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Author Chris Bohjalian's favorite pandemic cocktail is a ...

Chris Bohjalian photo by Victoria Blewer
(Chris Bohjalian photo by Victoria Blewer)

We checked in with bestselling author Chris Bohjalian who has a new book, The Red Lotus, a thriller set in the US and Vietnam.

Chris last visited the Writers Institute in 2013 with his bestselling novel about the Armenian Genocide, The Sandcastle Girls. He previously visited with his 2002 novel, The Buffalo Soldier, the story of a white Vermont couple who take in a black 10-year-old foster child after their own twin daughters are killed in a flash flood.

Bohjalian achieved wide acclaim for his 1997 novel about the struggles of a modern-day midwife in rural Vermont, Midwives, an Oprah Book Club selection and #1 New York Times bestseller that was adapted as a 2001 Lifetime Television movie starring Sissy Spacek.

From our YouTube channel, here's a 2013 clip of Chris at UAlbany discussing the unpredictable "gestation time" of ideas for novels:

Q: Where are you self-isolating? Can you set the scene for us?

I have been at home in central Vermont, dividing my time between my views of the mountains and seeing them up close on my bike. I have also been walking the woods with our new dog, a rescue from Texas whose soul is sweet and has one blue eye and one brown eye.

For eight weeks, my wife and I had our daughter and her boyfriend with us. They are both 20-something actors whose spring and summer shows were canceled, and having them with us was a great, great gift. We had the best time.

Q: Is there any action you would like us all to take at the present time?

Yes. Be courageous and be kind. Make no mistake, the world is a better place when we are fearless, not fearful — when we act from love, not hate. Stand up against racism AND continue to act with social distance as much as you can.

Q: Any fresh news from your life?

"The Red Lotus" book cover

Well, the big news is our new dog, Jesse. But I also had a new novel arrive on March 17 — yes, a thriller in part about a deadly pathogen and a possible pandemic — called The Red Lotus.

Later this year, look for the HBO Max limited series, "The Flight Attendant," based on my 2018 novel. The cast has left me gobsmacked: Kaley Cuoco, Michiel Huisman, Rosie Perez, T.R. Knight, Merle Dandridge, Zosia Mamet, and so many others.

And I had a new play I wrote premiere at the George Street Playhouse this past winter, a brand new two-act adaptation of my novel, Midwives.

Chris Bohjalian on the set with the star of the TV series and executive producer, Kaley Cuoco.
Chris Bohjalian on the set with Kaley Cuoco.

Q: Any piece of your writing that you would like to share with us?

The book tour for The Red Lotus was obviously canceled, and so I spent the last two months finishing my March 2021 novel, Hour of the Witch, and working hard on my 2022 novel. I also wrote a variety of essays, such as this one that might be of interest for the Washington Post: What will post-pandemic fiction look like? The novels that followed 9/11 offer some clues.

Q: Anything you'd like us to read?

I’ve enjoyed so many terrific books during the pandemic. Consider diving into Rufi Thorpe’s The Knockout Queen; Stephen King’s If It Bleeds; Lily King’s Writers & Lovers; Laura Zigman’s Separation Anxiety; or Liz Moore’s Long Bright River.

Q: Any websites you'd like us to link to?

Q: Any words of wisdom for us?

Be ferocious in your convictions; be kind in your actions.

Q: What do you do to stay sane?

I bike and I write and I walk in the woods with Jesse the Pandemic Support Puppy, and I hang out with my lovely bride. We have been together since we were 18.

Q: What do you do to keep in touch with people?

My voice was destroyed in March and early April by the relentless demands of Zoom, Facebook Live, and Instagram TV. I have had laryngitis for months. So, I email and text.

Q: Is there any recipe you'd like us to try making?


Yes! Combine good gin (two parts), vermouth, and Campari (one part each), shake, and serve over ice — with a bit of orange peel. It’s a Negroni, my pandemic cocktail of choice. Also, bake anything that includes as its ingredients BOTH chocolate and peanut butter

Q: Any skill you'd like us to perfect while we have the time?

Well, I have gotten really good with a chainsaw this spring. Not kidding.

Q: What do you do to stay physically active?

I am a very serious cyclist. I bike about 3,500 miles a season in Vermont.

Q: Any advice for the Class of 2020?

Here is my commencement address to the Class of 2020 in three minutes:


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