Chris Bohjalian's Blog

February 4, 2017

Of the million and a half words (at least a million and a half) that Howard Frank Mosher published, the sentence I think about most often is the very first sentence of his very first novel:

“My father was a man of indefatigable optimism.”

It is, like most of his sentences, rhythmically perfect. It has that hint of alliteration. But it is also deeply suggestive of Mosher – the man himself – and the themes that would interest him throughout his career: fathers and sons. Strong, smart women. Family. A keen sense of hope, but one balanced by a wistfulness for the losses that invariably scar the soul of the world.

Mosher died at his home Sunday morning in his beloved Northeast Kingdom, surrounded by his family and some of his closest friends. There, of course, was Phillis, his wife of half a century and the woman to whom he dedicated most of his books. (The exceptions? The ones dedicated to his son and his daughter or the one to his parents.)

Writers talk with an agonizing amount of hubris about how we found our voice, but the reality is that I found mine when I moved to Vermont and when I read his 1989 novel, “A Stranger in the Kingdom.” I remember finishing it on the front steps of my house in Lincoln on a Saturday afternoon and my eyes rather suddenly welling up. This didn’t usually happen to me: Think Jerry Seinfeld when his sit-com self briefly grows a streak of sensitivity in one episode and rubs at his eyes, asking, “What is this salty discharge?”

It’s why I dedicated my fourth novel, “Water Witches,” to Mosher.

“A Stranger in the Kingdom” is both a beautiful coming-of-age novel and a brilliant exploration of race in America, as timely today as it was thirty years ago. And, of course, it is set in his mystical Kingdom County, Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, and features that extended Kinneson family we would meet in so many of his books.

But while the novel is set in Vermont, it is about so much more than our state. Think Faulkner. William Faulkner had his Yoknapatawpha County and Mosher had his Kingdom County. Mosher plumed the universalities of the human experience in the idiosyncrasies of the Green Mountains.

Mosher also understood something very few writers do: writing isn’t a zero sum game. Another writer’s success in no way diminished his own. His heart was as big as his talent, and he was always generous with young writers in whom he saw potential and older writers who he believed had not received the readership their work deserved.

And then, of course, there was his laugh – which brings me back to that first novel of his, “Disappearances.” (Just for the record, that wasn’t the first book he wrote. His first book is the novella and short story collection, “Where the Rivers Flow North.” Viking Publishers was excited about the story collection, but wanted to publish a novel first. Most publishers do. And so Mosher wrote one.) “Disappearances” is about a lot of things, including whiskey-running during Prohibition and one Vermont farmer’s desperate attempts to preserve his cattle herd through a beastly Green Mountain winter. But when I think of narrator Wild Bill Bonhomme’s account of his wonderful, loveable, half-mad, eternally optimistic father – Quebec Bill Bonhomme – I think first of that character’s laugh. Quebec Bill laughs a lot in the novel, even at one point with a broken jaw.

And so did Mosher. It was an exuberant, infectious laugh, part irony and part hilarity, a laugh that understood how the best-laid plans are just material to make the gods or the fates or the stars smile at humankind’s monumental hubris. Just like Quebec Bill, Mosher could call a blizzard in May that brings six inches of daffodil-crushing snow, “the poor man’s fertilizer.”

Over the last two days, we in Vermont have discussed his loss as if he were ours and ours alone. But he wasn’t. He was an American treasure. He had readers around the country who revered his work. Late last week I returned from a book tour, and people in California, Tennessee, and Florida shared with me their appreciation of Mosher’s fiction.

But Mosher certainly saw in all of us, his Green Mountain neighbors and friends, a window into the hope and promise that makes us all human.

I will miss him. And I will take comfort in the fact that I am far from alone.

+++

Chris Bohjalian’s most recent novel, “The Sleepwalker,” was published last month. This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on January 31, 2017.
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Published on February 04, 2017 07:44 • 103 views • Tags: bohjalian, howard-frank-mosher

January 17, 2017

This interview with Julia Oller ran originally in the Columbus-Dispatch on January 17, 2017.

