Monday, July 8, 2013

Pam VonTalge's Interview with Chris Bohjalian

Sisterhood of the Traveling Book is pleased to offer this interview with one of our FAVORITE authors. Chris Bohjalian graciously allowed one of our members, Pam V., to interview him on his writing process and his new release, THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS, out 07/09/2013. Enjoy...we sure did!

Pam V’s  Interview with Chris Bohjalian
Pam V. with Chris in St. Louis


Where does the story come from, How do you scratch out a storyline?

I never have an outline. I depend upon my characters to take me by the hand and lead me through the dark of the story. I begin with only a vague premise of what the novel is about.

So, “The Light in the Ruins” began as a re-imagining of “Romeo and Juliet.” I’ve always savored epic love stories. I was inspired while watching my daughter as a Shark girlfriend in a production of “West Side Story,” another re-imaging of Shakespeare’s beloved romance.

Pam: What is your process with an idea?   Do you just start writing?

Chris: I need to know whether it’s a first or third person novel – and, if first, who that narrator is – and the tense. Then I start writing.

Just for the record, I have also written large parts of novels in the second person.

But there is always a reason for my choice and tense, given the story I think I am going to tell.

Pam: What do you like most about writing?  What do you like least?

Chris: Oh, I love writing. There is really no “like least” about it.

Pam: What advice would you give to new writers?

Chris: Don’t merely write what you know. Do some homework and then write  what you don’t know.
Also, lie. Put down on paper the most interesting lies you can think of, and then make them plausible.

Pam: What wine would you recommend for each of your books?  What wine do you drink while writing? 

Chris: I don’t drink when I’m writing. This is called being a professional.
For “The Light in the Ruins,” choose a Chianti or any Tuscan red that is rich with Sangiovese grapes.

Pam: If you weren't a writer, what would you be doing to earn a living? 

Chris: I would be pitching for the New York Mets. At least that is what I would like to be doing. . .or have done.

Pam: What is your favorite curse word?

Chris: Unbelievably nightmarish clusterfuck

Pam: Which book made you feel like you have ‘truly made it’? Do you feel like you have ‘truly made it’ in the literary world? 

Chris: I try not to go there. Not healthy for a writer to think like that.

Pam: Do you feel that Oprah’s book club had a hand in the popularity of Midwives?

Chris: Yes. A huge hand. A gigantic hand. The novel was a bestseller before she picked it. But then it became a massive bestseller.

Pam: What is your favorite CB book?  Why?  What book do you feel is the public’s favorite book?

Chris: I’ll take the fifth.

Pam: What book was the most difficult to write?  What book was the easiest?

Chris: The Double Bind was most difficult. The Sandcastle Girls was easiest.

Pam: How do you feel about negative reviews?  Are you compelled to defend your book and the content to the reviewer? Have you ever responded to a negative reviewer?

Chris:  I don’t dare read the reviews on Goodreads or Amazon or I used to. I wrote an article once for the Washington Post about my old addiction to reading the way anonymous people would eviscerate my work. But now, in the interest of my mental health, I give the reviews as wide a berth as I can. They can really screw up a sunny day

Pam: What is your favorite book of all time and why?

Chris:  I have many favorites: The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, The Joyous Season, Anna Karenina, To Kill a Mockingbird, Into Thin Air, Atonement, The Great Gatsby, The Voyage of the Narwahl, Les Miserables

Pam: It seems as if you have become a touring machine; has that always been the case?  Who decides where you are going to visit?
Pam seeing Chris speak in St. Louis! (in front row)

Chris: Doubleday Books


Pam: Give us a little background for The Light in the Ruins. Why Italy? Why one family, this family (the Rosati’s)? Why a serial killer?

Chris: Oh, I love this book. It is set in Tuscany, one of my favorite parts of the world. And, yes, it’s a love story.

But the novel evolved when I realized I was also interested in two parallel women, not simply my two young lovers. One is a Tuscan nobleman’s daughter who falls in love with a German lieutenant toward the end of the Second World War; the other is an Italian partisan. They both make very different choices in 1943 and 1944, when Tuscany has become an innermost ring of Dante’s inferno.
   After the war, in 1955, those choices come back to haunt them – in the form of a serial killer.
   I love what the early reviews have said. Kirkus called it a “a soulful why-done-it,” Good Housekeeping said it was “a picturesque page-turner,” and Library Journal described it as “gripping, beautiful, and astonishingly vengeful.”

Pam: What are you currently working on?  Give me as much as you possibly can…the theme, title, location, release date, manuscript sent to me for review (my way of being clever).

Chris: The novel is called “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands.” It will be published in July 2014.  I cried when I finished it. That’s all you get.
Will be released on July 9, 2013

The Light in the RuinsFrom the New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes a spellbinding novel of love, despair, and revenge—set in war-ravaged Tuscany.

1943: Tucked away in the idyllic hills south of Florence, the Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from the war raging across Europe. Eighteen-year-old Cristina spends her days swimming in the pool, playing with her young niece and nephew, and wandering aimlessly amid the estate’s gardens and olive groves. But when two soldiers, a German and an Italian, arrive at the villa asking to see an ancient Etruscan burial site, the Rosatis’ bucolic tranquility is shattered. A young German lieutenant begins to court Cristina, the Nazis descend upon the estate demanding hospitality, and what was once their sanctuary becomes their prison.

1955: Serafina Bettini, an investigator with the Florence police department, has her own demons. A beautiful woman, Serafina carefully hides her scars along with her haunting memories of the war. But when she is assigned to a gruesome new case—a serial killer targeting the Rosatis, murdering the remnants of the family one-by-one in cold blood—Serafina finds herself digging into a past that involves both the victims and her own tragic history.

Set against an exquisitely rendered Italian countryside, The Light in the Ruins unveils a breathtaking story of moral paradox, human frailty, and the mysterious ways of the heart.

Chris Bohjalian is the author of sixteen books, including The Light in the Ruins, arriving July 9, 2013 from Doubleday. Set in Florence and rural Tuscany between 1943 and 1955, it began as a re-imaginging of "Romeo and Juliet."

His other books include the New York Times bestsellers, The Sandcastle Girls, The Night Strangers, Secrets of Eden, Skeletons at the Feast, The Double Bind, Before Your Know Kindness, and Midwives. 

He has called The Sandcastle Girls the most important book he will ever write. Published in July 2012 to great acclaim, this story of the Armenian Genocide debuted at #7 on the New York Times bestseller list, and appeared as well on the Publishers’ Weekly, USA Today, and national Independent Bookstore bestseller lists.

Chris Bohjalian website 

Interviewer  Pam VonTalge is a member of Sisterhood of Traveling Book and founder/moderator for Coffee Talk  on Goodreads. Be sure to check out Pam's book blog Pam's Reviews for your next book read!