Bohjalian began his talk by saying that in the not-too-distant past his book sold briskly only to people with his same last name. He then gave a few examples of book events that he said we designed by the gods to humble him.
When he arrived at a bookstore signing in Seattle, he didn't see any of his books in the store. Thinking they were sold out (yay!), he found a staff member who told him that they ordered three copies and they were still in the store. He was taken to a dark place in the back of the store, and on a high shelf that only Shaquille O'Neal could reach, were his three books. He asked the staff person if he should sign the books, and was told "No, our readers are very discriminating." Ouch.
At a book signing in San Francisco, a man came up to him and asked him if her had heard that author Robert Parker had died that day. Bohjalian said yes, he had heard. Then the man asked if he knew that J.D. Salinger had recently died, as did Howard Zinn. When Bohjalian told the man he had heard that as well, the man asked him "Are ya worried?"
At another panel discussion, Adriana Trigiani and Alan Tennant were also on the stage. Tennant brought out a falcon and for an hour, everyone was entranced by the falcon. After an hour, Bohjalian finally got a question from the audience, someone asking him how the reviews were for his latest book. When he was about to answer, the falcon pooped on Tennant's arm, prompting the the comment "At least we know what the bird thought."
After these chuckles, Bohjalian got down to business, talking about the research he did for The Sleepwalker. He learned that people sleep-cook, sleep-drive, have sleep-sex, and even sleep-murder, all while having no memory of this at all. People who sleepwalk, their motor activity part of their brain is awake, while the judgement part of the brain is asleep.
He cited a statistic that in the 28 times that lawyers have used the sleepwalker defense for their clients accused of crimes while asleep, 15 acquittals were won. The audience found that fascinating.
Bohjlalian also shared a sleepwalking experience his family had. They were on vacation in Rome, staying at a small boutique hotel. They were awakened in the middle of the night by a breeze coming in their room from the open doors to the balcony. There was their 9 year-old daughter ready to climb on top of the balcony. She was sound asleep, sleepwalking. (Children are more prone to sleepwalking and frequently grow out of it.)
That incident inspired an important scene in The Sleepwalker.
What Bohjalian's books have in common, since he writes about so many different topics, are two things- a sense of dread and characters dealing with regret. His daughter, now a young woman, told him that messed-up women seems to be "his sweet spot", and Bohjalian says that he finds it more interesting to write about women. "Women are better people", he said.
During an interesting Q&A session, in which tote bags filled with Bohjalian's books were given away, he said The Sandcastle Girls, his amazing book about the Armenian genocide of 1915 "was the blessing of his life." He also said that he doesn't outline his books, he prefers for his characters to lead him through the story.
Then we got to my favorite part of book talks- what is the author reading? Bohjalian showed the audience his current favorites:
Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which he said deserves every award it has gotten. (I agree.)
American Housewife by Helen Ellis, which is hilarious (I also agree!). Helen was in the audience as well.
Dead Wake- Erik Larsen's newest book about the Lusitania
Small Great Things- Jodi Picoult's latest book about race
Political Suicide - Erin McHugh's timely books about the crazy things politicians have done
Black Water - a mystery by Louise Doughty
This Was Not The Plan- Cristina Alger's new book (Cristina was in attendance as well)
Blackout - Sarah Hepola's memoir
Bohjalian also mentioned that The Sandcastle Girls will be a movie. The producer has funding and casting has begun, with filming to begin this summer in the Middle East and Spain. That is great news!
He closed by praising bookstores who host author events, and asking the audience to support bookstores by buying books- any book, not necessarily his. I bought two copies of The Sleepwalker and a copy of Jane Harper's The Dry Season because I have heard such good things.
My review of The Sleepwalker is here.
Chris Bohjalian's website is here.