Allison's Book Bag

The Image of a Girl Living Alone in An Igloo

Posted on: April 16, 2015

ChrisBohjalianVermont’s Chris Bohjalian is the author of 17 books, including ten New York Times bestsellers. His books have been chosen as Best Books of the Year by various venues, won multiple awards, and been translated into roughly 30 languages and three times become movies. He has written for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, as well as has been a weekly columnist in Vermont for the Burlington Free Press since 1992. The paperback of his most recent novel, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, was narrated by his daughter, Grace Experience, a young actor in New York City. I’ll review Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands tomorrow. Save the date: April 17!


Although Bohjalian mostly grew up in the suburbs of New York City, his family also moved around a lot, requiring him to make new friends on an almost annual basis. In one period, he even went to four different schools in four years.

One single period, reports Book Browse, most influenced Bohjalian’s life and decision to become a writer. When he was 13, his family moved from New York to Florida the Friday before Labor Day weekend. Shortly thereafter, a visit to the orthodontist resulted in his wearing a piece of headgear “that looked like the business end of a backhoe”. He couldn’t speak when wearing it and so refused to wear it to school. This meant he had to wear it after school, and so had no opportunity to make after-school friends, which meant books became his best friends during that adolescence.

Bohjalian spent much of his teen years reading at the public library. According to his Q&A, He read the sorts of things any adolescent boy was likely to read in the mid-1970s such as William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist and Peter Benchley’s Jaws. He also read a higher caliber of literature as well such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. From these books, he learned a great deal that would help him as an adult writer. For example, he learned the importance of linear momentum in plot, along with the importance of voice.

When Bohjalian was a sophomore in college, the writer-in-residence was a novelist whose work he cherished. She was teaching a creative writing seminar in the spring semester, and Bohjalian wanted very much to be among the anointed she was going to choose to be in it. That meant submitting a short story in December, which she would read over the holiday break.

In January, he was summoned to her office in the brick monolith that housed the school’s English Department, and there he met her for the first time. Book Browse shares that when she met with Bohjalian, she adjusted her shawl, fixed her eyeglasses, and told him, “Be a banker,” she said. Bohjalian instead persevered in his dream to become an author. Moreover, he took his own advice which he now doles out to new writers wanting to be discovered. “Have a thick skin. Read lots and write often about things that interest you passionately. The key is to care so deeply about a subject that you are willing to give up a year or two of your life to it.”

Bohjalian graduated from Amherst College. In in 1986, notes Book Browse, he and his wife decided to leave New York City in 1986 for “pastoral” Vermont after a wild and terrifying 45-minute cab ride that ultimately dropped them at a crack house being stormed by police. They still live in Vermont and have one daughter.


When my 20-year-old daughter, Grace, finished reading the first draft of the novel, she said, “Dad, please take this as a compliment, because I mean it that way: Your sweet spot as a novelist is seriously messed up young women.”

–Chris Bohjalian, Mom Advice

How did Bohjalian come up with the idea for Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands? He tells Mom Advice that his main source came from being involved with troubled teens. Over the years, Bohjalin has written about teens in trouble as a Burlington Free Press columnist. He’s also a big fan of Spectrum Youth & Family Services in Vermont and so he’s met a lot of their kids. He’s heard the teens’ stories and seen their faces. He’s met the kids who are going to be okay, and “the kids who are already so far down the rabbit hole that there’s no coming back”.

One day when he was having lunch with a therapist and counselor there, she started telling him how some of the kids would build igloos against the Vermont cold out of trash bags filled with wet leaves. Instantly, Bohjalian knew instantly the novel he wanted to write. The very idea of a teen girl living alone in one of those igloos haunted him.

According to Mom Advice, a second source of inspiration came from Emily Dickinson whose poems play a big part in the fictional Emily’s life. Bohjalian has always loved Dickinson’s poetry and the mysteries that surround her life. As a novelist, he’s also often wondered about the choices she made about whether (or not) to publish her body of work. Of course, it didn’t help that Bohjalian attended Amherst College, where her spirit hovers over the community. “Sometimes it seems to me as if half the buildings I lived in on campus were named after someone she knew.”

Third, Bohjalian gives a shout-out to his daughter. Often when he was writing, he’d find himself at a loss for the right synonym for a word or to capture the precise expression that a teenage girl would use, and so he’d text his daughter.In turn, she’d text back something that would work.

Finally, Bohjalian learned about how nuclear plants work thanks to representatives at Fairewinds Energy Education, as well as the Fairewinds website. Bohjalian admits that to this day, nuclear power does make him nervous. “The exclusion zone in my novel in Vermont is small compared to the actual exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.”

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