++++++++++

By Julia Oller

By the time they reach the last few chapters of a Chris Bohjalian novel, readers have no idea how things will end.

And when he's plotting them, neither does Bohjalian.

“I don’t really think about creating a surprise ending per se,” Bohjalian said of his signature twists and turns. “I depend on my characters to take me by the hand and lead me through the dark of the story.”

The 54-year-old Bohjalian, who lives in Lincoln, Vermont, will appear Thursday at Westerville Central High School to discuss his 19th book, “The Sleepwalker” — in which family members in Vermont investigate the death of their wife and mother, a secretive sleepwalker.

Bohjalian keeps his record of shocking endings intact with his latest work.

The Dispatch spoke with the author before his visit, part of the Westerville Public Library's "Meet the Authors" series.

Q: How did you get the idea for “The Sleepwalker”?

A: Originally, I thought I was going to write a book about dreams — the great Freudian abyss. I was having lunch with a sleep doctor. I wanted to understand what the brain is doing when we dream. He had just come from a patient who was a sleepwalker, and, rather naturally, our conversation went there. He began to tell me stories about people who sleep-cook, sleep-drive, sleep-jog, sleep-sex, sleep-murder, and I grew hooked.

Q: You’re known for your surprise endings. What prompts the sudden twists?

A: I want my endings to leave the reader happily stunned. I am paraphrasing Aristotle here, but Aristotle said that the perfect ending is utterly surprising and absolutely inevitable. I want my readers to finish a book and say, “I didn’t see that coming, but I cannot imagine the book ending any other way.”

Q: How have you improved since your first novel, “A Killing in the World”?

A: My first novel is a train wreck, but not because I necessarily am talentless. I hope I have some talent. But it’s an apprentice work, and very few first novels should ever be published. .. . My first three novels should have been workshopped at a conference and been left to mildew in a drawer.

Q: What steps did you take to better your writing?

A: I think it’s the 10,000-hour rule. I just wrote and wrote and wrote. I amassed 250 rejection slips before I published a single word. By the time I got to my fourth and fifth novel, I had written easily 10,000 hours.

Q: You wrote a column for your local newspaper for many years. How did it affect your novels?

A: Lord, did I love writing that column for the Burlington Free Press. I wrote it for 23 and one-half years, every single Sunday but three. It was instrumental in helping me to become a better novelist. First of all, it honed my research skills. Second, it forced me to figure out how to set a scene fast. I’m the kind of writer who, if I’m not careful, it can take me 50 words to describe a sneeze, and in a 675-word column, you have to be dramatically more efficient.

Q: How do you discern whose opinion to listen to during the book editing process?

A: I’m really blessed in that I have three really smart people reading all my books. My editor, Jenny Jackson at Doubleday, is so wise. My wife, Victoria Blewer, is so honest. She once said to me, when she was criticizing something very intelligently, “Wouldn’t you rather hear it from me than The New York Times?”

I also have to give a shout-out to my daughter, Grace Experience, who graduated from college (in 2015) but who has been reading my books since seventh or eighth grade. She has been so helpful in creating the voices of some of my characters. When I wrote “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands,” I must have texted her every day wanting synonyms for “hookup” or “wasted,” and I don’t know if I should be proud or terrified, but she would immediately text me back with five perfectly good words.

joller@dispatch.com
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Published on January 17, 2017 13:14 • 112 views

January 11, 2017

Dear Friends Who Read and Readers Who are Friends,

"The Sleepwalker" officially arrived yesterday. I am deeply grateful to all of you for your patience and for your faith in my work.

Truly.

