Chris Bohjalian's Blog, page 3

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
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Published on January 11, 2017 05:06 • 241 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 • 195 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 • 96 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 • 519 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 • 349 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 • 156 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 • 664 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 • 817 views

January 9, 2016

Dear Friends who Read and Readers who are Friends,

I am now through 5 of the 20 stops on "The Guest Room" book tour, and it has been such a pleasure to meet so many of you on the road. I hope I get to many more of you in the coming two weeks: I am so grateful to all of you for your faith in my work.

And I am deeply appreciative of the way some readers and critics are taking Alexandra -- the Armenian sex slave born Anahit -- under their wing:

“The book’s real throbbing heart is Anahit, an aspiring young dancer from Armenia who was tricked into the life of rape and prostitution that brought her to Richard’s home. The narrative steadily and masterfully slinks away from Richard and over to Anahit, and in her chapters we discover a deep portrait of a brutalized and manipulated young woman…The narrative’s frequent somersaults from Anahit’s devastating backstory to the Chapman family’s more sheltered world is a remarkable artistic feat. . .a steely exploration of the very human cost of bachelor parties and other games of male pleasure.”
-- Eliot Schrefer, USA Today

"Well-written and psychologically astute. . .Alexandra is the conscience in this conscienceless world, a girl who manages to hold on to her innocence and compassion despite the horror of her life. Her voice, with its sometimes uncertain, quirky English, is rendered with such perfection that it's easy to forget that the author is male. This, the book tells us, is what happens to the innocent. . .enjoyable."
- Arlene McKanic, BookPage

"Heartbreaking. . .I won't give away of the surprising twists and turns that The Guest Room takes on the path to Bohjalian's daring conclusion; I'll only note that much of the pleasure that comes from reading any well-constructed narrative lies in trying to anticipate how the author will write himself out of seemingly inescapable corners. But here, for a change, we also have a novelist who seems more concerned with examining and dramatizing a much more universal question: whether, in the end, any amount of love or compassion, retreat or nobility or forgiveness, can overcome the remorseless workings of evil."
-- Skip Horack, The San Francisco Chronicle

"Bohjalian's deft and light-handed storytelling makes this book a compelling and captivating read. In particular, his treatment of guilt and paranoia is realistic and downright scary. You will remember Richard and Alexandra long after the last page."
-- Tracy Sherlock, The Vancouver Sun

"Bohjalian is at his best in The Guest Room, one of his most compelling books so far, combining an explosive premise, a timely social topic, and fast-paced storytelling with a purpose."
-- Amy Driscoll, The Miami Herald

"The Guest Room has an edge-of-the-seat momentum that propels the reader straight to the last page...For those who value the well-researched novel, the author's 18th book will please."
-- Anita Shreve, The Washington Post

"Chris Bohjalian keeps readers turning each page. . .painfully honest. . .compelling."
-- Amanda St. Amand, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

As some of you know, I missed Alexandra so much this autumn that I wrote a short story about her.

In any case, I thank you all. Truly.

To 2016: may -- somehow -- our world find peace.

All the best,

Chris B.

PS: You can see the 15 stops that remain on the tour at www.ChrisBohjalian.com .
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Published on January 09, 2016 12:16 • 443 views

January 5, 2016

John Gardner was thrown from his motorcycle and died the year before his book, The Art of Fiction, was published in 1983. Consequently, he never saw the influence that his short, smart guide to good writing would have on so many aspiring writers – including me.

In the last thirty years, I’ve thought often of a point he makes in the preface: “Though the ability to write well is partly a gift – like the ability to play basketball well, or to outguess the stock market – writing ability is mainly a product of good teaching supported by a deep-down love of writing.” I never took a creative writing class, so his book was my Bread Loaf, that almost mythic writing conference in Vermont’s Green Mountains where (among other places) Gardner taught.

Just for the record, I did try once to take a creative writing course. I was a sophomore in college and the writer in residence read a sample of my work to see whether I was worth her time. She summoned me to her office and said, “I have three words advice for you.” I could tell this wasn’t going to be good. “Be a banker.”

