Thirteen Questions With Alison Clement

Local award-winning novelist Alison Clement discusses her latest book Twenty Questions, why she writes, and her fascination with HBO’s The Wire. Interview by Doug Dean.

What does Twenty Questions mean to you personally?

I started with a story idea, taken from my own life: a woman who has a close connection with a murder. I decided to give my character a job at a low-income school much like the school where I work. So the novel became a way for me to talk about the kids I work with. It was a way to write about poverty and kids in poverty. One of the things people give up when they’re low income is the ability to define themselves—our culture demonizes poverty. We assume that people don’t have money because they’re not smart or capable. One reader questioned my portrayal of June. She didn’t think it was realistic that a character like her would be capable of higher order thinking. I tried to show that poverty is nuanced and also to let the kids speak for themselves. Almost everything a child says in the book is a quote from a real child. I wanted my readers to meet the kids on their own terms, with their own words.

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Story & Danish

Danish author Peter H. Fogtdal discusses his latest novel, The Tsar’s Dwarf, writing historical fiction, reincarnation and why he teaches at PSU. Interview by Jacob Aiello

What kind of personal meaning does The Tsar’s Dwarf have for you?

I’ve written twelve novels, and The Tsar’s Dwarf is one of my favorites because I think it succeeds in being truly tragicomic. Maybe I’m mistaken, but I hope I’ve succeeded and that my American audience will like it.

At the same time, it’s a bit of a dream being published in America. Even if the book does poorly, more people can read me than ever before and that’s a very nice feeling when you’re from a country of 5.4 million.

Even though this is your first novel translated into English, I understand it’s not your first historical novel (for example your novel Le Front Chantilly, which won the Francophonian literature prize, is set during World War II if I’m not mistaken). How difficult is it to write in a historical setting? What part does research play in your preparation? What are the advantages and disadvantages, and how much stock do you put in maintaining a verisimilitude with, for example, the actual Peter Alexeyevich, or St. Petersburg/Copenhagen of the early eighteenth century?

Yes, I’ve written four or five historical novels and I love doing it because I can’t stand writing kitchen sink dramas. To me, it’s much more interesting if your girlfriend left you in 1716 in Florence than it is if she left you in 2008 in Tacoma. Maybe I love historical novels because I want to escape, and because I’m a history buff. [Read more...]