Monday, April 1, 2013

Q&A with author and radio host Kurt Andersen

Kurt Andersen
Kurt Andersen's books include the novels Turn of the Century, Heyday, and, most recently, True Believers, and the nonfiction books Reset and The Real Thing. He is the host and co-creator of public radio's Studio 360, and co-founded Spy magazine.

Q: How did you come up with the cast of characters for your latest novel, True Believers, and what kind of research did you need to do?

A: The initial germ was this: the story of a group of 13-year-old James-Bond-obsessed friends in the early 1960s, one of them a girl, who remain friends and become student radicals in the late 1960s, and what they've become in 2013. 

I made them Midwestern suburbanites because I grew up in a Midwestern suburb. I made the girl/woman, Karen, the main character because women's lives have changed so much more than men's over the last 45 years. The other main characters seemed like people she'd befriend for various reasons, and each has a different relationship to reality and fantasy and truthfulness. I wanted Karen's granddaughter to be a 2013 version of the idealist/activist that Karen considered herself in the ‘60s. 

As for research, I'm younger than Karen and her pals but was alive in the ‘60s, so I had a feel for the time, but I did have to do a lot of research into the ways the FBI and the CIA and military intelligence operated back then. And I watched a lot of ‘60s films and listened to a lot of ‘60s music.

Q: Was it at all challenging to write in the first person from the point of view of your female main character, Karen Hollander?

A: Writing in the first person was very challenging; I'd never done that at novel-length. Which is one reason I did it. Writing in the first person as a woman was not so much challenging as daunting because I knew readers and reviewers always regard that not-one's-own-gender choice, by male or female writers, with extra scrutiny.

Q: James Bond plays a big role in True Believers. How significant do you think the Bond movies were in the 1960s?

A: I think the James Bond movies were significant in two big ways in the early and mid-60s -- they distilled for a mass audience a kind of manic Cold War swagger and swingy sexiness at a time when those were the big new background conditions to life in America.
Q: How do you balance your work on Studio 360 with your books and other projects, and how does one type of work affect the others?

A: I'd started publishing novels just before Studio 360 began in 2000, so I was able to craft my radio-making schedule around my writing schedule -- basically, I write in the mornings, and do my show and other projects in the afternoons and on weekends.

Q: Are you writing another book?

A: Actually, I'm working on two  -- a shortish nonfiction book that I'll finish first, and another novel.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: The paperback edition of True Believers comes out in September. And this week we won our second Peabody Award for Studio 360

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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