Interview with Paulo Coelho

August, 2014
Paulo Coelho Paulo Coelho is a man of contradiction. The 67-year-old Brazilian author is an unparalleled success—known for his 1988 bestseller, The Alchemist, which is the most translated book in the world by a living author—yet he sees himself as a dreamer and a depressive. His parents committed the rebellious youth to an asylum three times, and as a lyricist whose songs were critical of his country's military rule in the 1980s, he was imprisoned and tortured. Still, he remains a joyous man, married to the same woman for 35 years and deeply grateful for "surviving the tempests" of change that have permitted him to publish one novel every two years.

To date, he has written 30 books, including By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept, The Fifth Mountain, Veronika Decides to Die, The Devil and Miss Prym, The Valkyries, The Witch of Portobello, and Brida. In his new novel, Adultery, a journalist and wife and mother in her late thirties confronts the monotony and melancholy of her perfect life when she bumps into her high school boyfriend—and soon risks everything to rediscover her true self. Goodreads author and interviewer Joy Horowitz spoke with Coelho, who splits his time between Rio de Janeiro and a country house in the Pyrenees Mountains of France, about his new book, how his astonishing 21.4 million Facebook followers and 9.4 million Twitter followers played a hand in its genesis, and why choosing to live a safe and comfortable life may be the worst thing we can ever do.

Goodreads: Condolences to your team in the World Cup.

Paulo Coelho: No, I'm really happy. I don't think they deserved to win. If they were bad, they should lose—so I'm happy.

GR: What made you nervous about writing this book?

PC: Nothing. Nothing.

GR: Really?

PC: The title. Yes, because people say, "Nobody will buy your book called Adultery and give it to his wife or husband or mother." I said, "Sorry, that's the title of the book, and it can't change."

GR: I would think it would be the opposite. I would think you'd have huge sales for a book called Adultery.

PC: [Laughs] So far the book is doing extremely well. It's number one on the bestseller list in all countries it's been released, including here in France. Then people tease me a little bit, "Oh, my wife didn't want me to read this book." It's funny, because a lot of men are reading this book.

GR: Why did you decide to make your protagonist a woman?

PC: Because it is more difficult to accept adultery in a woman than in a man. I don't know why, but people take for granted that men are unfaithful. But women in general never would do this terrible thing. So I said, OK, let's hear the woman's voice on the subject.

GR: I'm curious—why is her husband nameless?

PC: I don't know! Many times you have books with a lot of names, and you start getting confused. I don't think I gave a name to the wife of the politician. Oh, yes, yes, she has a name. I don't remember the name, but she has a name.

GR: Do you like writing sex scenes?

PC: They're not the main part of the book. But I love to write the sex scenes, because I like to write her inner moments or her moments of joy.

GR: It was interesting to me that the sex in the affair was mostly about her being degraded.

PC: Yeah. Right.

GR: Is that more of a male or female fantasy?

PC: It can be both to have this fantasy. We both have this fantasy.

GR: Do you think that depression and betrayal go hand in hand?

PC: Let me tell you how I decided to write this book. In the beginning I was thinking about discussing something that was relevant to people, because I have this huge social community on Facebook and Twitter and GooglePlus. Look at my page on Facebook and you will see. But I said, I'm so famous, so popular, why not discuss something that would be relevant? I thought that depression is the main issue of today. So I said, OK, I'm going to post something about depression, and I want you to interact with this. I'm not going to mention your name. Please send your experiences and opinions to this email. In 24 hours I got more than 1,000 answers. Out of the 1,000 answers, I heard about clinical depression. Many said, "I'm depressed because somebody betrayed me." The problem is not the lack of pharmachemical components in your body. The problem is people feel betrayed, and life loses its meaning. So I said, OK, let's talk about betrayal.

But it was overwhelming how people would answer me. And the extent of the written posts [was so great] that I thought I'd do a book. So I started going to forums—anonymously, of course—to check how people react and how people regret, one of the key issues. The first impulse is, "I'm going to get a divorce and I'm going to separate because I've been betrayed." But then they regret. A one-night stand is a one-night stand. So little by little this book started as interactive posts. Then I sat down and wrote a book based on the experiences of people.

GR: The book is really a meditation on marriage and how it's constantly in flux.

PC: I've been married for 35 years. I'm walking here in the countryside now with my wife by my side. And at the end of the day, she is a completely different person, physically and mentally, from the person I married 35 years ago. So am I. But people normally marry, and then they want that locked in time, so they think they're not going to change. We're going to change. Everybody's going to change. So accepting that changes are part of our lives makes marriage a blessing and not a curse, because love is stronger than anything else.

