Please welcome Charles Finch to the blog! Charles is the author of the Charles Lenox mysteries, and his new novel, THE LAST ENCHANTMENTS, just came out. Hee was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the new book, and more!
You have a degree in Renaissance English, but have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
I’ve always been interested in history, politics, English, lots of different things – but I think the answer is that I’ve also always wanted to write fiction, because reading it has given me so much pleasure since I was little. I grew up in a bunch of different places (New York, Washington, Maryland, then boarding school) and reading was the constant companion I had in each of them.
Your first contemporary novel, THE LAST ENCHANTMENTS, will be out soon! Will you tell us a bit about it and what inspired you to write it?
In my mid-twenties I studied at Oxford University for three years. That’s such an important transitional time in life anyway that I think it would always have been memorable, but leaving America and meeting friends from all over the world, living in such a beautiful city, left a strange and indelible impression on me. That’s what the book is about – the romance of being young and in love and somewhere totally new to you, and how all those feelings and experiences mix up to make you the kind of adult you become…
Will you tell us more about your protagonist, William Baker? Why do you think readers will connect with him?
Will is, I hope, flawed in ways that many of us are flawed – he’s not sure what he wants his life to look like when he’s 25, or what kind of person he wants to be, or even who he’s in love with (that’s part of the plot of the book). But he tries to be a good person, and he tries to learn. The book is really about, as he phrases it, slipping into adulthood like a delinquent through the backdoor – trying to make grown-up decisions before you’re really a grown-up.
William is a Yale grad, like you…is he based on you? Even a little?
He is, for sure! I will say that it’s a novel – most of it’s made up – but I wanted to have him make the kind of choices I had to make at that age about what to do and who to be with. I think the most interesting moments in novels come when characters have to make actual, real, hard choices. In real life those sometimes are made for you, or you only see them in retrospect. But in terms of the particulars – Yale, Oxford, background in politics, things like that – yes, he’s based on me.
What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I like to have a good idea of the plot, but for me there’s also something really important about the spontaneity and freedom of not knowing everything, so that a book doesn’t read like it was colored by numbers. One way I do that, I hope, is by getting up every morning and writing a page of fiction without any idea what it will be about, allowing myself to let it go where it goes. That’s a Margaret Atwood trick. It could be great, could be terrible, but it pushes me in new directions within the context of my plans.
What’s one of the first things you can remember writing?
I think writers have a gift for language or for story that comes first, and the other follows. For me it was language. So I wrote a lot of poems and short stories without plot when I was a teenager. Then I had to teach myself the story part of it. The language part – images, metaphors, phrases – was always easiest to me.
What are a few of your favorite authors? Are there a few that have especially influenced you?
Tough question! I love so many writers – old ones, like Tolstoy, George Orwell (who plays a big role in The Last Enchantments), and PG Wodehouse, newer ones like Jonathan Franzen,David Lodge, Norman Rush…
What are you reading now?
I’m reading Me Before You by JoJo Moyes, which is quick and interesting, and I just finished The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which was lovely and immersive, if a little bit uneven.
When you’re not working on your next project, how do you like to spend your free time?
I really like walking my dog! So I hope winter ends soon. I love to read, play music, watch sports, travel, the usual things people do. I wish I had a more interesting hobby.
What’s next for you?
I have some plans that are shaping up nicely to win to the lottery and move somewhere glamorous like Stockholm or St. Petersburg. When I’m there I’m sure I’ll get bored and write another book.
About THE LAST ENCHANTMENTS:
The Last Enchantments is a powerfully moving and lyrically written novel. A young American embarks on a year at Oxford and has an impassioned affair that will change his life forever
After graduating from Yale, William Baker, scion of an old line patrician family, goes to work in presidential politics. But when the campaign into which he’s poured his heart ends in disappointment, he decides to leave New York behind, along with the devoted, ambitious, and well-connected woman he’s been in love with for the last four years.
Will expects nothing more than a year off before resuming the comfortable life he’s always known, but he’s soon caught up in a whirlwind of unexpected friendships and romantic entanglements that threaten his safe plans. As he explores the heady social world of Oxford, he becomes fast friends with Tom, his snobbish but affable flat mate; Anil, an Indian economist with a deep love for gangster rap; Anneliese, a German historian obsessed with photography; and Timmo, whose chief ambition is to become a reality television star. What he’s least prepared for is Sophie, a witty, beautiful and enigmatic woman who makes him question everything he knows about himself.
For readers who made a classic of Richard Yates’s A Good School, Charles Finch’s The Last Enchantments is a sweeping novel about love and loss that redefines what it means to grow up as an American in the twenty-first century.