Gary Fisketjon – Working with Jim Lynch, Part I

Like you, I’m sure, we’re so looking forward to Truth Like the Sun, the newest novel from local author Jim Lynch. The book is on shelves April 10, and on Thursday, April 12, at 7pm, Jim Lynch will be reading and signing books in our store. As always, you can order online or call us if you would like to reserve a copy or can’t make it to the bookstore.

In the meantime, we thought you might be interested to hear from Mr. Lynch’s editor at Knopf for Truth Like the Sun and its predecessor, Border Songs, Gary Fisketjon. Split into two posts—today’s and one coming Tuesday—here’s a sneak-peek behind the scenes of Jim Lynch’s much-anticipated new novel:


Jim Lynch

One thing publishers and readers alike admire in writers is an ability to capture entirely new experiences from book to book, and Jim Lynch demonstrates that in spades—from thirteen-year-old Miles O’Malley, revealing the secrets of the Puget Sound and his own peculiar circumstances in The Highest Tide; to the astonishingly tall, severely dyslexic Brandon Vanderkool, putting his acute powers of observation, honed by his encyclopedic passion for birds, to work for the Border Patrol in Jim’s second novel. The range of characters in these two books is vast, each cast entirely different from the other, and rendered with such vivid conviction that the reader’s own observational skills are heightened.

This quality was partly apparent when Jim’s agent submitted Border Songs to us and I raced right through its many signs and wonders. Then it was fully apparent when I went back and read a paperback of The Highest Tide, having caught the Lynch bug big time. And while my interest in marine and avian life is amateurish at best (while Lynch’s clearly isn’t), as a fellow son of the Pacific Northwest I could readily attest to and revel in his mastery at depicting this country, in all its moods and idiosyncrasies and beauty.

In other words, I had complete confidence that he knew what he was writing about, right down to the ground. For an editor this amounts to a sort of green-light recognition, along with everything else I admired about those two novels. Happily, he and I were soon working together to bring Border Songs to the public.

Now with Truth Like the Sun, Lynch again gives us something new and distinctive, in character and setting and even timeline, capturing a great American city, both in 1962, when the World’s Fair in effect ushers it into the nearly futuristic “modern” world, and in 2001, after Seattle’s immense gold-rush wealth has been blindsided by the bursting of the dot-com bubble. It’s a testament to Jim’s novelistic assurance that each era, one a decade past and the other fully fifty years, seems bright and fresh, with wholly unique upsides and downfalls.

And the same is true of the people playing the lead roles here. Roger Morgan, who was the driving force behind the World’s Fair—and forty years later, still a force to reckon with—throws his hat in the ring to run for mayor. Helen Gulanos, a much younger reporter who lately arrived in Seattle, has a skepticism about this fabled place as great as her Pulitzer-worthy aspirations. Both have their own dreams of glory, but they soon find themselves pitted against each other in a strangely mutual quest to understand the ramifications of civics in the widest sense possible. That is, how are cities really developed, and what are the obligations of its citizens, and how is power wielded in such an enormous enterprise?

Reading this novel, I thought more than once of Robert Caro’s magnificent The Power Broker, which explains how Robert Moses reimagined (or destroyed) New York City. It also reminded me of Billy Lee Brammer’s The Gay Place, a sadly unknown novel that thrillingly depicts a fictional LBJ exerting his political muscle. Civics involves politics, naturally, and Roger Morgan—kin to these illustrious predecessors—is up to his neck in both.

Another concern of Truth Like the Sun is journalism, its whys and wherefores and nuts and bolts and also the role it plays in our civic (or personal) lives. Jim’s rich experience as an investigative reporter—honors including an H.L. Mencken Award—certainly informs his portrayal of Helen Gulanos. As he puts it:

As a reporter, I wrote about politicians at the federal and local levels. I was fascinated by the nuances of power and the the craft and stress that came with trying to expose what was really going on. So Helen has some of my journalistic ambitions, exasperations and insecurities, as well as those of other agressive reporters I’ve known.

And this is integral to the nexus of civics and politics, because those worlds remain largely invisible to us unless we can read about them in the newspaper.

As an aside relative to journalism, I’d like to note what a treat the editorial process is with Jim. It essentially amounts to two one-sided conversations: first I scrawl my notes on his pages, then Jim figures out what’s useful. More often than not he has better answers to whatever questions I raise. And that’s it.

The editor can have his or her say, then must leave everything for the author to resolve. Any other policy amounts to a confusion of realms, though many reporters have told me that on newspapers it’s a whole other ballgame and it’s the editor who calls the shots. But with fiction, at least the way I go about editing it, I’m not interested in talking anyone into anything. As I see it, I’m lucky as hell to have a ringside seat.

GARY L. FISKETJON is Vice President and Editor-at-Large at Knopf, having joined the company in 1990 after previously working at Random House and Vintage and at the Atlantic Monthly Press.


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