Now that you've poured yourself a glass of Outer Sounds Sauvignon Blanc from your most recent wine delivery and downloaded the Book Club Kit, dive into the details of The Immortalists with author, Chloe Benjamin!
Q: The Immortalists is a book about how knowing the date of your death alters the way you live your life. That's a pretty powerful concept. How and why did you make this the central theme of your novel?
A: I always say that I wish I had an exciting fortune teller story of my own, but it really just came out of my neuroses. I struggle with uncertainty of all kinds, but especially as it pertains to health and loss. In a way, there's no greater mystery than the fact that we don't know how long we have in the world or what happens afterward. Through my characters, I wanted to explore the ways in which things like science, religious faith, magical thinking and personal relationships can influence one's ability to live fully in spite of those unanswered questions.
Q: The Gold siblings— Varya, Daniel, Clara and Simon— are very different from each other. Is there a particular sibling you have found yourself associating with?
A: While writing, I felt that the Golds were very much their own people, not inspired by anyone in particular--but I'm sure that there's a bit of me in each of them! I have Simon's passion (and impatience), Klara's headstrong ambition, Daniel's attachment to family and Varya's tendency toward anxiety and control.
Q: We know that there was a lot of hard work and specific, in-depth research that went into this book. What did a typical day of writing look like for you? And was it different with The Immortalists than it was with your first book?
A: Each sibling's life trajectory is so different that the book did indeed require a lot of research! I wrote it while working Monday through Thursday at a job in social services, so Friday through Sunday were my writing days, though sometimes I also woke up early to write before work during the week. As for whether the writing process differed from my first book--what a great question! I tend to follow the same pattern: my best writing is done in the early part of the day--ideally nine A.M. to noon or one--and I use my afternoons for research, emails, publicity, all the more business-y sides of being a writer.
Q: What is the one thing you hope readers take away from The Immortalists?
A: I hope it offers companionship and comfort for those who, like me, struggle with anxiety and with the uncertainty of human life. At the same time, I never want my books to feel heavy-handed, so I hope the novel also provides the kind of imaginative, heart-pounding escape (and fun!) that I seek out when reading.
Q: Do you have any tricks to jumpstart yourself if inspiration just won't strike, or you're experiencing a bout of writers block? Is there somewhere you feel most inspired?
A: Another good question! If I'm in the middle of a project and am feeling stuck, I do more research. It was hard not to feel inspired when reading about powerful, fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking things that really happened, from the AIDS epidemic in 1980s San Francisco to the lives of the magicians who inspire Klara's act. I also think it's important for artists to give themselves space to "fill up" again. We live in such a product-oriented culture that it's easy to feel like a failure if you aren't churning out work, but being fully present in the world is just as important to the creative process (and a balanced life, too!).
Q: After a long day of writing, what’s your favorite way to unwind?
A: There's something exhilarating about a great day of writing, and afterward, it's hard to slow my brain down. I'm a homebody, so there's nothing more decadent than a bath with a glass of wine and a book. Something about that routine--the sensory pleasure of opening the wine bottle, the comfort of warm water, and the opportunity to escape into a different world--is so blissful.
Q: Do you have a favorite setting to read with wine? And is there a particular varietal you love to sip on?
A: Yes! You can usually find me curled up on one end of our sectional couch, heaped under blankets, with my wine glass on the windowsill. When it comes to white, I started as a RIesling gal in my early twenties but now favor Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays (especially from my native Northern California!). I'm a sucker for big reds--it's hard to go wrong with a juicy Cabernet Sauvignon or a zippy Zinfandel--but I also love the earthiness and spice of a Malbec. And who doesn't love splitting a bottle of cold rosé with a girlfriend on a warm summer day? To be perfectly honest, it's rare for me to find a wine that I don't like.
Q: If you were to host a book club and you could invite anyone, dead or alive, who would you invite and why?
A: This is not a very celebrity-oriented answer, but I'd reunite my book club from about five years ago, filled with friends from my grad school days who have since dispersed around the country. We had a fiery group of eight to ten, and every meeting doubled as a potluck. After spending the first hour catching up, we'd pour more wine and dive into that month's book. I miss them terribly!
Want to start your own book club? Browse through How to Start a Book Club to get more ideas!