And I am so appreciative of the critical reception so far. These are the first reviews:

“Sex, secrets and the mysteries of sleep: These are the provocative ingredients in Chris Bohjalian’s spooky thriller The Sleepwalker. It’s a dark, Hitchcockian novel . . . Trust me, you will not be able to stop thinking about it days after you finish reading this book.”
— Carol Memmott, The Washington Post

“Bohjalian’s masterful plotting evokes a magician who distracts his audience to look this way, not that way. . .The Sleepwalker is Bohjalian at his best: a creepily compelling topic and an illusionist’s skill at tightening the tension. This is a novel worth losing sleep over.”
— Patty Rhule, USA Today

“After a chronic sleepwalker goes missing, the general consensus is accidental death. But nothing is what it seems in this gripping mystery.”
— Cosmopolitan

“Scary, limiting and downright dangerous, sleepwalking inspires a hard-to-put-down story that also mixes sex and a mystery in a polished package. . .Bohjalian is on top of his already stellar game with The Sleepwalker.”
— Amanda St. Amand, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“A perfectly crafted surprise ending. . .Bohjalian succeeds in making us accomplices in a dark world we never knew existed.”
— Laura Patten, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Literary and compelling, a combination so rare I’m tempted to apply for federal intervention. . .Rest assured the denouement is perfect. This is Bohjalian at his very best.”
— Curt Schleier, The Seattle Times

“Bohjalian savors the experience of getting behind his characters’ masks, deep into their psyches . .The Sleepwalker is one of his most skillfully plotted. . .Masterful. . .an increasingly gripping tale layered with grave moral dilemmas.”
— Frank O. Smith, The Portland Press Herald

“The Sleepwalker is more than a mystery: it’s a beautiful, wrenching novel of family secrets and the enigmas that link husbands and wives and lovers. And then that ending? Devastating and perfect.”
— Harlan Coben

” It takes unexpected answers to solve this mystery. . .Bohjalian’s latest will captivate readers who crave an edge-of-your-seat page-turner they can’t put down.”
— Susan Carr, Library Journal, starred review

“A stylish fusion of mystery and domestic thriller…Powered by brilliantly rendered characters, an intriguing topic (parasomnia), and a darkly lyrical narrative that captures the melancholic tone of autumn in New England perfectly.”
— Publishers Weekly

“Bohjalian raises essential questions of identity and heredity, sexuality and desire, bringing the Ahlberg family conundrum into focus with a didn’t-see-that-one-coming powerhouse ending.”
— Carol Haggas, Booklist

“Bohjalian, bless his heart, never writes the same book twice. From the rural Vermont–set Midwives to the historical The Sandcastle Girls to the close-at-hand dystopia of Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, he charts crucial moments in different settings and with different sensibilities. His new novel is suspense with a twist. Hint: a sleepwalking heroine seems to figure in the shivery plot.”
— Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

Fingers crossed my work never disappoints any of you -- and you always have a book you love by your bedside.

All the best,

Chris B.
www.ChrisBohjalian.com
Goodreads, Facebook, Instagram, Litsy, Twitter
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Published on January 11, 2017 05:06 • 210 views

January 4, 2017

Greetings!

Over the holidays, I was interviewed about my work and "The Sleepwalker" by Laura Hamlett of Playback St. Louis. I thought her questions were really interesting.

Here is the complete interview. Happy reading!

All the best,

Chris B.


* * *

LAURA HAMLETT: When I read The Guest Room last fall, I found a new writer to love. I view following authors much the same as discovering musical artists. It’s exhilarating to find a new favorite; it’s icing on the cake if that favorite has a back catalog you can begin to consume immediately. In the case of Chris Bohjalian, 17 books preceded The Guest Room, and one—The Sleepwalker—is on the eve of publication. I’d better get busy.

In advance of a book tour for his impending release, Bohjallian took some time to answer my questions. Get to know him as I did—and then catch his reading when he comes to your city.

When I was in high school, all I wanted to be was a novelist. I remember being disheartened every time I read an author bio, though, as they always had “real” jobs. You’ve gotten past that stage now (congrats!), but what “real” (full-time) jobs did you have before becoming a full-time novelist?

