By JENNIFER K. BAUER
For more than a decade, Boise author Anthony Doerr has lived with a blind French girl and a German Nazi radio technician.
These are the main characters in Doerr’s World War II novel, “All the Light We Cannot See.” Published in 2014, the book was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award, won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize and remains on the New York Times Top Ten Best Seller list for hardcover.
Doerr is incredibly grateful for the chance to live the fame most writers only dream of but he never anticipated the avalanche of interest — seemingly endless requests from around the world for interviews, speaking invitations, answering the same questions over and over. He didn’t expect the characters he created to highjack his life.
“It doesn’t do me any good to keep thinking about this older book. I need to keep growing,” the writer said during a phone interview.
Doerr will speak today and Friday in the Quad Cities for regional libraries’ Everybody Reads program. He was booked to visit the area more than a year ago, long before winning the Pulitzer Prize. He said of all the places he speaks, he is most happy to visit public libraries and rural audiences.
“When I was a boy in rural Ohio, I thought writers were all dead or lived in Paris. I like to think that when you visit a school in rural Idaho or Washington (kids can see) you’re just some goofy bald guy who’s trying to do this who lives here and that whatever they want to be, they can have that here. They’re not limited by geography.”
In America, journalists call on the phone for an interview that lasts 15 to 20 minutes or so. In Europe things are different, he said. Journalists meet the author in a hotel room. They’ve read the book and spend an hour discussing it, often smoking cigarettes. Up to seven interviews in a row are scheduled. By the seventh, he said, he can’t remember what he’s said. Someone inevitably asks, “What do you think of Amsterdam” or whichever city he is in, when he hasn’t been outside all day.
“Everybody at home thinks it’s so glamorous, and it is, but I’d rather be out exploring the city,” he said.
When he’s writing, Doerr said he’s usually working on one big project (“All the Light We Cannot See” took 10 years) and many small things. He writes a column on science books for the Boston Globe, travel stories for Conde Nast and book reviews for the New York Times.
“I like working on small pieces. You get those little neurological rewards when you finish something. You feel like you accomplish something. A novel, especially when you’re not showing it to anybody for years at a time, it’s pretty lonely,” he said.
He thinks the idea of writer’s block is overblown.
“I don’t really believe in writer’s block as I do in failures of nerve,” he said, adding it would be more appropriate to call these hang-ups “road blocks.”
He sees it in students he has mentored. They’re not exhausted or spent, he said. Things are just getting challenging.
“You need to write yourself into a bunch of dead ends until you find your way out.”
Exercises like writing about what is in a character’s pockets or her bedroom looks like can help, he said. Sometimes these details may never make it into the final novel but they served their purpose in helping the author see more clearly.
In this way he’s found everything is relevant to whatever story he is currently at work on.
“Part of artistic maturity is to keep yourself open,” he said.
That’s the thought he keeps in mind as “All the Light We Cannot See” propels him around the world.
IF YOU GO
Author Anthony Doerr
When and Where
TodayNoon — Clarkston High School Auditorium
1:15 p.m. — (book signing) Whitman County Library, Colfax
5:30 p.m. — Neill Public Library, Pullman
7:30 p.m. — Moscow First United Methodist Church, 322 E. Third St.
Doerr’s talks at 6 tonight at the Lewiston City Library and noon Friday at the Whitman County Library in Colfax are full.