“I’ve always wanted to write a novel, ever since I was a little kid growing up in Ohio,” says Christopher Bollen, Interview Magazine’s editor-at-large, over lunch at a Nolita café not far from his office. He fulfills his childhood dream this month with the release of his début novel Lightning People, a forcibly honest study of a group of wayward New Yorkers in their thirties who are pushed around by the forces of fate and circumstance. “I wanted it to be about not so much youth, but people who are no longer young, which I thought was a much more interesting take,” he says. “That feeling when the youthfulness and excitement and the fervor of being new to a city and young, when you can be anything you want to be and you can fuck up as many times as you want because nothing matters and you’ll still be alright and you won’t pay a price. I was more interested, maybe because of my age at that point, in people who are of the age that no longer allows for that kind of easiness and excitement. It’s about the painfulness of waking up and realizing you’re an adult and you do pay a price for the company you keep and what you do and where you are.”

Bollen, 35, moved to New York in 1996 to attend Columbia, and began working at V Magazine soon after graduating, rising to editor there before moving to Interview in 2008. “It was always my intention to write books, and in my wayward twenties, after I graduated from college, I stuck to writing, but I was working in magazines so much,” he explains. “I couldn’t really find the time, amid the work and living out my wild days, to actually sit down and do it. When you’re young you always think you have all the time in the world to do something. And suddenly when you turn thirty you
realize you don’t.”

Bollen says that he found the inspiration for his novel during a trip to the island of Amorgos in Greece, the birthplace of Del, one of the many characters in Lightning People who find themselves intertwined in the sort of interlocking network of friendships, romances, and chance meetings that every New Yorker will immediately recognize. Del marries an actor, Joseph, who Bollen says is probably the closest to serving as his own foil. Joseph brings his troubled friend William into their domestic bliss while Del’s ex-boyfriend Raj and his sister Madi, now Del’s best friend, add to the constellation of dimming stars at the center of the darkly lyrical novel. “I wanted it to be a New York story, but I didn’t want it to be a New York story filled with too-cool-for-school downtown kids,” Bollen says. “If I had wanted to write in the vein of a Bret Easton Ellis novel, I would have picked entirely different characters.”

Bollen points to modern masters like Joan Didion, Salman Rushdie, and Norman Mailer as some of his main sources of inspiration, “not that I think I write like any of them,” and Douglas Coupland’s Generation X as the great underappreciated book about youth culture. But Bollen has crafted a style all his own, one of clarity and concision, with arresting images and moments of stark beauty scattered throughout. The shadow of 9/11
and the lingering legacy of the Kennedy assassination also permeate the novel, with its conspiracy theories and casual progression of closely-linked coincidences. “I wanted it to be like a set of dominoes,” he says, “where one thing happens and leads to another and leads to another.” He continues, “There might be certain stretches of reality in my book, but I felt I was justified in doing that because I feel like the last ten years after 9/11 have also been just like that. All of these completely insane, impossible, improbable, bizarre events are actually happening. And one’s worst suspicions and crazy ideas are just as possible as the most rational, sane, cynical response to things.”

Bollen, who is set to leave for a repeat trip to Greece soon after this interview, jokes about finding inspiration for his second novel there. “I feel like travel is a really healthy way for me to think,” he says. “Writing is another story. I feel like writing is the most sedentary thing you can do and there’s no way I can write well traveling around.” But for now, it’s enough to revel in the completion of Lightning People, which Bollen says is the result of five years of intense labor. “If anything great has come out of this experience, it’s that I’ll never have to write a first novel again,” he laughs. “And somehow I’m psychically high five-ing the 8-year-old boy I was, who was like, ‘I’m gonna write a book.’”

Christopher Bollen’s Lightning People is out now from Soft Skill Press.

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