CHRIS BOHJALIAN: It’s true: When you graduate from college, a publisher doesn’t say to you, “You look like a young writer of promise. Here’s a boatload of money. Go write us a novel.” And so I worked in advertising agencies in Manhattan and Burlington, Vermont, until I was 31, writing fiction from five to seven in the morning before going to work, on Monday and Tuesday nights when I got home, and during the weekend. I wrote my first three novels and a lot of short stories that way.

Just for the record, I also amassed a lot of rejection slips. I got 250 rejection slips before I sold a single word.

I still begin my workday early: I try to be at my desk by six a.m. The discipline of those early years served me well.



HAMLETT: With the publication of The Sleepwalker, you’ve now cranked out 19 books. What’s the secret to your longevity—to say nothing of your seemingly constant inspiration and self-control?

BOHJALIAN: I like to believe that I have never “cranked out” anything. I like to believe that each book is the very best I can do.

My goal is to never write the same book twice or write anything formulaic. I never want to disappoint my readers.

And I only write about subjects in which I have a passionate interest: something that excites me so much that I can’t wait to be at my desk at six in the morning and that will keep me deeply engaged for a year or more of my life.

After all, if the story or subject isn’t holding my interest, it certainly won’t hold a reader’s interest.



HAMLETT: What was it like the first time: (a) you saw your very first book in print? (b) your book made the New York Times bestseller list? (c) your words were made into a movie?

BOHJALIAN: The first time I held a finished a copy of one of my books in my hands, I remember thinking, “Wow. This cover is pretty garish.” Of course, I am responsible for the single worst first novel ever published, bar none. So, it probably deserved the cover it got.

The first time I saw one of my books on a bestseller list, I was in a hotel with dial-up internet speed that was glacial. But I knew what was coming because my publicist had told me, and so I recall sitting at the hotel room desk and watching my laptop screen and just smiling like a five-year-old boy on his birthday as I waited and waited (and waited) for the page to load. I felt unbelievably blessed.

I love movies. I actually watch movie trailers before I start writing in the morning to get into the right head space. And so I really enjoyed the first time I watched a rough cut of one of the movies based on one of my books. That movie was Past the Bleachers. Just for the record, it’s better than the book.



HAMLETT: When you were in elementary/high school, dreaming of being a published author, whose career did you most covet?

BOHJALIAN: That’s a great question. But looking back, I don’t think I coveted anyone’s career—at least not in elementary or high school. I don’t think I thought about being a novelist in terms of a “life.” I just knew that I loved to write and wrote all the time.

I did think a lot of about Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in high school. But even at 15 or 16—even when I was holding a red cup in my hand at a keg party—I was likely to view their end as hauntingly sad.

It was only in college that I may have begun to “covet” a career. I probably imagined John Updike in his New England study: tall walls of books, a desk the size of a putting green, and (yes) a black Smith-Corona typewriter.



HAMLETT: What is/was your favorite children’s book? (I was—and am—extremely partial to the Frances series, especially Bedtime for Frances.)

BOHJALIAN: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. I still think about that last line: “A man can stand up.” (Always emphasize that “can.”)



HAMLETT: How much research do you have to do for each book to factually and honestly represent the realities of the characters and their worlds?

BOHJALIAN: I do a lot of research. As John Gardner observed—and here I am paraphrasing—one of the ways you can wake a reader from the fictional dream is a lack of authenticity or a stupid mistake. Homework matters.

But research isn’t everything. E. M. Forster once said, “We all know that fiction is truer than history because it goes beyond the evidence.”

No one reads my books because of the research. Yes, they may learn something about an issue or a moment in history. But I think people read novels because they are emotionally invested in the characters or fascinated with the story.



HAMLETT: What do you like to do away from writing/reading?

BOHJALIAN: I’m a pretty serious bicyclist: I ride 25 to 60 miles most afternoons between April and October.

But when I’m not riding or writing, I am likely to be reading, binge-watching TV with my wife, or hanging around with my wife and daughter.

