EXCLUSIVE: Samantha Sotto On Her Newest Book, 'A Dream of Trees'
“The world has changed a lot since I wrote ‘Before Ever After’… And I’ve found finding magic and hope amidst the headlines, harder and harder to do.”
The first time I read a Samantha Sotto book, I was 15 years old and in high school. I wasn’t much of a reader then—I’d only really started to love reading when I got to college—but a friend of mine, ever the hopeless romantic, found Before Ever After in the local bookstore and fell in love with it—hard. She promptly had all her friends read it, too. I take recommendations very lightly; when someone forces something on me—whether it’s a book, a film, a television show, or a musical (this same friend made me watch Phantom of the Opera with her, and as a result, I now hate that show with a burning passion)—I tend to become averse towards it. But there was something about this little book called Before Ever After, with its beautiful cover art and the writer lady on the back saying that she wanted to be the Doctor’s companion that drew me to it. Perhaps it’s the premise, perhaps it’s the way she wrote about a motley group of travelers, perhaps it’s the fantasy and the escapism. Whatever the case, I was hooked.
Eventually, more books came: college introduced me to Gilda Cordero-Fernando and Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil, Joan Didion and Mary Oliver, Nick Joaquin and A Portrait of the Artist As Filipino. I was never truly one for fiction, so I wouldn’t say that my tastes had changed. Maybe it’s just growing up and growing older, but after a while, Before Ever After faded into the background, as did Shelley, and Paolo, and Max, and the cobbled streets of Europe. When I learned that Samantha Sotto was releasing her third book, I felt a wave of nostalgia rush over me. Before Ever After was one of those books that I needed to read at the exact moment I did, the perfect lovely little story that everyone needs to read about at least once in their lives. I’d love to return to that book one day, but for now, I spoke to Samantha to talk about her newest book, A Dream of Trees, out on Kindle today, July 30. (Also—it’s free until August 1, 11:59 pm PDT!)
Can you tell me about the writing process for this book? How did this book come to life? What is its story?
This book was a very different writing experience compared to my two previous novels. Before Ever After was my armchair vacation from my mommy duties. It allowed me to explore Europe as well as different periods in the past. Love and Gravity, being an alternative history of Isaac Newton’s life, was likewise a time travelling adventure and time-bending romance. A Dream of Trees is my first non-historical fiction work and rather than it being an escape for me, it was my way of working through issues I wanted to tackle head on.
The world has changed a lot since I wrote Before Ever After, and I’ve found finding magic and hope amidst the headlines, harder and harder to do. A part of me longed to draw rainbows and sprinkle fairy dust over my words, but a larger part knew that sometimes, the best way to deal with the darkness around you is not to paint over it, but to brace yourself, walk straight into it, and light it up from within. This is what I chose to do with A DREAM OF TREES. It is not a love story, but there is an incredible amount of love in it. Some of it takes place in dark rooms, but in every room, there is a doorway to the light. It does not whisk you through the secrets of history, but it reveals truths hidden in the here and now.
It began with the idea of a mysterious woman who visited people during their last hours and helped their souls make the transition from this world to the next by taking them through different “rooms.” These rooms contained moments souls needed to experience in order to move on. I wanted to explore what people thought about as they died. Could a person who died a violent and cruel death find peace? Could a person who died in a room full of people still die alone? What did a soul need to learn before finally walking through death’s door? A Dream of Trees deals with topics such as kodokushi, EJKs, bullying, suicide, and homophobia in a very intimate way. I wanted to tell the stories of the people beyond the headlines while processing my own feelings about the world we live in today.
What was your favorite part in the writing/publishing process? What was the hardest?
The hardest part of the process was forcing myself to explore issues that were dark and depressing. But this was also what was most rewarding about writing this book. I think it’s good to step out of our comfort zones. It’s the only way we can grow. A Dream of Trees is a personal passion project and deciding to independently release this book as a gift to my readers was also something I had to learn how to navigate. I’m very grateful that my agent supported my decision to go this route with this particular book.
Without spoiling, what are you most excited for readers to experience in this new book?
I’m not sure if I would use the word “excited.” I’m actually quite nervous about how my old readers will receive this book since it is a big departure from my other novels. I hope that they will be able to see that despite its theme of death and loss, A Dream of Trees is ultimately a book about how to truly live.
What book are you loving right now?
I’m rereading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. It’s such a great source of energy and inspiration when you’re trying to live a positive and creative life.
What’s next for you?
Wakeboarding. Writing. And a lot of fan-girling over BTS.