Chris is the author of The Expats, which debuted on the New York Times bestseller list immediately upon publication in March 2012. I read this book myself and found it fascinating. Chris grew up in Brooklyn, graduated from Cornell, and was an editor at a variety of book-publishing houses that included Doubleday, Crown, and Artisan, most notably as executive editor at Clarkson Potter. He spent a year and a half as an ex-pat in Luxembourg, but once again lives with his wife and children in a very flooded New York City.
Yes, and yes. To help me organize the plot I maintained a couple of invaluable documents. The most basic was a list of a dozen reveals that I wanted to present to reader over the course of the story; the list enabled me to easily play around with their sequence, which I did frequently over the course of writing different drafts. The more extensive document was a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline—the action, the characters, the questions I wanted to dangle in front of readers, the answers I wanted to dole out slowly. These documents were always open on my laptop along with the manuscript’s file.
2- Luxembourg is as much of a character as Kate and Dexter.
How well do you know the country?
2- Luxembourg is as much of a character as Kate and Dexter. How well do you know the country?
Most of the crucial plot elements of The Expats are completely made-up. But some important aspects of the story, and all of the atmosphere, are true. In 2008, I left behind my career and my home to follow my wife’s job to Luxembourg. While she worked a demanding, time-consuming, and travel-intensive job, my existence was very similar to Kate’s: taking care of small children, learning to live in a foreign country and a different language, reinventing myself as someone without a career, without the self-definition I’d lived with for the entirety of my adult life. This is a central theme of the book: reinvention. For me—and for my protagonist—this takes place in the rainy cobblestoned expat-heavy city of Luxembourg.
3- It seems everyone is a spy and no one trustworthy. How fun was it to work with an unreliable narrator at times?
Unreliable narrators offer wonderful opportunities for tremendous paradigm shifts in a story; I love them. And in my first draft of The Expats, Kate was in fact much more unreliable: readers didn’t learn her most important secret until the last page of the book. But I became worried that if the protagonist was this outlandishly unreliable, I was creating too much distance, too much dishonesty, between reader and storyteller; it might be an unsatisfying read, difficult to connect with. So I backed away a bit from that unreliability, and hope I found an intriguing balance between compelling engagement and exciting surprise.
4- The Expats seems to have found an audience on both sides of the Atlantic. Where do you spend the majority of your promotional time?
I’ve done roughly equal numbers of events and media in America and in Europe; there are fifteen different editions of the book being published in as many languages, and the bulk of these publishers are in Europe. But I’ve also spent as much promotional time in that untethered international space of the digital world.
5- How has the digital age affected the way you promote the book? Or has it?
In America slightly more than half of The Expats’ sales have been digital units, and probably the same proportion of my promotional time has also been digital, mostly in the form of writing essays, articles, and odds-and-ends—dozens and dozens of individual pieces—to websites of one sort or another. I worked in publishing for nearly two decades before writing this first novel of mine, and I’m comfortable with the processes, with the business as a whole. But I’ve always been intimidated by the promotional aspects. It’s one thing to sit by yourself in a quiet room, typing; it’s altogether another to stand in front of a crowded room—whether a physical room in a bookstore, or a virtual room on a website—talking about your book and your life. I was prepared for the talks and readings and signings in bricks-and-mortar venues, but I’m astounded at the amount of time I’ve spent in the digital world. I’m writing this in the days immediately following Hurricane Sandy. For a few days we haven’t had electricity in our apartment in downtown New York, so my children and I are sitting in a conference room at sparsely populated Random House (my wife works here, but most employees haven’t been able to make it to Midtown); the kids are reading on e-readers, and I’m writing a few hundred words for a book blog, neither of which would’ve been conceivable just a few years ago.