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A literary Chris-cross: New Bohjalian and Moore offerings are very different – and very good

May 18, 2022
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My affinity for the written word is no secret. I’ve been reviewing books in these pages for coming up on 15 years now, and I was a voracious reader even before it became part of my job.

I have my favorites, of course – who doesn’t? Anyone who spends significant time turning pages has authors whose work they find particularly appealing. And it’s always exciting when one of your favorites has a new book coming out.

But there’s something even more exciting than that – when TWO of your favorites EACH have a new book coming out.

Such is the case for me here in mid-May, when two authors whose work I very much enjoy have new novels dropping within a week of one another.

On May 10, Chris Bohjalian’s newest book “The Lioness” was published by Doubleday. It’s a sharp and propulsive work of historical fiction revolving around mid-century Hollywood types and a safari gone horribly wrong, with each chapter moving from character perspective to character perspective and featuring Bohjalian’s trademark meticulousness of research. It’s a real adventure of a read.

On May 17, literary clown prince Christopher Moore’s latest “Razzmatazz” dropped courtesy of William Morrow. A sequel to Moore’s excellent 2018 novel “Noir,” this one is also set in the past – post-WWII San Francisco, where we get to enjoy the continuing adventures of Sammy Tiffin, bartender and reluctant hero, as he tries to solve a mystery and save himself and his friends. Weird and laugh-out-loud funny.

(Our full reviews of "The Lioness" and "Razzmatazz" are available.)

Now, this isn’t the first time that I’ve had two authors I admire release works so close together. So what makes this instance so special – special enough that I’ve chosen to make it our cover story for this week?

Well, there are a number of reasons, but the big one is this: for the first time in all my years here at The Maine Edge, the close release of admired authors’ new work features two writers who have both been previously profiled on our cover!

That’s right – both Moore and Bohjalian have been featured on the cover of this very publication, taking the time to engage with me in-depth about previous works.

I spoke to Moore back in 2014 when his excellent “The Serpent of Venice” hit bookstores. He gave generously of his time, sharing with me his thoughts about the book and about writing in general. Meanwhile, I connected with Bohjalian just last year; we were in conversation about his wonderful novel “Hour of the Witch” – a conversation where he too was forthcoming about his process.

As such, I thought it might be interesting to share a few tidbits from those interviews that shine a bit of light on their respective attitudes and ideas when it comes to their work.

First, process. Here’s Moore from 2014:

TME: How does your typical writing process play out? From whence do you draw your inspiration? What's your daily writing routine? And roughly how long does a book tend to take you, from typing the first word to sending the final draft to be printed?

CM: Well, first to last, from start to finish a book is usually 18 to 24 months to write, as long as four years from conception to publication. Often, though, I'll have had an idea years ago and only figured out how I wanted to use it later…My inspiration comes from all over the place. From Shakespeare to a small news story I read in the paper. From art, to drama, to poetry. Inspiration comes from living life and paying attention.

And now, Bohjalian from last year:

TME: Walk me through a typical writing day for Chris Bohjalian. What’s your process on a day-to-day level?

CB: A writer’s daily life is spectacularly boring when you’re writing: I get up and walk my beloved dog, Jesse, and then grab a Red Bull and get to work – which means sitting at my desk. Now, I do have two quirks. I begin the workday by scanning a massive library dictionary and picking out two or three words I think I have never used before. (After 22 books, I can’t be positive.) I try to use them that day. I might fail, but it’s interesting to try because, after all, words are our principal tool. Second, I watch movie and TV series trailers. Those impeccably produced two- and three-minute teasers instantly propel me to an emotional place that helps me get in the groove for whatever scene I am trying to write that day.

My goal is to write 1,000 words a day. Again, I might fail. But that’s the goal.

It’s also worth noting that while these authors have very different styles and tones within their work, both are adamant about the vital importance of research. Here’s Moore again:

TME: You have written a number of books that seemed to demand significant amounts of research. How does the research process typically play out for you?

CM: I will often start the research for my next book before I'm finished writing the current one. I may only have the foggiest notion of what I want to write, and I'm doing the research to see if it's feasible. If the premise seems workable, then I start looking for inspiration in the research - the academic research.

At some point, I want to go to the place where the story takes place. Even if I'm writing about that same place in a different time, Paris in the 1800s, or Palestine in the first century, I will always see something that I didn't expect and that enriches the story.  There's always some salient detail that I'll experience that will help coax the reader to come along with me on this adventure.

I remember going to Jericho when I was researching Lamb, and thinking it was the most monochromatic place I'd ever seen. Everything was brown. So in the book, when Josh (Jesus) heals two blind guys, as he does in the Gospels, they look around and go, “I really thought there would be more color.” They keep asking him “What's that color?” and he keeps saying, “Well, that would be brown. That? Yes, also brown.” Without going there, I'd have never had that moment. 

Here we have some of Bohjalian’s research thoughts:

TME: One of the many notable things about your work is how meticulously researched it feels. How much time do you spend on research before diving into the work of writing the book?

CB: I usually spend a couple of weeks researching an idea before starting to write, just to make sure it’s viable and it really does interest me. That second factor is critical. If the idea doesn’t have me excited, I sure won’t be able to make it exciting for my readers. But I am always researching as I write. If a scene isn’t working or my momentum has slowed, it usually means I haven’t done my homework and there is more to learn.

[R]esearch can be [really]interesting. I went on a bike tour of Vietnam and Cambodia when I was researching “The Red Lotus.” I had the best time interviewing Puritan and legal scholars about seventeenth-century Boston while researching “Hour of the Witch.” I mean, who knew the Puritans didn’t use forks and drank beer like college kids on spring break? That is the magic that makes a book come to life.

See what I mean? These wonderful writers, despite the vast differences between the types of books they produce, still possess these fundamental commonalities that inform their work.

Now, the odds of these two releasing books so close together are rendered somewhat slimmer by the simple fact that both are staggeringly prolific, combining for roughly 40 novels between them (and that doesn’t even count other writings). When you’ve got two talents pumping out such a tremendous volume of volumes, eventually, the releases are going to line up.

Celebrating the written word is something that has always been important to me and will always be important to me. And honestly, if this story serves as even one person’s introduction to either of these exceptional writers, then I’ve accomplished what I wanted to accomplish.

(Note: You can find the full versions of those previous Bohjalian and Moore interviews here and here. And of course, the reviews of both “The Lioness” and “Razzmatazz” are here for your perusal. You’ll likely not be shocked to learn that both are raves. But honestly, you would be well served by picking up any book written by either of these literary Chrises.)

Last modified on Wednesday, 18 May 2022 11:48

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