I’m fortunate that I only need about six hours of sleep.


* * *


Chris Bohjalian is on a 2017 book tour to promote The Sleepwalker, making a stop in Denver at Tattered Cover – Littleton January 11.

01.07 | Controls Auditorium, Burlington VT
01.09 | Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples FL
01.10 | The Bookmark, Neptune Beach FL
01.11 | Tattered Cover, Littleton CO
01.12 | Warwicks Books, La Jolla CA
01.13 | Santaluz Club – author lunch, San Diego
01.13 | Vroman’s Bookstore, Pasadena CA
01.17 | Parnassus Books, Nashville
01.18 | St. Louis County Library, St. Louis
01.19 | Westerville Public Library, Westerville OH
01.20 | Books & Company, Dayton OH
01.21 | Fox Tale Bookshoppe, Atlanta
01.23 | Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh
01.24 | Barnes & Noble, New York
01.25 | Barnes & Noble, Warwick RI
01.26 | The Northshire Bookstore, Manchester VT
02.15 | Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas
02.25 | Southern Voices Festival & Authors Conference, Hoover Public Library, Hoover AL
04.03 | Sage College, Bush Memorial Hall, Troy NY
04.20 | Claremont McKenna College, Claremont CA
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Published on January 04, 2017 06:01 • 135 views • Tags: bohjalian, book-tour, johnny-tremain, the-sleepwalker

January 3, 2017

in only seven days now.

Want to learn more?

Click here for the :15 second preview:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTddS...

I hope to see you all on tour later this month.

All the best,

Chris B.
www.ChrisBohjalian.com
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Published on January 03, 2017 16:47 • 69 views • Tags: the-sleepwalker

November 29, 2016

Dear Friends Who Read and Readers Who Are Friends,

When I finish a novel and the book works -- and heaven knows that's not always the case -- I am left with a distinct postpartum sadness. I miss the characters and spending time with them in my library everyday. The truth is, I never write from an outline: I depend upon my characters to take me by the hand and lead me through the dark of the story.

The sadness I felt when I finished "The Sleepwalker" -- on sale January 10 -- was intense. When my daughter was nineteen, she said to me after reading the rough draft of one of my novels, "Dad, take this as a compliment, because I mean it that way, but I think your sweet spot as a writer is seriously messed up young women."

She is indeed astute.

But there are a couple of young women trying desperately to navigate life in the wake of their mother's strange disappearance in "The Sleepwalker" -- not just one. The postpartum sadness I felt when I completed that book was particularly acute.

And so I returned one last time to their lives and the result is "The Premonition," a 40-page stand-alone prequel to my next book.

It tells the tale of one strange summer when a pair of horses die, an odd boy moves to a small Vermont town, and a woman rises from her bed and disappears into the night.

Lianna Ahlberg is seventeen when a thunderstorm snaps a power line to the earth, electrifying the ground, the rain spreading the current like wildfire across the wet grass. Two horses are killed in the nearby field, unnerving the neighbors, upsetting the peculiar boy who has just moved in, and filling Lianna with a deep and abiding sense of dread. This is not the first unusual thing to happen that summer—a summer when Lianna’s mother begins to sleepwalk in the smallest hours of morning—and it will not be the last.

You can download "The Premonition" today from ibooks, amazon, kobo, books a million, google play, and bn.com.

Fingers crossed you enjoy it -- and my work never disappoints you. Thank you as always for your faith in my work.

All the best,

Chris B.
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Published on November 29, 2016 05:10 • 412 views • Tags: the-premonition, the-sleepwalker

October 24, 2016

For most of America, the heartbreaking faces of Syrian refugees this year have belonged to children. We have seen them drowned and we have seen them stunned into silence by warfare and covered in blood. (We’ve also seen them likened to Skittles, but that appalling analogy belongs only to the Trumps.)

