Author Interview: Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr in his home, Boise Idaho.

Anthony Doerr in his home, Boise Idaho.

Books In Common recently coordinated an interview between Margaret Simon, public-relations coordinator for the Shaker Heights Public Library, and Anthony Doerr in anticipation of his upcoming Books In Common-arranged visit in October 2015. Anthony Doerr is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See. Here is an excerpt of that interview:

MS:  In your book, All the Light We Cannot See, what drew you to the World War II setting?  

Anthony Doerr: I wanted to set a novel in a time and place when radio was a preeminent, all-important technology. Once I discovered the seaside Breton town of Saint-Malo in France and started reading about its destruction in August of 1944, I decided to try to set my radio story there.

MS:  Both character and plot are critical to a book’s success.  What comes first in your writing: character or the plot?

Anthony Doerr: Oh, gosh, everything—action, character, image, metaphor, the sound of the language, the length of the paragraphs—comes together only over a long period of time. I have to compose, revise, and re-revise sentences just to understand what should happen in them. So my process involves a lot of trial and error. At first a story is just like a big gray glob of clay, and it’s only with each pass over it that I’m able to start carving out features, understanding what it’s about, etc. In early drafts I might describe, say, a bedroom, but I don’t know what’s on the walls yet; or I describe a person, but don’t quite know what’s in her heart yet…  it’s only through revision, and time, that those things start to become clear.

MS:  You have been a science writer for The Boston Globe. Your book, The Shell Collector has been described as a “gorgeous portrait of the natural world’s effects on the human condition,” and your book About Grace includes “lyrical descriptions of nature.” Was it a conscious decision to choose to bring science into your literary world rather than to work in the sciences?

Anthony Doerr: Yes, it probably was a conscious choice. I think I always dreamed first and foremost of being a novelist, though I was too shy to say it out loud. I remember reading C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia as a young boy and falling in love with the act of being transported by a book. That simple black markings on a white page could transport me to such a rich environment absolutely dazzled me. That’s probably where the initial impulse came from, from the magic of trying to create lush, intricate experiences out of very inexpensive materials: words on a page. By the time I reached my early 20s, I knew I’d always regret it if I didn’t at least try. So I started seriously working on my writing on a daily basis.

MS:  What is one of your biggest challenges as a writer?

Anthony Doerr: Sitting inside on a gorgeous day and trying to make some complicated project work when it feels like every other human is outdoors enjoying life.

MS:  What books are you reading now?

Anthony Doerr: Lily King’s Euphoria and Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation.

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