Hensley’s decision to forego marriage to Lowell affect their relationship?
- How do societal expectations factor into Charles’ decision-making both before the war and after? How does Hensley defy the expected conventions for both her social class and her gender throughout the novel?
- How do mystical and magical elements factor into the plot of This Is How I’d Love You? What role does the circus play in helping Hensley to realize her independence?
- Secrecy plays a role throughout This Is How I’d Love You, with several characters hiding or manipulating the truth in order to protect themselves and their relationships with others. How did this affect Hensley and Charles’ relationship? What was the most surprising element of the novel for you?
- Discuss the first meeting between Hensley and Charles. Were you surprised by Hensley’s initial reaction to Charles’ words of commitment? What did you find to be the most romantic part of This Is How I’d Love You?