I just saw a rabbit. They're not very faithful, by the way. It's in a rose. (Turning to his wife) Oh, my God. Take a photo of the rose.

GR: In the book you write, "Love isn't just a feeling. It's an art. And like any art, it takes not only inspiration but also a lot of work." What do you mean?

PC: Giving space for the other to grow. Controlling jealousy that leads to nowhere. Basically, I think these issues are the key to surviving the tempests. Are you married?

GR: Yes, for 37 years.

PC: So you know what I'm talking about.

GR: One of the pivotal issues in the book is the protagonist's recognition of her being alone—whether we love to avoid dealing with our own loneliness in the world.

PC: This is a sensation I have. So probably I was projecting myself because sometimes, regardless what you do, there are moments you have these things to give, to share, but people don't understand. They say, "But you're so successful. You have a lot. You have money. You have fame." Sometimes this is not enough. Sharing is the basis of everything.

GR: The book is also about aging: "After a certain age, we put on a mask of confidence and certainty. In time, that mask gets stuck to our face and we can't remove it." Is that part of the monotony, the ritual, the boredom you write about relative to marriage?

PC: Probably the fear of monotony. You go to these parties, and everybody seems so happy. It just drives me crazy. I don't go to parties, by the way. But when I'm forced to go and everybody is smiling and happy, I know it's hypocrisy. When I go to these celebrity parties with all these actors and actresses, they're always smiling to each other, but they really want to kill the other.

GR: That jealousy is an important motivating factor in the book.

PC: Absolutely. The consequence. A one-night stand is totally different from an adulterer's relationship. People can understand or hide if you went to bed with someone else. But adultery lies in passion, and passion is something that's harder to share. You really feel you are being cheated.

GR: Goodreads member Joyce Rigal writes, "In your book your protagonist is dissatisfied even though she has everything, because she isn't living her truth. Have you experienced a moment in your life when you weren't living your truth, and how did you find the clarity and courage to live it?"

PC: The answer is yes, and it was in 1986. I had everything. I had money. I had the same wife I have now. I was a successful composer and lyricist, but I was not happy. Then I decided to walk from France to Spain—the road to Santiago de Compostela, a site of Catholic pilgrimage. At the end of this spiritual journey, I said either I forget my dream of being a writer or I write my first book (Pilgrimage), which I did. But it's not easy. You have to choose between being joyful (but not necessarily happy) and facing your challenges or trying to live a comfortable life and being safe. The second choice is the worst, because you can't feel safe. Nothing is safe. A thunderbolt could hit me and I could die. So nobody can be safe: You don't know when you're going to die. So better to choose the agony and ecstasy of living a life that fulfills you.

GR: Goodreads member Holland says, "Thank you for writing your books. They have added magic to my life. How do you think dreams serve us in life? How do you use dreams in your books and why?"

PC: Dreams are what justify life. Dreamers are people who really changed this world. I believe in dreams. I followed mine. I paid a very high price at the given moment, but I do not grieve. I think a person without dreams is a tree without roots. So dreams are the language of God. Dreams, for me, are my daily bread.

GR: Goodreads member Anthony Karakai writes, "Today's marketplace is dominated by romance and thrillers, and it appears that magical realism—outside of your novels—is not as strong as it was in the '80s and '90s. Where do you see the genre going?"

PC: It is true that we've lost this connection with magical realists because they [publishers] thought maybe this was not politically correct, that people would not read it. I'm only speaking for myself. This is the way for me to express myself. So the person who asked this question—he's totally right. Magical realism is about not having evidence for everything. And at the end of the day this is the reality. Because emotions are much more powerful than what's happening around you. You are guided by your emotions.

GR: Goodreads member Karen Reyes asks, "What inspires you to write? Do you have any tips for new young writers?"

PC: What inspires me to write is people. I spend two years meeting people, walking, wandering. And the second part, I have only one tip: Sit down and write. People want to be writers without writing. Don't care what people think. Or criticism. Or the fact that you'll be published or not. Just sit down and write. And then you're going to discover a whole universe inside yourself. You have to write because this is your dream. So write and the rest will come.

GR: What are you reading now?

PC: Right now I'm reading Michael Hastings's book The Last Magazine, about Newsweek.

GR: Tell us about your writing process. I understand you have to find a white feather before you begin writing?

PC: Yeah. When I wrote my first book, I was doubtful if I should write or do something else. I told myself, "If I find a white feather, I'll write my first book." And since that, because I only write every second year, I have a trove of ideas. And as I told you about Adultery, it was not a book. It was a post. But immediately I saw it as a good idea. At the moment I find the white feather, I have to start writing. Yes.

