Dave Boling Interview
Posted by Michelle on December 17, 2008
Dave Boling is the author of Guernica, a book that I recently received to review. Dave has been kind enough to answer some questions, to tell us a little more about the book, and his background.
Q. Can you tell us a little about your inspiration for Guernica, and how it came about?
A. I married a Basque/American girl when I was fresh out of college. That provided a very thorough lesson in the fascinating Basque culture and history. After the terrorist attacks in 2001, I was surprised that nobody really traced the history of such atrocities back to the 1937 bombing of Guernica. To me, it seemed to be a sad oversight.
In the spring of 2005, I decided I’d like to try my hand at fiction. As I considered topics, I liked the idea of using the bombing as the historical context for a novel of relationships. Sometimes when we see the worst of humanity, we also see its best in response. I thought if I could embed some inspiring characters into that challenging environment, there might a few things we all could learn from it. And that, hopefully, would raise the level of awareness of one of the great tragedies of the 20th Century.
Q. How would you explain your book in your own words?
A. It’s really a story of relationships … a love story — love of family, love of country, love of a way of life. It’s a story of courage and resilience in the face of tragic loss.
Q. Was Picasso’s painting something you already knew about, or did you discover the background during your research?
A. I knew about it, but I didn’t fully appreciate it until I studied the event that spawned it. For me, it was only once I understood the horror of the attack that I was able to fully see that the faces in the painting were the faces of the victims. Each time I see it now, I have a more difficult time getting away from it. I keep seeing more subtle elements that transfix me.
Q. Was it difficult to use some real people in the story, and yet give them partly fictional storylines?
A. Not really. Actually, in my initial version, Franco and Picasso were fully imagined characters; I spent a great deal of time researching their backgrounds, and trying to reconstruct the forces that led them to be the people they were. They were contemporaries with the fictional Justo Ansotegui, and the three – the military man, the artist and the common man – were intertwined until their lives reached new definition in the aftermath of the bombing of Guernica.
However, when I submitted my manuscript, it came it at over 600 pages. My agent (correctly, I’m sure) felt that would be difficult to market a book that long for a first-time novelist. So, I cut roughly 200 pages by eliminating almost all of Franco, most of Picasso and a great deal of the political background. That left Picasso in there by himself as a lean character who kind of pops up to provide some cultural context. Some critics have said that he seems a little extraneous. I’m tempted to tell them that I have about 200 pages of copy sitting in my computer they can read if they want more background.
Q. Are the fictional characters based on anyone?
A. Don’t they say there’s always a great deal of autobiography in any fiction? Sure. The way Miguel and Miren meet in the book was similar to the approach I used on the girl would became my wife. Her grandfather was a very strong and admirable Basque man named Justo (although he was not boastful and egotistical like the Justo in the book). Her cousins were in a Basque dance group, and I watched them do the Dance of the Wine Glass some 30 years ago. My grandfather came to America after having been a coal miner in Newcastle. His name was Charles Swan, and his sister was Annie Bingham – two names I appropriated for the book.
Q. How long did the book take to research and write?
A. It was about a year and a half from the first idea to the completion of the final version I submitted to agents. It seems pretty quickly now to have done 165,000 words in that time while also writing roughly 200 sports columns a year for my newspaper The Tacoma (Washington) News Tribune.
Q. This is your début published novel, what is your background, and have you written anything else?
A. As a newspaper columnist, I’m writing all the time. I think that provided the discipline I needed to finish the novel. This was my first try at fiction, though. I really decided I wanted to take it on as a personal challenge. I mostly wanted to see if I could do it. I could see that the newspaper business was entering a rough period and I figured it might be wise to seek out some alternatives – to hedge my bets.
Q. What are you working on now, can we expect another novel from you?
A. I had no idea how much time the promotions for the book would take. I expected I’d be done with the second one by the time the first one came out, but that was dreaming. Also, basically doing two jobs for the last few years has been a bit of a drain so I’m not pushing too hard at the moment. I have four or five ideas that I’m researching – mostly historical fiction, again – and I’m sort of waiting to see which one sprouts first.
Picking the topic is tricky. You might enjoy this story. As I researched topics, the one I liked the best examined the occupation of the Channel Islands by the Nazis. I was intrigued by the way those left on the islands were mostly women, and I saw great potential in examining the various ways they could have reacted to the occupation. Some would be in resistance, some perhaps collaborate or at least commiserate, and in the end, almost all were united in the same battle against privation. Since my first book was named “Guernica,” I liked the symmetry of making the second one “Guernsey.”
As I started really working on it, Charlie Greig, my incomparable editor at Picador, called me. “Ah, Dave, have you seen the book that’s come out and been very successful?” Of course, it was “The Guernsey Literary etc. …” Oh, was I happy that I hadn’t spent about two years working on a book with that topic only to have another come out and be so successful just before I could finish. It would have been an entirely different story, but I suspect it would have been hard to go to publishers at the time with a book in the same general time frame and circumstance.
Q. Do you enjoy reading? Which are some of your favourite authors and books?
A. For as much as I love to read, I found I could not read anybody else while I was writing my own fiction. I found that somebody else’s style was creeping into my work, and after I finished reading one book, the style of the next book I was reading kept leaking out. It seriously affected the “voice” of my prose. I had to stop. Once I finished my editing, I dove into the pile of books that had risen on my bedstand.
Q. Are there any books that you think everyone should read?
A. Oh, goodness. In addition to new books, I have a core of favorites that I recycle through on a regular basis. Most of them I consider classics. But there are two strands, the serious and literate: Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner, etc. And then those who can dress their commentary and insights in humor or biting perspective: Salinger, Vonnegut, Brautigan, Robbins.
I think what I like best are novels with strong characters whose integrity stands up to great challenges, and who have a degree of indignation over social injustices. And if I had only one book to take on a desert island, it would be “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
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