I’ve watched Christopher Bollen around NYC for years. I didn’t know it was Chris Bollen I was watching. I didn’t know that he was the six foot four blonde with piercing blue eyes that I use to stare at from across the room at various parties. I didn’t know it was Chris Bollen whose quiet way of looking around and observing everyone always fascinated and intimidated me. And he thankfully did not did not know that I was that girl that spent the better part of her twenties eye stalking him ! It wasn’t until last summer, when my husband gave me a must read book, called “Lightning People” and I flipped to the back cover that the identity of this infamous blonde finally made himself known! “Oh my god! It’s him!” I shrieked. I devoured his book as quickly as any freelance working mum is able to. It was a fast pace complicated thriller twisting and turning its way thru the many downtown characters lives in NYC. What made the story even more delightful for me was that I could see the years of Chris’s observations weaving their way thru the pages. More than once I paused and wondered if one of his characters was loosely based on a real life person I was familiar with. It turned out that my hubs knows this Bollen fellow so it was only a matter of time before ‘ole Franny here was knocking on his door asking to spend a few sunny hours with the blonde Bond of literature. I was as you can probably imagine, wide eyed with nerves but they were short lived. From the moment he opened the door and apologized for his nerdy spectacles, he was a beautiful spaghetti sauce mixture of funny stories, wise words, naughty gossip and a very intimidating amount of literary knowledge.
Bollen admits that writing is agony but is an unstoppable compulsion. In my own little “5 minutes with Franny” way I kinda understand that. The pain of even trying to write this short introduction some times literally makes me crazy! The discipline required to actually sit still for more than 5 minutes and make sense of the jumble of words in my head all of whom are fighting to be seen and heard, elbowing their way thru the many pointless thoughts that seem to pop up whenever I sit down to write, is a wrestling match of the most distracting proportions. Please witness below an example of how this intro reads in my head……Chris Bollen was born and raised in Ohio. An avid reader of Agatha Christie novels he grew up wanting to be either a private detective or a writer, oh damn did I write that email to my agent yet, I should get a manicure before I go do laundry. Upon further reflection though he realized that the former was in reality probably a rather dull job and luckily for us he decided to pursue writing, crap I need to buy diapers before Dots gets home. Chris moved here over a decade ago and for the past six years has been the editor at Large at Interview magazine, mm I want a cup of coffee. Since the success of “Lightning People” he probably doesn’t actually need to have a day job but his mid-western values are still strong and dictate that it is necessary to have a job that pays for health insurance and gives you a bi weekly cheques, I should go do the laundry and come back and write this after wards….Aaagh! You see my battle?!
Luckily Chris has some tricks up his sleeve, that anchor him to his chair and allow him to write for many hours a day with out succumbing to such mundane thoughts ruining his train of creative genius. He has to feel compression on his head so wears a red baseball cap when ever he writes and once he sits down at his desk he chain smokes, like any great writer should! These necessary eccentricities seemed to have served him well. In April 2015 his new book “Orient” which is begin published by uber publishers Harpers, will hit the shelves. It is a murder mystery novel set in the North Fork and by all accounts has the page turning twists and turns that I so loved in his first book. Mid western values aside Interview mag might have no choice but lose their Editor at large as Chris will no doubt soon be heading off on the hectic circuit of TV shows, books signings, book readings to promote his new book. For now though he has spending the summer vacationing in Europe, breathing in its old history, sipping on his favorite vodka soda with lemon and ultimately finding inspiration for his third novel. As for me, well I am finally gonna go and do my laundry, write that email, do the dishes, wait did I include that Chris grew up cross country skiing ’cause Ohio doesn’t have any mountains, call my mum, have a cuppa, check my Instagram, read the weekly Modern Love column ….
Who is Christopher Bollen?
He’s that creepy tall man who lives on the fifth floor who seems to be constantly lost in thought (although he does hold the door for me when I’m carrying groceries). Bollen’s an all-right character, I suppose. He writes as much as he can. He’s been in New York his whole adult life—the guy should get out in the world a bit more. He doesn’t sleep well. He has no pets but loves dogs. He wears a lot of blue.I have a tendency to think that I’m still just beginning but really I’m pretty deep into it. I think that can happen in New York. But that also, hopefully, keeps me open, and for these years, that means for writing.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
As a child, I wanted to be either a detective or a writer. Then, I realized that real detectives don’t solve murders in exotic locales so I just went with writer. I’ve always wanted to write novels—except for two muddled teenage years when I thought I could be a poet. I think, in a sense, novel writing is like being a detective, piecing ideas together. It’s loner work, which I particularly love. Unfortunately writing also rarely happens in exotic locales.