My sense is that by a “deep-down love of writing,” Gardner meant an appreciation for the way that we string words together: the finished product. But I like to believe he might also have been considering the process of putting words down on paper. Writing, in this case, would be both a noun and a verb.

The reality is that not all writers enjoy the process of sitting down and writing. Dorothy Parker once confessed with her usual cleverness, “I hate writing, I love having written.”

But most of us do enjoy it. We have a deep-down love for the process. Even Hemingway, whose letters and interviews are rich with melodrama about the pain and hard work of being a writer, on occasion would confess to Max Perkins (and others) how much he loved it.

Certainly I do. I write every day. I’m at my desk with an eight-point-four-ounce can of Sugar Free Red Bull (the first of two I will finish by lunch) by six AM. The goal each day is to produce a thousand words. Yes, like Hemingway, I count them – or to be precise, Microsoft Word for Apple counts them. But even when I was a young man writing with blue, fine-point Bic pens on yellow legal pads before going to work at an ad agency, I counted the words. I don’t always reach a thousand, but the point is to get something down on paper I can work with. As novelist Jodi Picoult has observed – a remark that captures both her wisdom and humor – “You can edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

And the reality is that a lot of those words will wind up on the cutting room floor. The first draft of my novel Before You Know Kindness was 185,000 words. The final draft was 135,000. In between, I did not merely cut 50,000 words; I probably cut 85,000 and wrote 35,000 that were new.

I depend upon two techniques that Hemingway championed. First, I always begin by rewriting the last 200 or 300 words I wrote the day before. This reacquaints me with the material and gives me momentum: Think of a plane gaining velocity and then rising as it hurtles down a runway. I am also, of course, editing the text. Improving it. Second, I always knock off around lunchtime. This way I always have a little gas in the tank for the next morning.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I spend my life working only half-days. The afternoons are filled with research: interviews with people who know more about a subject than I do (heart surgery, human trafficking, why planes crash). But the afternoons are often filled with biking, too, at least for the seven months a year when it’s pleasurable to ride here in Vermont. I am an avid bicyclist, and the riding helps my writing. Someone – I don’t recall who – once observed that the most important tool a writer can have is a walk. For me, it’s a ride. When I am alone on my bike somewhere between the Lake Champlain Bridge and the top of the Lincoln Gap, I am invariably thinking about whatever book I am writing.

There are a couple of reasons why I have found my bicycle such an important tool. One is the shower principle – a term I learned from the fictional Jack Donaghy on “30 Rock.” It has less to do with sweat than it does with clearing one’s mind. “The shower principle is a term scientists use to describe moments of inspiration that occur when the brain is distracted from the problem at hand – for example, when you’re showering,” Donaghy explains. I have no idea if this is a real term that any scientist outside of TV Land has ever used, but we all know there’s a certain truth to it. On my bike I have figured out how books will end and determined whether characters will live or die. My 2007 novel, The Double Bind, was born on a bike.

And over the last few years, I have grown more likely to stop and pull my iPhone from my cycling jersey, and write entire scenes on the device. The moment in Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands when narrator Emily Shepard retreats into a shopping mall bathroom with her cutting kit was written on my iPhone while sitting beside a gazebo in New Haven, Vermont.

Finally, it is worth noting that as much as I love writing (the verb), I probably love writing (the noun) even more. I doubt anyone becomes a serious novelist who doesn’t love reading: savoring paragraphs that precisely capture longing or dread or desire. Being riveted by a plot twist that is utterly surprising but, you realize, perfect, because it was inevitable.

I don’t play basketball well and heaven knows I have never guessed right on the stock market. But I can’t imagine a gift for either would have made me any happier in this life than writing.

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This essay appeared originally on www.Signature.com on January 5, 2016. Chris's new novel, "The Guest Room," was just published.
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Published on January 05, 2016 20:06 • 188 views • Tags: creative-writing, fiction, process, writing