Chris Bohjalian is the author of fourteen books, including the New York Times bestsellers, Secrets of Eden, Skeletons at the Feast, The Double Bind, Before You Know Kindness, The Law of Similars, and Midwives.
His new novel, The Night Strangers, arrives on October 4, 2011. It’s a ghost story inspired by a door in his basement and Sully Sullenberger’s successful ditching of an Airbus in the Hudson.
The idea for The Night Strangers stemmed from two random events in Bohjalian’s life that occurred years apart. In 1987 when Bohjalian purchased his 1898 Victorian home in Vermont he was puzzled to find a door in the basement sealed shut with six-inch long carriage bolts. Behind it? Nothing. It was, as Bohjalian recalled, eerily reminiscent of a crypt. He put it back in place, but knew even then that someday that door would be the entrance to a novel: A ghost story. Twenty-two years later in January 2009 pilot Sully Sullenberger dominated the headlines after he successfully landed his crippled Airbus in the Hudson River. Dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson,” Bohjalian saw a novel here as well—albeit one with a far darker ending.
The Night Strangers story line follows a troubled trail. When pilot Chip Linton is forced to ditch his regional jet in Lake Champlain due to double engine failure he and his wife Emily move to a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire with their ten-year-old twin daughters hoping to rebuild their lives. Unlike Sullenberger’s successful water landing, most of the people aboard Flight 1611 perish on impact or drown. The body count? Thirty-nine—a coincidence not lost on Chip when he discovers a door in the basement of their new home that leads to nowhere, sealed shut with exactly 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts. As he struggles to cope with the aftermath of the crash, Chip soon finds himself haunted—first by the litany of what-ifs and then by the passengers and crew who died in the water.
Meanwhile, Chip’s wife is wondering about the strange women in this sparsely populated White Mountain village, self-proclaimed herbalists, and why they are so interested in her fifth-grade daughters. Are they mad? Are they really making tinctures in the greenhouses that populate the town, or are they practicing witchcraft? Or is it her husband, in the wake of the tragedy, whose grip on sanity has become desperately tenuous?
I was able to chat with Chris about “The Night Strangers” and some of the background decisions and research that went into its writing.
A ghost story – how did you decide on a ghost story?
If you look at my personal library, you will notice that it ranges from Henry James to Steig Larsson, from Margaret Atwood to Max Hastings. There’s Jane Austen and Edgar Allen Poe and volumes of letters from Civil War privates. It is pretty eclectic. The reality is that I rarely read the same sort of book in a season.
In your research for this book, what’s one of the most interesting things you discovered?
I can still be scared of the dark.
How do you keep your character plot lines straight? Do you map them out? Use a tool? Or are they like favorite relatives in the family, you’re always aware of what they’re up to?
I never outline my books. Rarely do I even know how they’re going to end until I am three-quarters of the way (or more) into them. I depend upon my characters to take me by the hand and lead me through the dark of the story.
That process does mean that my books go through a lot of drafts. But as Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said, “The only reason writers publish is to stop rewriting.”
Book tour time. It’s a rough schedule, what do you like most about book tours and what is it that if you never saw it or had to do it again, you’d still be able to live a fulfilled life?
I really enjoy meeting readers and learning what books are on their nightstands (or eReaders).
And if I never again have to try and forage dinner from a hotel minibar after room service is closed, I will be content.
As a relatively new marketing and communication tool, how do you think your frequent updates on Facebook is affecting your fan base?
That’s a great question. I am still trying to learn what is too much information and what is interesting or helpful or fun.
When people come up to you what’s one of the things you really like to hear?
That I don’t a hair transplant. Also, that I look like Brad Pitt.
My next novel is called “The Sandcastle Girls.” It’s a love story set in the midst of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
About Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian‘s most recent novel, Secrets of Eden, is filming now for a Lifetime Television movie, which will air on November 21. It stars John Stamos and Anna Gunn.
Chris won the New England Book Award in 2002, and his novel, Midwives, was a number one New York Times bestseller, a selection of Oprah’s Book Club, a Publishers Weekly “Best Book,” and a New England Booksellers Association Discovery pick. His work has been translated into over 25 languages and twice before become movies (“Midwives” and “Past the Bleachers“).
He has written for a wide variety of magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Reader’s Digest, and the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, and has been a Sunday columnist for Gannett’s Burlington Free Press since 1992. Chris graduated from Amherst College, and lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter.
About Wendy Thomas
Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.
Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens).
And, yes, because Chris had done a previous Good Egg interview with me on my blog, we have a beautiful chicken named Chris-Bohjalian.