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Flight Attendant Author Turns to Old Hollywood for Lioness

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In August 2019, author Chris Bohjalian was at a matinee movie in New York when the inspiration for what would become his next novel, The Lioness (Doubleday), out now, struck.

I emerged from the theater into this cobalt blue sky, hot and smoky. Ten minutes earlier, I was watching this movie. And I thought, God, I love Hollywood! Why have I never written a Hollywood novel? he says.

I knew my Hollywood novel would be set at some point in my childhood. So I came back to a period of great social upheaval. And I didn’t want the venue to be just Hollywood. I thought, What’s an exotic place in 1964 where a bunch of Hollywood actors and their entourages could get in all sorts of trouble?

It turns out Tanzania. Renowned actress Katie Barstow and her new husband David went there for an upmarket safari, accompanied by some friends and fellow actors. The trip promises to be a luxurious getaway, filled with wildlife and stunning scenery, until the unthinkable happens, a gang of Russian mercenaries take them hostage after killing their safari guides. (Russians have been the bad guys in my books for a long time, he notes.)

Chris Bohjalian
AuthorChris Bohjalian
Victoria Blower

Although the Vermont-based author is prolific, no two books are the same, ranging from a flight attendant waking up next to a dead body in a hotel room in Dubai (The Flight Attendant, the basis of the popular HBOMax series) to a Puritan woman accused of witchcraft in 1600s Massachusetts (Hour of the Witch) to a young woman helping refugees from the 1915 Armenian Genocide (The Sandcastle Girls.)

My books are fueled by fear. I want my readers to walk a tightrope with one side sorrow, the other side hope, says Bohjalian, who prefers to edit manuscript drafts with a fountain pen. I’m not afraid to kill off my main characters, I do that a lot. My goal is never to write the same book twice. But all my books share these same qualities. You don’t know if you’re going to end up in grief or hope.

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