Karen Thompson Walker's "The Age of Miracles" is troubling and fascinating. On the one hand, it's an intimate coming-of-age novel about a young girl who is consumed with things most young girls care about -- an unrequited crush, a clique of mean schoolmates, her parents' troubled marriage.
On the other hand, it's dystopian sci-fi at its most chilling, in which the rotation of the Earth begins to slow -- and slow, and slow, and slow, with increasingly devastating effects.
"I got the idea from something that really happened," Walker said. "In 2004, the rotation of the Earth was affected by the earthquake in Indonesia, the one that caused the tsunami. After that, our 24-hour days were a few microseconds shorter than they used to be. I was stunned when I read that.
"I found it really haunting that something I had always taken for granted -- the predictable rising and setting of the sun -- was actually in flux, and I started to wonder right away about what would happen if a much larger shift ever took place."
The debut novel sparked an old-fashioned bidding war and was eventually sold to Random House for $1 million. Film rights have been optioned by Bill Pohlad's River Road Entertainment ("Brokeback Mountain").
Before moving from Brooklyn, where she was an editor at Simon & Schuster, to Iowa, where her husband will attend the Iowa Writers Workshop and she will work on her second book, Walker took the time to talk to us about clearing her mind, clearing her desk and the audacity of imagination.
Q Describe your writing room.
A When I was writing "The Age of Miracles," I lived in a studio apartment, so I didn't have a separate room for writing, just a desk in one corner. I still write at the same desk, but now the desk sits beneath a window in an office, with bookshelves on both sides.
Q What is your writing strategy? Do you have rituals that you maintain?
A I like to write first thing in the morning, when my mind is clearest and I feel most capable of concentration. When I had a full time job, I wrote for an hour each morning before heading to work. Now that I'm writing full time, I still write in the mornings, but I try to write for two or three hours at a stretch.
Q How do you get past writers' block (or the distraction of the Internet)?
A I'm not sure I'd call it writer's block, exactly, but when I'm having trouble figuring out how to solve a problem in a story, I like to take a walk. For some reason, walking helps me think.
Q Do you have a favorite book from childhood?
A "Hatchet," by Gary Paulsen.
Q What books do you re-read?
A "The Virgin Suicides," "Blindness," "The Interpreter of Maladies," "Never Let Me Go" [by, respectively, Jeffrey Eugenides, José Saramago, Jhumpa Lahiri and Kazuo Ishiguro].
Q What's on your desk?
A When I write, I like my desk to be completely clear, nothing but my laptop, but it's not easy to keep it that way. One good thing I recently added is a miniature model of a wonderfully strange house in Barcelona, designed by Antoni Gaudi. As a writer, I wanted to be reminded every day of the audacity of Gaudi's imagination, how his otherworldly architecture manages to make real what might otherwise seem impossible. It's an inspiring analogy for writing fiction.
Q Where are you right now? Describe what you see.
A I'm on a train from Washington, D.C., to New York. Out the window at the moment: row houses in Baltimore, abandoned warehouses, trees thick with summer leaves.
Q What are you reading right now?
A I just finished re-reading "Madame Bovary," which was just as enthralling the second time as the first.
Q What's been the best place so far to do a reading?
A It's impossible to choose a favorite, but the first event I did for the book was at the wonderfully charming Greenlight Bookstore in my old Brooklyn neighborhood, so the audience was full of friends and family, which was a wonderful way to start the tour.
Q What authors have inspired you?
A In order of appearance in my reading life: Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Virginia Woolf, Jhumpa Lahiri, Cormac McCarthy, Jeffrey Eugenides, Kazuo Ishiguro.
Laurie Hertzel • 612-673-7302