At the moment, however, when I put a real face on the refugee crisis I see a balding 50-year-old man with gentle green eyes and a salt and pepper mustache. I met him on the second to last day in August in Ishkhanadzor, a modest village in Nagorno-Karabakh, the fledgling Armenian republic in the Caucasus that is still struggling for recognition. Ishkhanadzor is about 15 miles north of the Araxes River and the border with Iran. Among the town’s 360 residents is one physician, Haig Khatchadourian, a soft-spoken neuropathologist who now works as a general practitioner in the village’s seven-room clinic. He is also a refugee.

In the summer of 2014, ISIS fighters from Tunisia, Libya, and Iraq came to his summer home in Tal Hmedy, a town in northeastern Syria, and took him by force to their administrative building and court. Khatchadourian does not recall the date, but he remembers it was two in the afternoon and his three daughters — all between 12 and 14 years old then — were present. He told the girls that if he did not return home that night, they should take the bus to their relatives in the city of Al-Qamishli. At the court, ISIS administrators demanded that he renounce his Christianity, telling him that he would be brought to the center of the village and executed if he didn’t.

“I expected to be beheaded,” he told me as we chatted together in the shade from a small copse of trees outside his apartment in Ishkhanadzor. “I refused to convert. I was prepared to die a Christian because life has no meaning if you give up your faith.”

After four hours before the court, however, the ISIS tribunal released him. He has absolutely no idea why and they never gave him a reason. Two days earlier he had witnessed ISIS fighters executing a Muslim in the village center for saying something negative about the prophet Muhammad. The man’s executioner was his own nephew.

At the time, Khatchadourian and his three daughters were dividing their time between their primary residence in Al-Qamishli and Tal Hmedy. Al-Qamishli technically was never under ISIS control and the doctor and his family could have remained there. But the Syrian conflict was all around them and Khatchadourian feared everyday for the safety of his daughters — and lived with the prospect that he might not be alive to raise them.

And so in 2015 he and his girls emigrated north to Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous, Armenian-populated enclave lodged between Iran, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. In the village and the surrounding area, they joined 200 other Syrian and Lebanese Armenian refugees. He says he and his family are very happy here: “We like that we are surrounded by Armenians. And we like that everyone here has recognized us as human beings.”

Here in the United States, of course, “refugee” and “immigrant” are frightening words in some people’s opinion. This is especially true if the refugees are from Syria. So far, the U.S. has welcomed roughly 12,000 Syrian refugees, a number that has made barely a dent into the crisis brought on by the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS. To put this in perspective, Canada has taken in over 50,000 refugees, Germany has welcomed 600,000, and even tiny Belgium has accepted 16,000. And then, of course, there are the Middle Eastern countries that have taken in quite literally millions, including Lebanon, which is home to well over 1.25 million Syrian refugees.

I have met refugee children from Syria in schools in Lebanon, Armenia, and Canada, and their resilience and good cheer has left me awed.

The reality is that I am the grandson of survivors of the Armenian Genocide, which means that I am a grandson of immigrants from the Middle East. In the wake of the Hamidian Massacre in the 1890s and then the Ottoman Empire’s slaughter of 1.5 million of my ancestors during the First World War, the U.S. welcomed easily 75,000 Armenian immigrants. It’s why today there are such large Armenian-American communities in Massachusetts, New Jersey and California.

And so when I travel to places such as Ishkhanadzor, I’m ashamed of the way the U.S. has turned “refugee” and “immigrant” into synonyms for “terrorist.” (Even here in Vermont, the mayor of Rutland has been pilloried because he is bringing 100 refugees to his municipality.) It’s not merely that we are a nation of immigrants or that the bedrock of our national identity is our historical willingness to welcome the tired and homeless and poor, those “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” (thank you, Emma Lazarus). It’s that we have the resources that a struggling, largely unrecognized republic such as Nagorno-Karabakh can only dream of. The roads around Ishkhanadzor are dirt and have a diabolical predilection to flatten car tires. (On my journey there at the end of the summer, my small caravan of three SUVs suffered two flats in a morning.) Khatchadourian’s clinic only has hot water sporadically, because the boiler is an antique. Likewise, there are hours (and days) when it is without electricity.