Then I write nonstop from the beginning to the end. For me it is very feminine. When I'm writing, I'm a woman and I'm giving birth. So you have to do it quickly. I made love, then I got pregnant, and I have to deliver the baby. Otherwise I will die and the baby will die.

I write every day. Always procrastinating in the beginning. Then I sit down and I write the first sentence of the day, and I don't eat. I drink coffee and that's it. Two weeks of pain and pressure.

GR: Two weeks of only drinking coffee? What?

PC: No. Basically I'm in a kind of a trance. I am the characters. I am the feelings. I am the city. I'm not myself anymore. I'm being an instrument that is bigger than I am.

GR: So are you a horrible person to live with?

PC: Probably. But you can stand two weeks every two years. That is not difficult. I have 100 weeks where I'm a nice person.

GR: Do you write as soon as you wake up in the morning?

PC: First I say that I'm going to write as soon as I wake up. Then I postpone and postpone and start feeling guilty and horrible and feel that I don't deserve anything. Then I say, OK, today I'm not going to write. Then I write just to not feel guilty, and I'm going to write the first sentence. Then once I'm off the ground, the plane takes off...when I'm writing, I wake up around 12 o'clock because I write until 4 in the morning. Only two weeks.

Then of course, I have to make the corrections and do another draft. I have to correct the second draft. So the first draft has, let's say, one-third more pages than the final draft. So I start cutting.

GR: What books and authors have most influenced you?

PC: There are two. One is Jorge Luis Borges. But the one who really got me was Henry Miller. When I read Tropic of Cancer, I said one day I'm going to write like him.


Interview by Joy Horowitz for Goodreads. Horowitz, a contributing editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books, is the author of Tessie and Pearlie: A Granddaughter's Story and Parts per Million: The Poisoning of Beverly Hills High School. She is teaching environmental journalism this fall at Harvard.

Learn more about Joy and follow what she's reading.

Would you like to contribute author interviews to Goodreads? Contact us.


Paulo Coelho photo by Marcos Borges (www.mborges.dk)


Comments (showing 1-50 of 65) (65 new)


message 1: by Mazhar (new)

Mazhar Thank you "Joy" for interview that was really wonderful


message 2: by Jess (new)

Jess GR: The book is really a meditation on marriage and how it's constantly in flux.

PC: I've been married for 35 years. I'm walking here in the countryside now with my wife by my side. And at the end of the day, she is a completely different person, physically and mentally, from the person I married 35 years ago. So am I. But people normally marry, and then they want that locked in time, so they think they're not going to change. We're going to change. Everybody's going to change. So accepting that changes are part of our lives makes marriage a blessing and not a curse, because love is stronger than anything else.

I just saw a rabbit. They're not very faithful, by the way. It's in a rose. (Turning to his wife) Oh, my God. Take a photo of the rose.

thank you .. these lines made me understand many lines in my heart.

thank you PC & JH

josephine carvalho wadhwa


message 3: by Jill (new)

Jill Tinsley Wonderful interview. This quote is my favorite takeaway from Coelho.

"You have to choose between being joyful (but not necessarily happy) and facing your challenges or trying to live a comfortable life and being safe. The second choice is the worst, because you can't feel safe. Nothing is safe. A thunderbolt could hit me and I could die. So nobody can be safe: You don't know when you're going to die. So better to choose the agony and ecstasy of living a life that fulfills you."


message 4: by Saurabh (new)

Saurabh Shah Enlightening interview. I will be getting my copy of the English version today!


message 5: by Arniker hamsa (new)

Arniker hamsa hamsa Having read three world famous works on Adultry (tragedies) 1 Anna Karnene 2. Madam Bovary and 3. Effi Breist, i am dying to read this.I have asked my husband of 30 years to get me copy within 24 hours.
arniker hamsa


message 6: by Scott (new)

Scott Jones I'm lying here having just put The Great Gatsby down for a minute to check my Email and here is a Book Review about adultery that doesn't mention The Great Gatsby. That's OK though it sounds like a much deeper exploration of the subject and I'll be reading it soon.

Waiting impatiently for Vanessa Veselka to deliver her next work.
Scott


message 7: by Bishoy (new)

Bishoy Hany To you I may be an ordinary reader, but to me you are the one who shaped most of my personality. I feel grateful to life as I discovered your books in my early 20s, which means the right time to understand the world before beginning it. Thanks for writing.


message 8: by Egil (new)

Egil Midtbø I am excited abort his books. Then hav inspired me for mann years! I will buy the book as soon as possible!


message 9: by Veronica (new)

Veronica Gubbs Sensational Interview! Excellent questions prompting endearing responses! I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish❤️


Tea Time with Marce Great interview, loved the opener of World Cup too, sweet. I can't wait to read this one. I love how his books make you think. Risky title but I love it.