How did you get to be where you are?
I studied hard in school. I went to Columbia and, when I finished, started working at magazines because that was the closest I could get to the writing world that still paid the rent. I worked at Time Out and freelanced for places like Artforum and eventually worked as an editor at V. I started my first novel, Lightning People, on nights and weekends while I was there, and that continued when I became Editor in Chief at Interview. After about a year and a half I became Editor at Large, partially so that I could finish the novel. Lightning People came out in 2011 and I began my second novel, Orient. But in the abstract sense, I got here by sticking with it, every day, all the difficulties and impasses at which maybe a shrewder person would have tossed their hands up and decided, this is keeping me from being outside with the birds and sun. I really have trouble quitting. I try to see the long gain.
If you could go back in time and give your 16 year old self some advice what would it be?
Be in a school play, for god’s sake. Don’t be so self-conscious. Play chess and the violin and keep up with tennis. And please, I’m begging you, learn a foreign language. But mostly I berate myself for the missed opportunities just because I was afraid I would embarrass myself. I would tell myself that: you aren’t cool, you will never be cool, cool is a horrible mirror-walled prison that blocks creativity and the intellect. Oh, and be a little louder about the problems you see in the world.
If the cupboard in your bedroom would lead you to another world what would your Narnia look like?
It would look like a game preserve set on the beaches in Sinai—white tigers, elephants, giraffes, flamingos, giant turtles. Sinai has the most beautiful purple sunrises and sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life.
By day you are a magazine editor ………. by night you a novelist. My next novel, which is something of a murder mystery, is called Orient, set on the North Fork of Long Island. It will be out by Harper in 2015.
What was one of your favorite past projects?
Certainly publishing the first novel was probably my biggest accomplishment—simply because when you first start writing you tend to see the odds stacked against you of it ever seeing the light of day. So there’s a feeling of achievement in that, that all of the sacrifices came to something. And also because I will never have to write a first novel again. It feels like a high-five to the guy years earlier who sat down to write the first page.
What are you working on now and what do you dream of happening in the future?
Right now I’m doing the final edits on “Orient”, and I’m also trying to figure out the third novel—the shape and scope of it. Ultimately that will come just in starting out, sentence by sentence, but I’m hoping to have a little more planning with this one. The future dream is that I’ll be able to continue.
What song do you love that you keep secret ’cause its too embarrassing to say publicly that you like it? Does “Damn, Wish I Was Your Lover” count? Or anything by the Indigo Girls?
Which version of “Ignition” do you prefer R.kellys or Rixtons ? I need to confess something. I stopped listening to new music in 2008. My knowledge of what’s on the radio quite literally drops out that year. In fact my musical interests keep extending further and further into the past. By the time I’m 70, I will basically be listening to madrigals or Gregorian chants. But for this purpose, I’ll choose R. Kelly.
Are you a morning person or night person?
I’m a very different person in the morning and at night. I actually wish I could flip them—solitary at night, sociable in the morning. But as I get older I have started to appreciate the mornings more.
Any advice for people just starting out? Don’t waste your time building a resume for a job or in a field that you aren’t interested in. You will not starve in the streets if you quit this thing that makes you unhappy but keeps you in fresh laundry. It isn’t worth it. It will never be worth it (unless you have children and need the income to provide for them). I’m not saying don’t work: everyone has to work and working hard is half the value of living. Just don’t make bad deals with yourself, don’t stick to the wrong track out of laziness. If there’s no passion in the project, it’s a losing battle. I believe the only remaining evolutionary reason for fingernails is to get such a solid grip on something you want that your fingernails will bleed if that something is ripped away. But also, we’re such morphing creatures: if one dream doesn’t pan out another one will come along that also worth pursuing.
Is there a quote or mantra you live by? I suggest looking up the commencement address that Joan Didion gave in 1975. Those really are beautiful words to live by.