But he insists he has found happiness there that he never had in Syria. “Everyone here is my daughters’ friend — and mine,” he said. “We are part of the community.”

I realize that a refugee such as Khatchadourian is less threatening to some Americans because he’s a Christian, not a Muslim. But like all refugees he is – as he put it when we spoke in the shade of those trees – first and foremost a human being. And that’s a reality that Americans should come to embrace.

(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on October 16, 2016 and in USA Today on October 18. The paperback of Chris’s most recent novel, “The Guest Room,” arrives wherever books are sold on Tuesday, October 25.)
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Published on October 24, 2016 07:50 • 306 views • Tags: armenia, armenian-genocide, artsakh, nagorno-karabakh, refugee, refugee-crisis

September 11, 2016

Author's Note: I wrote this column for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I hope it has something to say today, the 15th anniversary.

* * *

We all know where we were ten years ago today when the planes hit the towers. In my case, I was at Denver International Airport, standing at my gate and waiting to fly to San Francisco on a 7:15 a.m. flight – 9:15 in the east. I would learn more after I had boarded the flight, as all of us tried frantically to get information on cell phones that seem primitive now, frustrated that already it was impossible to reach anyone in Manhattan. It was my wife, home in Vermont, who kept me informed as best she could. Years earlier, she had worked on the 104th floor of Two World Trade. She knew that building well.

Among my memories? The cerulean blue sky over Denver that afternoon, where I would be stranded for a week. I wandered around aimlessly, staring up into the heavens that were oddly silent. There were, after all, absolutely no passenger jets in the skies by then.

Everyone has a story like that. The most poignant and powerful, of course, are those shared by people who lost family and friends on the four planes or in the mountains of rubble.

Likewise, we all sense how much the world has been transformed. In my own small, insular corner, the most noteworthy changes involve reading: The way the eBook and the digital newspaper are saving a lot of trees and wrecking a lot of attention spans. That sounds glib and I understand well that the digital genie is out of the bottle. The fact is that while I am still likely to read the print version of this paper, thanks to the digital age I read more of “the New York Times” than I did in the 1990s. And while I still prefer the paper book to the eBook, my wife reads novels both the old-fashioned way and on an eReader – and quite happily.

My point is simply this: Years from now when historians examine the first decade of the twenty-first century, my sense is that the way our brains assimilate and digest information in the digital age will be as noteworthy as a decade in Afghanistan, the war on Al-Qaeda, or the Red Sox ending their long World Series drought and winning the big prize twice.

September 11, 2001, however, the awful day itself, will always be at the core of our thinking. Make no mistake: 9/11 was a wrenching game-changer. People died. And they died horribly.

And then there are the American soldiers and members of the National Guard who have since given their lives nobly in Iraq and Afghanistan – and the many thousands more who have been crippled or traumatized or scarred. There are the New York City firefighters and rescue workers whose heroism has left them chronically ill. They have all served selflessly and we should be proud.

Which brings me back to memory. The two words, “Never forget,” are associated with 9/11. On some occasions, they have been the basis for the sort of xenophobia that makes for an offensive t-shirt or – far worse – this year’s demeaning Congressional hearings on the “radicalization” of Muslims. But most of the time, the two words have anchored deeply affecting tributes. I have always found it interesting how the sit-com, “Friends,” approached 9/11. The series was set in the West Village, at the corner of Bedford and Grove Streets. The fictional characters could have seen the towers pancake into the earth; they would have been draped in the tsunami of dust that followed. But the producers chose not to mention the attack in the episodes that aired in 2001 and 2002. (They even deleted a scene in which Chandler Bing jokes about blowing up a plane as he passes through airport security.) But there is one episode in which Joey Tribbiani wears a t-shirt with the Fire Department of New York logo and the name of a firefighter who died that day at Ground Zero. I find the understatement of that gesture moving.

