Last week I posted the first half of my “top ten” list—my answers to the questions I hear most often when visiting book clubs. If you’d like me to visit your book club, contact me through the website or Facebook. I can phone in or even come in person if you don’t live too far away!
And now, the rest of the list:
5. What do you think are better: physical books or digital books?
I honestly believe there is room in the world for both. I use my iPad to read electronic books when I am traveling and it’s great to have instant access to millions of titles. On the other hand, as I explore in The Bookman’s Tale, there are things a physical book can do that a digital book cannot. When text, physical book, and reader all interact opportunities arise. A watercolor portrait of Amanda could not have fluttered out of a digital reader. Peter could not have felt the texture of letterpress printing on his iPad. And ink and paper are a proven technology—they can store information for centuries. We don’t know what today’s digital books will be like five hundred years from now. So neither is “better,” but there is still a place in the world for printed books.
4. Is there going to be a movie of The Bookman’s Tale?
You never know. While there are no plans currently in the works, my agent has shown the book around Hollywood. Coincidentally, when the manuscript was first being circulated there, an historical movie about the Shakespeare authorship controversy was in release. Anonymous did not fare well at the box office, and as a result there was not a lot of enthusiasm at the time for projects with a Shakespeare connection. Still many, many readers have told me they would love to see a film of The Bookman’s Tale and of course all it takes is for one of those readers to be a movie producer.
3. How did you juggle all the different time frames?
When I was first writing The Bookman’s Tale, I didn’t know exactly how the various stories would end. I would write a little in one time frame and then get an idea for something that would happen in a different time. So I skipped around a lot in writing the first draft. As I began to see the connections among the various stories in subsequent drafts, I became more intentional in where I ended each section. The last major edit of the book, which I did for my wonderful editor at Penguin Books, Kathryn Court, involved more adjusting of the interacting story lines. Kathryn felt that readers should spend more time in each time period before shifting to another. In the end, I reduced every scene in the book to a single sentence, put each of those sentences on a slip of paper, and then laid out all those slips on a big table. Creating the final draft by rearranging these slips was as much a logic puzzle as it was a writing exercise. I had to be sure the audience found out information in a certain order and that I maintained thematic and linguistic links between the sections. It was a great mental exercise!
2. What are you working on next?
My next book, First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen, will be published by Viking on October 16, 2014. Like The Bookman’s Tale the novel explores English literature, antiquarian books, and the English countryside. There are two timelines in First Impressions, each with its own heroine—Sophie Collingwood in the present day and Jane Austen in 1796. Here’s how the Viking catalogue describes the book:
Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life. In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.
1. Is Peter Byerly a self-portrait?
The short answer is ‘no.’ Peter and I do have certain things in common—primarily our love of both rare books and the English countryside. But I, for instance, love to stand in front of a group of strangers and answer their questions; Peter would hate that. I certainly did not have myself in mind when creating Peter. Having said all that, I gave that answer to a group in Kingham and my neighbor and dear friend said to me afterwards, “Now, Charlie, you and Peter are more alike than you think.” It got me to thinking, and I do believe that Peter and I are both, in our own ways, hopeless romantics. We both believe in love. So Peter is not me; but I think we’d get along.