1. ( I am assuming that) Danish your first language. Does it influence your writing?
Danish is my first language, yes. And it influences my writing in any number of invisible and unplanned ways, but perhaps not in the way you might imagine: so far, I've written all my novels in English first. Partly because the figures in them are Americans or Irish characters and operate inside an Anglo-centric cultural universe; it would be inauthentic to write them in Danish first. I then take that same story and re-imagine in into Danish. It's not a 100% faithful translation, more like a re-telling. I just signed a deal to write a family saga that takes place in Denmark. This novel will be written in Danish first. For the first time. I'm mildly scared. But excited about the prospect, too. Because you wear the linguistic skin of your characters: In Darling Jim, for instance, I let the sounds of West Cork Irish trickle into my ear and back out on the page. So, no, Danish isn't directly influencing my writing. Only - so far - my re-writing. But when I train my guns on a fully Danish novel set in Denmark, that may change. I think it will.
2. Both the Danes and the Irish have cultures rich in storytelling. The protagonist in your novel, Darling Jim, is a storyteller. How much, if anything, do his tales owe to Scandinavian sagas?
Invisibly, I'm certain, much of that dark undergrowth crept out of the Danish forests and migrated on the pages of Darling Jim without my planning for it, nor even thinking about it much. But there's no doubt that I owe a large debt to the Danish folk tales I read as a child. The touchstone is not that dissimilar from the Irish version, I don't think. Both need moral resolution to human dilemmas. Both believe in making choices and being conscious of one's place in the world. All something I can appreciate.
3. How important to your work are your cultural roots?
That's a very hard question to answer; it's too open-ended to do justice in a specific way. Everyone's cultural roots color their work, whether they like it or not. But for me, I don't walk around thinking about my cultural roots as I work. Readers would find it tedious. My time is better spent getting words down on the page. Culture is invisible and impossible to quantify. I discover new cultural roots all the time as I travel to countries I write about them: Ireland, Ecuador, Vietnam, and back to Brooklyn. Protecting or advertising one's cultural roots can easily become a cliché. I avoid clichés.
4. You come from a family of actors and you worked for the film industry. Did theater and cinema ever come to mind while you wrote Darling Jim?
To a degree, although the play's dramaturgical structure influence each book much more: prologue, first act, second act, third act, epilogue. I love laying fictional reality out that way. It creates a sandbox that audiences recognize, which can then be bent and stretched as you go. It's a wonderful toolbox.
5. Colette's mother once said that journalism would kill her daughter's creative writing.
You worked as reporter for The New York Times. Do you agree with her?
I don't believe in the term "creative writing," because it has become a cliché. There's just writing or not writing. If one works as a journalist for years, as I did, it can help sharpen one's eye and impart good habits, i.e. finish on time and get your point across. Colette's mother may have meant that one then has to loosen those tight reins for fictional figures to appear authentic. And, yes, that can be hard, because that instinct is diametrically opposed to the goal of journalism, which - at its best - stays within the confines of true events. But why not work within both? I think it's a canard and a sorry excuse to blame journalism for not feeling fulfilled as a fiction writer.
6. To whom are you obligated as a writer?
Once the story and the characters have passed my own benchmark test, my work belongs to the audience, each of whom pays to hear the story. To pretend otherwise is dishonest.
7. Darling Jim has been called a Gothic novel. Do you agree with that classification? Why?
I'm not sure what "gothic" means - it's become another easy cliché, I'm afraid. No, I see the book as a classic drama of jealousy, longing, and the inevitability of family.
8. Do the characters in Darling Jim exist in moral vacuum?
I don't know what that means, exactly. If you're asking whether there are no consequences for their actions, I'd say, no, each person's actions means they all get precisely what they deserve. Jim cannot escape his family curse; the sisters cannot escape each other's love; their aunt cannot escape the clammy embrace of her own romantic dreams. The man in the forest will always be a prisoner there. Niall will never forget. Nobody escapes unscathed. Again, I'm not sure how you mean.
9. For whom do you write?
I love my work. I adore my characters. But both belong to the audience.
10. Aggressive self-promotion in the publishing world goes back to Dickens, Mark Twain and Karen Blixen. Some of today's writers are marketed as brands. What is your opinion of this practice?
I have no moral judgment to impart, one way or the other. I am smack dab in the middle of the PR side of all my own book launches. I just appeared in three small films that I wrote, produced and directed to promote my upcoming novel THE JAGUAR'S DAUGHTER. Writers who serve the audience rather than their own narcissism don't mind being seen. It shouldn't be a secret. Using the word "aggressive" to describe promotion (or self-promotion) sounds pejorative to me, by the way. Careful, your bias is showing.
11. In the affluent First World and in some developing nations, the print media seems to be taking second place to digital media. Conceivably, the pricey gadgets required by the digital media could limit reading to an economic elite. How do you see your role as a writer in such a scenario?
It sounds as if you yourself have already taken a strong position in this debate, so I'd better sidestep the question which isn't really a question, but a direct value statement you're asking me to agree with, or by default risk sounding as if I'm exploiting someone by not agreeing. It's not a question posed fairly and evenly.
12. There were no classics and no European authors in the list of books you find indispensable. Are there European writers you admire?
Oh, tons, and not just Europeans. And I'm not sure the point was to list "indispensable" writers, as we writers are all - eventually - dispensable, excepting Shakespeare, Goethe, Edmond Rostand and a small handful of immortals. I can't live without Homer, Beryl Markham, Dirk Bogarde, Céline, Dan Turèll, Nikolai Gogol, J.M. Coetzee, Jorge Luis Borges and Naguib Mahfouz, for openers. And Karen Blixen, naturally.
14. What inspires you?
The need to find the one story I haven't thought of yet. It awaits. I know it. And I can't wait for it to find me. It's such a rush every time that happens. Everything that happens after that is extra.
15.What are you writing at the moment?
Writing the third and final leg in a trilogy of novels, which will take me to Russia later in the year. I have the best job in the world. All because of the reading audience. And I never forget it for a second.