Jon Fasman e-interviewed by Barbara Lingens (September, 2006)
Jon Fasman was born in Chicago in 1975 and grew up in Washington, D.C.. Educated at Brown and Oxford universities, he has worked as a journalist in Washington, New York, Oxford, Moscow, and London. He now lives in Brooklyn. In his novel, The Geographer's Library, reporter Paul Tomm's assignment - to write the obituary of a reclusive scholar - sets him on the trail of the nine hundred year old theft of alchemical instruments from the library of Sicily's court geographer.
Q: The Geographer's Library has a very unusual development, with stories of the objects interspersed among the chapters about the journalist. What made you decide to structure the novel in this way?
A: I had always wanted to write a mystery novel with two competing voices, two vantage points, and therefore two endings, depending on which voice the reader credited more, so writing in this bifurcated style just seemed natural to me. Also, the back-story was never going to be linear - the point about these objects was that they were dispersed - so I wanted to use the more historical, fanciful, impressionistic style as a counterpoint to the contemporary, plot-driven story.
Q: You developed many interesting characters in this work - fresh-voiced Paul, mysterious Hannah, cynical-sentimental Art, and sensitive Professor Jadid, among others. Did you model these people after real-life acquaintances?
A: Art is modelled closely on my wonderful father-in-law, right down to his smoking mannerisms. Professor Jadid is modelled on a former college professor of mine. Paul, I suppose, shares a sense of humor with me, and also has the sort of indolent, aimless, shocked-at-the-world outlook I guess I had when I was 23. Hannah is somewhere between a composite and a total work of fiction.
Q: The novel shows hands-on knowledge about working on a small-town paper. Is that how you got started in journalism?
A: In a way: for my first job out of college I worked for "The Hill", a newspaper that covers Congress, which is in essence a small town that happens to be located in a major city. The paper wasn't nearly as prominent, as frequently published, or as established as it is today; it had its share of characters, budget crises, and the like.
Q: You write in your acknowledgments that you spent some time in Russia. How did your stay there lead you to writing this novel? Can you tell us something about your experiences there as they relate to the novel?
A: In 2002, my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I picked up and moved to Russia. A few factors had led to this: she lived the first few years of her life there and always wanted to return; neither of us were in love with our jobs in New York; and when September 11th happened, we both realized that we could very well die doing something we weren't passionate about, and neither of us wanted that. I was editing when I wanted to write, and I figured that moving to Moscow would give me the remove and freedom to do that.
In addition, it wasn't until I moved there that I fully realized just what a vast world the former Soviet Union had been. I had never studied it before, knew little beyond the clichés we were fed in school, and so to be confronted with the myriad regions, ethnicities, peoples, religious groups, and geographical disparities that comprised this country stunned me into writing.
Every day I discovered something else, and many of these discoveries made it into the book.
Q: What decided you to pursue objects of alchemy?
A: I had studied alchemy by way of Renaissance English Literature in graduate school. It fascinated me; it seemed the beginnings of an empirical, scientific, anti-dogmatic outlook on the world - science before the scientific method - and however wrong or laughable we may find it today, intellectually it represented something completely revolutionary.
Q: What are you working on now? Will your next work also be historical fiction?
A: I am working on another mystery story with some historical elements set in Moscow.Find out more about Jon Fasman, his background and his novel, and listen to an audio interview with the author at Written Voices Radio.
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