Novel Matters: Tell us about your newest novel.
Chris Bohjalian: “The Light in the Ruins” began as a re-imagining of ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ this time setin Tuscany at the end of the Second World War. I have always savored love stories – especially epic love stories set in war. Books such as ‘Atonement’ and ‘The English Patient.’
And while the love story is instrumental to the novel, the tale grew beyond that. Now it’s the story of two young women, one of whom was a partisan battling the Nazis and Blackshirts. The other is a Tuscan nobleman’s daughter who falls in love with a German lieutenant. The book moves back and forth in time between the cataclysm that was Tuscany in 1944 and Florence in 1955 – when a serial killer is murdering one-by-one the remnants of the nobleman’s family.
It’s set in one of my favorite parts of the world: That part of Italy called the Crete Senesi – the hills and woods and the eerily lunar-like landscape south of Siena. I bike there and do some of my best writing in a medieval granary that figures prominently in the tale.
The novel goes on sale on July 9. To purchase the novel or learn more about it, click here:
NM: Some authors write one book a year and others write a handful over a lifetime. In the beginning, did you consciously choose one of these paths over the other, and are you happy with that choice today?
CB: No. I was simply hoping to write a novel after (finally) selling a short story. I amassed 250 rejection slips before I sold a single word.
That first short story is called “Sparks” and it appeared in Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1988.
NM: Writing careers ebb and flow—one day you’re an Amazon 5-star, the next you’re on your way to the bargain table. Always, every day, however, you’re an artist. The story must be written. How do you—do you?—separate yourself from opinions to give your creative self for another day of writing?
CB: I don’t dare read the reviews on Goodreads or Amazon or BN.com. I used to. I wrote an essay once for the Washington Post about my old addiction to reading the way anonymous people would eviscerate my work. But now, in the interest of my mental health, I give the reviews as wide a berth as I can. They can really screw up a sunny day.
Here is that essay I wrote for the WashingtonPost.
NM: If tomorrow were the first day of your career, what advice would you give yourself?
CB: Write what you love; write what moves you and makes you proud.
NM: Writers debate whether to write a novel using a detailed outline vs. no outline, just go with the gut. Which do you prefer? What role does epiphany play while planning or writing?
CB: I never have an outline. I depend upon my characters to take me by the hand and lead me through the dark of the story. I begin with only a vague premise of what the novel is about.
NM: What's the one thing (be it a technology, a notebook, a wristwatch, or pen) that you can't be without as a writer?
CB: Sugar Free Red Bull.
NM: Who do you turn to for advice when things are rocky on your writing journey?
CB: My editor and my literary agent.
NM: What advice do you give to writers who are looking to seize the year and take control of their writing career?
CB: I don’t. I’m not presumptuous.
NM: The theme this year on Novel Matters is Carpe Annum: Seize the Year! Tell us about a turning-point time in your journey as a writer when you took hold of your career. What did that look like? How did that moment change you as a writer?
CB: In 1992, I finally wrote a pretty decent novel: “Water Witches.” The voice felt authentic and the story felt original. It was my fourth book. I wished my previous three books had never been published. I still keep them all out of print.
Thanks so much, Chris, for sharing a part of your writing journey with us. We're excited about your latest!