Jerome Charyn discusses The New York Times, celebrity, and his latest YA novel, Back to Bataan.
What are your thoughts on the explosion of popularity concerning the YA genre?
I think it might very well be that it started with Harry Potter, that young adult writers are trying to tell good stories and adults have moved into that kind of dream.
You write across a number of different genres. What excites you about connecting with different audiences?
I’m not so sure that these are different audiences, I think we all love stories, whether we’re children or great-grandfathers and when you move from genre to genre you are still telling a story like Scheherazade and the king is always waiting for the next tale.
How do you work at crafting your unique writing style?
Everything begins and ends with the word, with the music of the sentence and as Tolstoy once said, “I’m always composing.”
Being a published author for nearly 50 years, what do you think of e-books?
I think that this is a kind of logical step as we move from the internet into e-books.
Publishing is changing even as we speak. I think there now will be a more complicated dance between the e-book and the printed book, and as we’ve seen recently, successes in e-books allow the author to move into print.
What would be your advice to aspiring writers?
It’s not worth the money – only write if you’re absolutely in love with it.
How much of your life is in Back to Bataan? How did you personally experience New York during World War II?
I think so much of the source of my writing comes from my childhood, I grew up during the War – so many of the terrors and the magic of certain films have remained with me. And all of this appears in the character of Jack.
Your older brother was a detective. Did your experiences with him influence the plot?
Not really, I think all writing is crime writing. And Back to Bataan is a crime novel with a very original twist.
Why did you decide to include the fascination with the famous, such as Gary Cooper and Eleanor Roosevelt, as a theme?
These people were heroes to me as a child, particularly Eleanor Roosevelt, who was one of the most extraordinary women who ever lived, and of course as a child I fell in love with Gary Cooper’s face and with his very slow drawl, that seemed so exotic to me.
Jack finds acclaim through his writing, yet feels guilty for exploiting other people (Mrs. Fink). How does a writer starting out work to bridge this gap?
You’re always cannibalizing other people and writers when you start to write, so it’s natural that Jack should be a young cannibal.
How important is the New York Times in your own life? Why did you decide to make it a form of connection between Jack and the Leader?
As a child, I didn’t even know that the Times existed – I grew up in a neighborhood without newspapers and books, so that when I first fell upon the New York Times, I was very, very greedy, and wanted to include it in Jack’s middle-class life.
About Back to Bataan
Everything changes when Coco, Jack’s “fiancee,” throws him over for one of his classmates. Jack sees red and does something drastic. Then he runs away. Hiding out in a nearby park, Jack joins ranks with a group of vagrants and is soon under the sway of a man called the Leader, an ex-convict who is as articulate and charismatic as he is dangerous. The Leader turns Jack’s world upside down. To put things right, Jack must prove himself a braver soldier than he ever imagined.
Find Back to Bataan
About Jerome Charyn
Jerome Charyn (born May 13, 1937) is an award-winning American author. With nearly 50 published works, Charyn has earned a long-standing reputation as an inventive and prolific chronicler of real and imagined American life. Michael Chabon calls him “one of the most important writers in American literature.”
New York Newsday hailed Charyn as “a contemporary American Balzac,” and the Los Angeles Times described him as “absolutely unique among American writers.”
Since 1964, he has published 30 novels, three memoirs, eight graphic novels, two books about film, short stories, plays and works of non-fiction. Two of his memoirs were named New York Times Book of the Year. Charyn has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He received the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has been named Commander of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture.
Charyn lives in Paris and New York City.