Where will we be ten years from today? (Please, not Afghanistan.) Your guess is as good as mine. But I assure you: None of us will have forgotten where we were on 9/11.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on September 11, 2011. Chris’s next novel, “The Sleepwalker,” arrives on January 10, 2017.)
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Published on September 11, 2016 07:43 • 125 views • Tags: 9-11, neverforget

September 10, 2016

Free books?

Yup.

That is one of the great gifts of surfing around Goodreads.

I have a new novel arriving four months from today, "The Sleepwalker," and right now my publisher, Doubleday Books, and Goodreads are giving away advance copies.

To enter to win one, click here:

https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/sh...

Want to learn more? Goodreads has a terrific plot summary on the page for "The Sleepwalker." You can also find there Harlan Coben's opinion:

“The Sleepwalker is more than a mystery: it’s a beautiful, wrenching novel of family secrets and the enigmas that link husbands and wives and lovers. And then that ending? Devastating and perfect.”
— Harlan Coben

Fingers crossed my work never disappoints you.

All the best,

Chris B.
www.ChrisBohjalian.com
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Published on September 10, 2016 06:02 • 560 views

July 29, 2016

Dear Friends Who Read and Readers Who Are Friends,

I’ve been asked a lot this summer what I’m reading, especially from readers who are either devastated that Lin-Manuel Miranda has left “Hamilton” or devastated that he has left “Hamilton” and chosen not to run for political office – any office.

I feel their pain. I really do.

In any case, these are some of the books that I have absolutely loved so far this year. In no particular order:

* Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. A private plane crashes and two people survive, only to confront the inevitable media madness. Hawley is the brilliant mind behind the “Fargo” TV series on FX, and he is one heck of a novelist, too.

* Eligible by Curtis Sittenfield. A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in Cincinnati. Jane Austen would be pleased with the sly humor and deep characterizations that mark every page.

* Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. A magisterial three-century epic about Ghana and America. This is a debut novel with sentences so luminous and perfect I would read them aloud.

* Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben. Another smart, gripping page-turner. This one has already been snapped up by Julia Roberts for the movie.

* The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. Four siblings await their share of the family fortune. Their behavior ranges from horrible to hilarious, but it always rings true.

* City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin. The third and final volume of Cronin’s masterful, often terrifying vampire trilogy.

* The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close. An often laugh-out-loud novel of ambition and marriage and politics – and whether one young couple’s marriage can survive both the nation’s capital and Texas.

* The Girls by Emma Cline. It’s 1969 and Evie, a California teen, is attracted to a cult reminiscent of Charlie Manson’s. It’s a gripping coming-of-age novel.

* Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola. This is a memoir about drinking and recovering from drinking, and page 214 is so exquisitely beautiful that it will break your heart.

And here are three novels arriving this autumn and winter that I am looking forward to immensely:

* The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. A pair of slaves head north from Georgia on the Underground Railroad in antebellum America. Moving and thoughtful and magnificent.

* Little Deaths by Emma Flint. It’s 1965 in Queens, New York. Did Ruth Malone really murder her two adorable children? A lush, moody, film noir of a novel.

* Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. White supremacists, a heroic nurse, and a courtroom drama: a gripping exploration of race and class and justice in contemporary America.

Of course, you can always see exactly what I am reading right here on Goodreads. (I’m sometimes asked why I give every book I list on Goodreads a five-star rating. The answer is simple. I know a lot of writers, so I only list the books that I enjoyed on Goodreads.)

You may have seen on the social networks that I have been riding my beloved bike a lot this summer. I also have been writing. They’re connected: I do a lot of my best work on two wheels. So, you’ll see a brand new novel soon. Stay tuned for details.

Happy reading. Fingers crossed my work never disappoints you.

All the best,

Chris B.
www.ChrisBohjalian.com
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Published on July 29, 2016 05:52 • 777 views