In August 2019, author Chris Bohjalian was at a matinee movie in NYC when the inspiration for what would become his next novel, “The Lioness” (Doubleday), out now, struck.
“I emerged from the theater into this cobalt blue sky, steaming heat. Ten minutes earlier I had been watching this movie. And I thought, ‘My God, I love Hollywood! Why have I never written a Hollywood novel?” he says.
“I 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 didn’t want the locale to be just Hollywood. I thought, ‘What is an exotic location in 1964 where a group of Hollywood actors and their entourage could get into all sorts of trouble?’”
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 — a band of Russian mercenaries takes them hostage after killing their safari guides. (“Russians have been the bad guys in my books for a long time,” he notes.)
While the Vermont-based author is prolific, no two books are the same — they might range from a flight attendant waking up next to a dead body in a Dubai hotel room (“The Flight Attendant,” the basis for the popular HBOMax series) to a Puritan woman accused of witchcraft in 1600s Massachusetts (“Hour of the Witch”) to a young woman helping refugees from the 1915 Armenian genocide (“The Sandcastle Girls.”)
“My books are powered by dread. I want my readers walking a tightrope with one side being heartbreak, the other side being hope,” says Bohjalian, who prefers to edit manuscript drafts with a fountain pen. “I’m not afraid to kill my main characters — I do it a lot. My goal is never to write the same book twice. But all my books share those same qualities. You don’t know if you’re going to end on heartbreak or hope.”