Tale for Three Counties:Meet the author

Posted: Saturday, March 15, 2014 5:00 
By Matt Krueger mkrueger@batavianews.com

Karen Thompson Walker splashed into the literary world in 2012 with the heralded release of her debut novel “The Age of Miracles,” which sold for a reported seven figures. That’s nearly unheard of for first-time authors.

The book delivered. It was named to the “Best Books of 2012” lists for Booklist, BookPage, People Magazine and Publishers Weekly. Now a feature film based on the book is in the works.

It’s still a bit of a whirlwind for the former editor at Simon & Schuster. But it’s one that she called exciting.

The author, who grew up in San Diego, the setting for “The Age of Miracles,” studied English literature at UCLA and creative writing at Columbia University. She currently lives in Iowa with her husband, Casey, who is also a writer.

Before Thompson Walker arrives in Batavia in March for the 12th annual “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading program, she granted an interview with The Daily News.

Here is a small insight into the latest “Tale” author:

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? Did you write much as a child?

I have loved to write since childhood, but I got serious about writing fiction when I was in college at UCLA, where I had the good fortune to study with the writers Aimee Bender and Mona Simpson, both of whom were incredibly helpful and inspiring teachers.

You began your career as a newspaper reporter. Why did you make the switch to book editing and eventually writing? Was that the plan all along?

Fiction was my primary interest, but writing fiction is not really a job, especially at the beginning. I learned a lot from working as a newspaper reporter and later as a book editor, but I was always writing fiction on the side. I didn’t know if I would ever be able to publish my fiction, though, and I never expected to write fiction full-time, so I pursued these other careers, both of which were really rewarding.

Could you describe your writing method to us? Does it start with an outline? Stream of consciousness?

I don’t really make outlines, but I do like to write in chronological order, which I think helps me stay organized. I like to start with a premise and a voice, and then move forward sentence by sentence. I do a lot of editing as I go, so I don’t write very many words per day. It’s a slow process, but fairly steady.

I read that you composed “The Age of Miracles” partly on your morning subway rides to work. Is that true? Where else did you find yourself writing?

That is true! The most challenging thing about writing a book while working full-time as an editor was finding the time to write. I wrote most of the book in the mornings before work, and if I’d overslept or if I was having a particularly good writing morning, I would bring my laptop and continue working on the subway.

How long did it take you to write “The Age of Miracles”?

It began as a 14-page short story, which I set aside for several years. Once I decided to try to turn it into a novel, it took me about four years to finish it.

The idea of the slowing was inspired by the 2004 Indonesia tsunami, right? What kind of effect did that event have on you?

Well, I got the idea from a small piece of news related to that terrible disaster. A few days after it happened, I read that the earthquake that caused that tsunami was so powerful that it affected the rotation of the earth. After that, our 24 hour days were a fraction of a second shorter than they were before. I found that news incredibly haunting, and I began to wonder what would happen if we ever had to face a much larger change in the rotation of the earth.

Why tell this story through the eyes of a middle school girl?

I think adolescence is a profoundly interesting time of life, and I remember my own middle school years very vividly. I also hoped that focusing on a young girl would help this global story feel intimate and personal.

Tell us about Julia. How much of your own personality is echoed by her?

Julia is not exactly me, but I did give her some of the qualities I had as a young girl. Like her, I was an only child, and I was a little quieter and more introverted than a lot of the other kids my age. But my childhood was much smoother than hers, and my family is very different from hers, much happier and more stable.

Why did you set the book in San Diego, where you were born and raised? What do you like and dislike about that city?

I chose to set the book in southern California because I know so well what it’s like to grow up there. I drew on own my childhood memories of its distinctive weather and its landscape, the Santa Ana winds, the eucalyptus trees, the bluffs above the ocean. I didn’t specifically call it San Diego, but that’s the place I was picturing as I wrote. It’s also a place that is acquainted with natural disaster — earthquakes, brushfires — and so it felt right to set my story of natural disaster in this region.

San Diego was a great place to grow up. Every time I go home to visit my parents, I think about moving back.

What did you like and dislike about living in New York City?

I love New York City, especially Brooklyn. I like to walk, and it’s a wonderful walking city. Life in New York is definitely harder than it is in other places, though. Every errand is more complicated and more time-consuming here than it would be in a smaller place. But everywhere else feels a little too quiet to me. I think the city may have ruined me for anywhere else.

What about turning the book into a movie? Is that something you would like to see?

It still feels a little unreal to me, but I’d love to see a movie version, and one is in the works. River Road (“Brokeback Mountain,” “The Tree of Life”) has optioned the film rights, and Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight,” “Thirteen”) will direct it. The screenplay was written by Seth Lochhead (“Hanna”).

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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