Author Interview & Book Giveaway: The Preservationist by Justin Kramon

I had the opportunity read and review this book for TLC Book Tours. Justin was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions that readers will love knowing more about: Justin’s writing and how the story and characters were created.  Before we dive into his questions/answers, take a look at his book trailer for, The Preservationist.


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Author Bio:  Justin Kramon is the author of the novels Finny (Random House, 2010) and The Preservationist (Pegasus, 2013). A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has received honors from the Michener-Copernicus Society of America, Best American Short Stories, the Hawthornden International Writers’ Fellowship, and the Bogliasco Foundation. He lives in Philadelphia.


Interview Questions:

1.  As a mom   of a young writer, I know the importance of being a supporter to my   son’s dream.  Who has been your greatest supporter and encourager?   How are you most supported?

That’s great that you’re  supportive of your son’s writing.  It makes a huge difference,  and I imagine it must be scary for a parent to know that your child  wants to be a writer.  It’s like telling your parents that you  dream of being a professional hula-hoop twirler, in that there’s a very  small and specific market for what you’re doing, and you hope and have  faith it’ll stick around, but you never really know.  So I admire  parents who take that leap of faith.

I’ve been lucky to have  a family who has supported my writing — my wife, parents, sister, others.   That helps a lot.  Teachers and other writers have encouraged me,  and that has made a huge difference at certain times.  I probably  wouldn’t still be writing if not for certain of these people, my wife  in particular.

But the other thing about  writing is that, ultimately, you’re alone.  At some point, you  close the door and no one is in front of the computer but you.   And if you don’t want to do it, no one is making you.  The world  doesn’t care that much whether you do it or not.  So something  has to come from within you, some pushback against all the pressures  not to do it.  I’m not sure where that comes from, but I feel lucky  when it happens.

2. Do you have a favorite  book that you’ve most identified with or had the most impact?

Maybe not a favorite  book, but the first writer who really spoke to me was Alice Munro.   I started reading her in college, and I remember reading one of her  very early stories, “Thanks for the Ride,” a story I’m guessing  she wouldn’t think very much of anymore, but reading it was the first  time I started thinking seriously about writing.  It wasn’t that  I thought I could ever write like Alice Munro, but that I wasn’t aware  until then that there was a place in books for the types of feelings  and small moments she writes about.  I just couldn’t believe that  these ideas were in a book.

Then, later on, I started  reading those bigger, wilder, insanely wise and beautiful stories from  the middle of her career — books like Open Secrets, The Progress of Love, Friend of my Youth — and again she blew me away, particularly  by how she handled time, which I think is such an important part of  writing.  I was very affected by how she moved backward and forward  in time, which was something I hadn’t seen before, and it made me realize  the potential stories had to capture time passing, which is a very moving  thing, I think.

3.  I’ve always  heard the saying, “write what you know”.  So, with that in  mind- was there a character or experience you most identified with in The Preservationist?

I’ve heard that saying  a lot also, and it’s always made me nervous.  I just don’t feel  like I know very much.  I’m good at ducking out of the way whenever  anyone asks a factual question.  I always took that saying to mean  that because of your life experience, you have this collection of facts  and details that you can and should draw from, but steer clear of the  stuff you don’t know about.  The problem is, I think one of the  big reasons people write fiction is precisely to get to the stuff they  don’t know about.  So it’s a little bit of a dilemma.

I’ve come to take that  idea — “Write what you know” — in a very broad sense, which  is that there’s a set of universal feelings we all tap into in our lives,  and everyone comes to know at least some of them in the course of a  life, and the ones you know are the ones you try to write about.   They’re the things that people relate to in your writing.

In The Preservationist, even though it’s a thriller, the underlying  feelings all the characters are dealing with relate to loss.  Each  of the three main characters — Sam, Julia, Marcus — has a different  approach to loss, and it seems to keep their heads above water, but  then in the course of the novel they find themselves starting to go  under.  Everyone in the world experiences loss — it’s the fundamental  thing about being in the world — so I was interested in exploring some  of the feelings and ideas I had about that.  What’s great about  a novel is that you can give those sets of thoughts to characters who  might take them to a much greater and more destructive extreme than  you ever would.