Thanks again


message 11: by Richard (new)

Richard Loved the interview and I guess his books are next on my list of MUST READS. The ALCHEMIST & ADULTERY should get me going and may look for the PILGRIMAGE


message 12: by Natasha (new)

Natasha Gosh, I see that Coelho has unwittingly taken the premise of my novel and written his own! But I based After 25 Years on a real life extra-marital affair, and used genuine texts interspersed with literary narrative passages to tell a story with a different denouement...


message 13: by Kenedy (new)

Kenedy Great interview. It Opened a gateway to my mind. Thank you.


message 14: by Sundeep (new)

Sundeep Kaur Great interview.I never ever read his books but still interview has opened our thoughts n mind..except alchemist let me which are goods in moral


message 15: by Kalika (new)

Kalika Kalika Great interview! I was struck by the fact Paulo Coelho said he only writes for two weeks and I was wondering how it was possible to write a book in two weeks. Then, of course, he said he starts editing after that, and that can take forever.


message 16: by Courage (new)

Courage Madu Is amezine the way he talks inspire me he is focus and dettermind I'm lenean


message 17: by Andy (new)

Andy Cob Amazing interview! Such an exceptional and inspiring person he is! He's my favorite author, and I've only read The Alchemist! I owe a great deal of my perception of life to Paulo Coelho! Thank You!


message 18: by Colette (new)

Colette Brodigan Great interview. Will definitely be getting this book.
Thank you.


message 19: by Toula (new)

Toula Antonopoulou Dear Joy this interview was very good indeed.
The right questions brought back the very thoughtful answers. I guess it is better for writers to interview
other writers as you can dictate the honesty and respect
between them. Mr.Coello we also feel the fasting period
in your books, it is a very cool process!!


message 20: by Jill (new)

Jill Tinsley Kalika wrote: "Great interview! I was struck by the fact Paulo Coelho said he only writes for two weeks and I was wondering how it was possible to write a book in two weeks. Then, of course, he said he starts ed..."

I know! I love his work ethic!!!


message 21: by José (new)

José Zapata He is always an inspiration for me. :)


message 22: by Elias (new)

Elias Aweke Oh ! What a wonderful interview is it . Very inspiring and revealing. I am a journalist .you are a talented interviewer.you asked my questions .the prolific writer elegant simplicity is admirable .Coelho demystified the mystification of writing .
Elias Aweke
Editor -in-chief
Focus the first tri-lingual monthly magazine
In the sub-Saharan Africa


message 23: by Tshidi (new)

Tshidi Just sit down and write...

The essence of feeling cheated comes from choosing "to live a comfortable life and be safe" when nothing is really safe! in relationships, business and politics! PC, you've just earned yourself a new fan..., I'm getting the Alchemist first...!

Thank you!!


message 24: by Sudhakar (new)

Sudhakar Great interview. definitely inspired me to read the book .Interview Very nicely show cased the intellectual of PC.Review promotes the book for grand performance in the stals commerially .Interview was deftly handled to eplode the comercial prospets . Sudhakar .India


message 25: by Nor (new)

Nor Orban Great interview, correct responses that can inspire any one who wishes to look back at his life and take a step to change


message 26: by Faiza (new)

Faiza "Love isn't just a feeling. It's an art. And like any art, it takes not only inspiration but also a lot of work."
This has forced me to read the book.
Amazing experiences shared by paulo.


message 27: by Harriette (new)

Harriette Awesome interview! So here is what I am going to do. Just sit down and write...


message 28: by Zola (new)

Zola great interview, so effortless yet to the point ! thanx paulo, i only read two of your books, the zahir @ the alchemist, which i found truly masterpieces...can't wait to get the new one 'cause that is the only one to get to know this amazing person i dare to call ma hero.


message 29: by Yudith (new)

Yudith His books got to my life on the precise moment when I thought I was stuck with the life I had and could do nothing to save myself. I thank his words for rescuing me, I will always be grateful. I´m always interested to read something by him and this won´t be the exception.


message 30: by Dywane (new)

Dywane Awesome


message 31: by Nada (new)

