Sunday, September 25, 2016

Q&A with Louis Bayard

Louis Bayard is the author of the new young adult novel Lucky Strikes. His previous novels, for adults, include Roosevelt's Beast and The School of Night. He is on the faculty of the Yale Writers Conference, and he wrote the Downton Abbey recaps for The New York Times.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Lucky Strikes and for your character Amelia, a teenager who runs a gas station in 1930s Virginia?

A: Amelia came and found me. She has an importunate quality to her, as any reader will discover, and once I’d been introduced to her, the only questions left were: “What’s your story? How can I best tell it?”

Q: How did you research the Depression-era setting and especially the history of gas stations in that time?

A: Well, there’s a reason the book name-checks Clark Gable and Joan Crawford and Myrna Loy because I grew up watching those vintage Hollywood movies on TV (even though I was a couple of generations removed).

So I think I carry a lot of that time period inside me, but of course, I made a point of reading a lot of literature from the period to make sure I got the idioms right.

I know nothing about cars or gas stations, then or now, so thank God I live six blocks from the Library of Congress, which has (believe it or not) 1930s-era gas station manuals.

Q: Did you find that your writing process was any different with a children's novel than with your novels for adults?

A: Really, not at all. I’ve said this before, but this was in some ways the least compromised book I’ve ever done. I just wrote the story I wanted to tell and left it to my publisher to decide if it was appropriate for the audience. I was never asked to change a thing.

Q: How was the book's title selected, and what does it signify for you?

A: The book’s title was not mine! My working title was “The Gas Station Pagans,” which makes total sense within the context of the book but apparently doesn’t make as much sense when it’s staring out at you from some cover in the middle of a bookstore. At least that’s what they tell me.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: A grown-up historical novel, set in 1840s America, and that’s all I’m at liberty to say. But I know I’ll come back to the YA/middle-grade world. It was just too much fun.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: My 16-year-old son is not much of a reader—he reads under duress—but this was the first book of mine that he voluntarily read.

And at the same time I’m hearing from 40- and 50- and 60-somethings who are really responding to Melia and her family. It’s funny, you always want your characters to find “good homes,” so when they do, the satisfaction is almost parental.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous Q&A with Louis Bayard, please click here.

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