5 QUESTIONS

WITH CHRIS BOHJALIAN

Our bookseller Len got the chance to ask one of his favorite authors five questions.
Chris Bohjalian is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of 20 books. His novel Midwives was a #1 New York Times bestseller, a selection of Oprah’s Book Club, and a New England Booksellers Association Discovery pick.
The Flight Attendant cover image
The Sleepwalker cover image
The Guest Room cover image
 
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands cover image
 
The Light in the Ruins cover image
The Sandcastle Girls cover image
 
 
 
The Night Strangers cover image
Secrets of Eden cover image
 
Skeletons at the Feast cover image
 
The Double Blind cover image
Before You Know Kindness cover image
Idyll Banter cover image
 
 
 
 
The Buffalo Soldier cover image
Trans-Sister Radio cover image
The Laws of Similars cover image
 
Midwives cover image
 
Water Witches cover image
 

1. I can easily picture The Flight Attendant   as a movie. Are there any talks about doing so?


Thank you. And there are more than talks. It is in development right now with Warner Brothers Television as a limited series. It will star Kaley Cuoco as flight attendant Cassie Bowden. (Kaley is also producing.) Kaley will be perfect as Bowden: I love Cassie - her vulnerability, her demons, her humor, and (yes) her strength - and I cannot think of a better actor than Kaley to bring her to life.
 

2. Your book Midwives   was selected by Oprah Winfrey as part of her book club twenty years ago. What was it like receiving the call that your title had been chosen?


It was wonderful - among the greatest professional blessings of my career.

But, like, many authors who have had that great gift, I also didn't believe it was her on the phone at first. And then, when I was convinced, I assumed that she was simply asking me to serve on a committee to pick the next book. She laughed and said something along the lines of, Committee? There is no committee. I'm the committee.

And among my favorite moments of the experience was having dinner with her the night before the taping and just talking about books. I have met few people in my life who read as much as Oprah Winfrey or who love fiction as much as Oprah Winfrey. The work she has done as a worldwide ambassador for books is profoundly important.
 

3. Do you have a favorite book that you have written? Is there one you think has been overlooked?


I don't necessarily have a favorite book. (I certainly have some that might vie for the title of "least favorite.") But here are two that mean a lot to me and I am very proud of.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands was published in 2014 and got lovely reviews, but my readers never really found it. Part of the problem is the title I gave it: you have no idea what it's about. Second, it is narrated by a 16-year-old girl, so a lot of readers supposed it was a young adult novel. It's not, though I am thrilled when teenagers and middle school readers discover it. It's the story of Emily Shepard - that 16-year-old - orphaned by a meltdown at Vermont's lone nuclear plant, and her life on the streets as a homeless teen. I love Emily's voice and her journey (which is, yes, often very tense because of drug abuse and sexual exploitation and the fact she's a cutter), and I still worry about her today.

The Sandcastle Girls was published in 2012 and was embraced by readers around the world. It has definitely not been overlooked. It's a love story set in 1915 in the midst of the Armenian Genocide. I'm a descendant of two survivors of the Genocide and I am so pleased with the way readers fell in love with the characters - and the way it has educated people in so many countries to the way my ancestors were ethnically cleansed from our homeland.
 

4. The majority of your books have dark subject matter. Have you ever considered doing anything lighthearted? Why are you so compelled to write about such tough topics?


My daughter, Grace Experience, is a young actor, and she has a read all or parts of four of my recent novels for Penguin Random House Audio. She once said to me, "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's very astute. And she was on to something.

I tend to write about heartbreak and I love books that break my heart: I loved every word of the Harry Potter series, but I still would have killed Harry Potter at end of book seven. (Please forgive me, J.K.!)

I also love dread. When my books work - and heaven knows, they don't always - it is dread that keeps you turning the pages.

Finally, I hope my books have a gravitas to them that creeps up on you. The Flight Attendant is a perfect example. Yes, it's a thriller about a flight attendant who wakes up next to a dead body in Dubai, but I hope it also explores a variety of other issues - including, of course, alcoholism.

Maybe someday I will write something lighter: I never want to write the same book twice. So...stay tuned. Maybe I can find a way to write something that is heartbreakingly funny.
 

5. You have a sizable following in Twitter. What are some of your favorite interactions with fans on social media?


We all know that the social networks can be emotionally toxic: a dumpster fire of accusations and anger. Twitter can be especially inflammatory.

Most of my followers know my political views because I am not shy about sharing them. But I always try to be respectful and polite with people who disagree with me, just as I always try to be respectful and polite in person.

And most of the time I try to use Twitter to celebrate what words and reading and books can mean to the soul. Fiction is about empathy. As E.M. Forster once said, "We all know that fiction is truer than history because it goes beyond the evidence."

And so my favorite interactions are about books - and not just mine. I tweet a lot about the work of other authors, and I love it when readers tweet me books (or articles about books) that I should read.

In those moments, Twitter is more like a great cocktail party and less like a superfund cleanup site.