Nada This interview is a sample of your great work, I mean both. There are some very interesting, I would say even exceptional thoughts. It´s a successful marketing promotion of the author - Paulo Coelho and his new book. It will be released in our country |Czech Republic| in October. I only believe it will be available untill my birthday so that I can get it as a gift.:- ) Paulo Coelho´s book belongs to those ones you want to have in your bookcase.


message 32: by Mj (new)

Mj I recently visited Brazil for the World Cup. I love his take in their defeat. It's a beautiful country and did try to absorb the environment that contributed to this great author. 'By The River Piedra I sat down down and wept' seemed to have been written about me. His thoughts on being fulfilled and being safe will send me to the bookstore in the morning.
Thank you Joy, for taking us up close and personal to such a great mind as Paul Coehlo. Thank you Mr. Coehlo for being so open and thank you for following your dream to sit down and write. I hope to have that courage one day.


message 33: by Ivonne (new)

Ivonne Love the interview! And yes, people change. Is very important how mature you are in order to share your life next to somebody else and to be willing to accept, forgive and let that person to be and grow.


message 34: by Andrea (new)

Andrea Holmes Love the interview and the works of Mr. Coehlo.


message 35: by Xiao (new)

Xiao Dear Mr Paulo Coelho
i had almost read your all novels translated into Arabic
unfortunately i can't read in his mother language because i am Egyptian
i want to ask him: how all your novel give the people just positive feelings? How can you give us hope in every single word?is this in your personality?
the other question: How you speaks about All religion in just perfect way, you must read alot of books about different religions i think, when you speak about islam i thought you are real muslim , when you speaks also about christian i like it too
at last i was happy when the boy go to pyramids to find the treasure u was very proud , and grateful
i think you give all humanity too messages: Hope & peace
thank you


message 36: by Ellycheikh (new)

Ellycheikh despite , I didn't read the book ,this interview was inspiring . he speaks openly and confidently. The most inspiring points he mentioned in his book are :
a men whithout dream is a tree without roots .
In life there is no safe .


message 37: by Eshwari (new)

Eshwari he is my favourite author .thanks.


message 38: by Kelly (new)

Kelly Clevinger Bernard This was a great interview and I look forward to reading this book.


message 39: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Scott Paulo is one of my favorites. I love that his writing is lyrical and compelling, leaving lots of space for the reader's process. Great interview.
Thanks, Catherine Scott


message 40: by Abdulgadirna (new)

Abdulgadirna Ibrahim Thank you for this intervew with one of my farorite writers . I came to know wonderful things about his writing habits !


message 41: by Joseph (new)

Joseph Panthananickal This was a great interview from one of my favorite writers - expressing his ideals and way of life; looking forward to read his book. Thanks, Joseph Panthananical.


message 42: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Scott Thanks, Abdulgadirna. It's powerful that hearing a great writer's practices and thoughts inspires my own.


message 43: by Jules (new)

Jules Excellent interview! It's always great to have a bit of perspective into the author's mind. Coelho's books always make you think so I will probably put this one on the reading pile. I very much like his attitude towards writing - not giving a damn about what people think and making sure the words are actually written down. Merci! x


message 44: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Scott Jules - I love knowing how writers think, especially the powerhouses like Coelho.


message 45: by Abdulgadirna (new)

Abdulgadirna Ibrahim Dear Jules , no one knows how writers think - even writers themselves!


message 46: by Gulnar (new)

Gulnar farzaliyeva thank you Joy Horowitz for interview with great writer,his books are full of amazing quotes,i found truly the Alchemist his masterpiece..and now trying to find his new book and read it....with love from Azerbaijan..


message 47: by Razie (new)

Razie Momeniyan Oh my god...
Im from iran. And here this book is not allowed to publishe :(((((((((
Plz let us read it online :((((((((((((((((((((
Oh my god every time iran has some boycott for its people...
I really want to read this book. Plz help me :(((((


message 48: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Scott Razie wrote: "Oh my god...
Im from iran. And here this book is not allowed to publishe :(((((((((
Plz let us read it online :((((((((((((((((((((
Oh my god every time iran has some boycott for its people...
I re..."

Good luck to you - he's an amazing writer, Razie.


message 49: by Razie (new)

Razie Momeniyan Catherine wrote: "Razie wrote: "Oh my god...
Im from iran. And here this book is not allowed to publishe :(((((((((
Plz let us read it online :((((((((((((((((((((
Oh my god every time iran has some boycott for its ..."


yes of course he is amazing, i knowe it, i read his books, but this book is forbidden here, can u help me?? i cant even buy it online! becouse all site bocott iran from their lists! and iran filter them!!!
plz if it is possible help me...


message 50: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Scott R azie, I couldn't get the book through Iran customs if I sent it, right?


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