In August 2019, author Chris Bohjalian was at a matinee movie in NYC when the inspiration for what would become his next novel, â€œThe Lionessâ€ (Doubleday), out now, struck.
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â€œI emerged from the theater into this cobalt blue sky, steaming heat. Ten minutes earlier I had been watching this movie. And I thought, â€˜My God, I love Hollywood! Why have I never written a Hollywood novel?â€ he says.
â€œI knew my Hollywood novel would be set at some point in my childhood. So I went back to a period of great social upheaval. And I didnâ€™t want the locale to be just Hollywood. I thought, â€˜What is an exotic location in 1964 where a group of Hollywood actors and their entourage could get into all sorts of trouble?â€™â€
As it turns out, Tanzania. A-list actress Katie Barstow and her new husband David have traveled there for a high-end safari, accompanied by a few friends and fellow actors. The trip promises to be a luxurious getaway, filled with wildlife and gorgeous scenery, until the unthinkable happens â€” a band of Russian mercenaries takes them hostage after killing their safari guides. (â€œRussians have been the bad guys in my books for a long time,â€ he notes.)
While the Vermont-based author is prolific, no two books are the same â€” they might range from a flight attendant waking up next to a dead body in a Dubai hotel room (â€œThe Flight Attendant,â€ the basis for the popular HBOMax series) to a Puritan woman accused of witchcraft in 1600s Massachusetts (â€œHour of the Witchâ€ ) to a young woman helping refugees from the 1915 Armenian genocide (â€œThe Sandcastle Girls.â€ )
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â€œMy books are powered by dread. I want my readers walking a tightrope with one side being heartbreak, the other side being hope,â€ says Bohjalian, who prefers to edit manuscript drafts with a fountain pen. â€œIâ€™m not afraid to kill my main characters â€” I do it a lot. My goal is never to write the same book twice. But all my books share those same qualities. You donâ€™t know if youâ€™re going to end on heartbreak or hope.â€