4. A huge part of the  storyline is taking the reader inside the mind of a serial killer.   How did you balance writing the vulnerable side to a mad man, while  also showing the madness and scary side? Was he based on any particular  real life person? If so, who and how was that person helpful in the  creation of that character?

This was one of the big  draws and most interesting parts of writing the book.  I was influenced  by books like The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Collector, and Felicia’s Journey.  Those books present the criminal or  violent mind on level ground with all the other characters in the story.   In other words, the book itself doesn’t tell you who is the “good  guy” or the “bad guy,” but presents each character’s  world with equal intensity and detail, and allows a murderer to think  of things like what he’ll have for lunch, and how nice his childhood  house used to be.

That was what I really  wanted to do in The Preservationist, to present all the characters with equal  sympathy.  The fact that one is a killer creates an interesting  tension for a reader, hopefully, because you’re curious to know more  about this person whom you normally wouldn’t get within a mile of, and  you might even start to feel for him a little bit.  That’s the  strange magic a book can work, and that discomfort is a thing that can  be fun to experience as a reader.

I didn’t base the killer  on any real person.  I just tried to think hard about what kind  of cocktail of genes and experiences in the world would create a mindset  where killing was possible or even acceptable.  But I always wanted  those violent impulses to grow out of gentler, more sympathetic, more  human ones.

5. One of the most identifiable  characters in the story was Julia.  Perhaps because everyone has  either been a loner at one time or another, or knew of the school loner  on campus.  What do you think made her so vulnerable and kept her  in situations that were at times, quite dangerous?

It’s interesting that  you mention this, because I’m not sure if all my readers identify most  with Julia.  She’s a difficult person, in a lot of ways, and I’m  not sure she’s that likeable immediately.  Although she had a kind  of quirky sense of humor I enjoyed working with in the book.  But  I’m really glad to hear that you felt for her, and for her loneliness,  because that’s something I hoped would come through — even though it  was tough, because Julia works hard to shield her emotions from everyone,  including herself.

My sense of her is that  there’s a chaos under the surface.  Maybe that’s often true with  people who seem very reserved, that there’s a fear about what would  happen if they lose that reserve.  Because of the tragedy Julia  faced shortly before the book starts, as well as her insecurity and  a lot of childhood stuff she’s carrying around, I get the sense that  she’s barely, barely functional, that underneath her quick jokes her  thoughts are creating a huge and frightening mess.  To my mind,  that’s why her judgment is very poor at times.  Through a lot of  the book, it’s almost like she’s looking for a place to hide, or a place  where she can erase herself.

6. Computer or paper?   When writing, do you use the good ole’ fashioned notepad or do you  use modern technology and use the computer?

I spend a lot of time  first writing in a notebook about the characters, with no story or plot  in mind, just trying to get to know them.  Then I move to the computer  once I want to start forming the plot, but I use all the weird stuff  I write in the notebooks as a kind of basis for everything the characters  do or say.  There’s a ton of material in the notebooks that never  gets into the novel, but my hope is that the novel will feel like the  tip of the iceberg, with a very substantial portion just below the surface.

7. What advice or suggestions  would you give to a student wanting to pursue writing?

I think everyone forges  her or his own path through it, so my first suggestion would be to not  take too much advice, and figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.   You gather that stuff over the years, from teachers or other writers  or things you read.  For me, reading was and is the most important  teacher.  It familiarizes you with the landscape of fiction, of  what’s out there and what’s possible.  And it also helps build  the techniques you have to tell the stories you want to tell.   Reading a great book is the most inspiring thing to me, as far as writing  goes.

I guess one other thing  I’d mention, maybe because your son is so interested in writing, is  that it helps to take the long view, as much as is possible.  For  most of the writers I’ve met who have created truly outstanding books,  there was a lot of struggling, a lot of doubt, and a certain amount  of failure that came before the book they wanted to write.  But  those difficulties actually became part of the process of creating that  book, and in fact the book couldn’t have been created without the difficulty.   So it seems that the easy or immediate success isn’t necessarily the  best thing for a writer, and that the writers who keep writing find  something to love in the process, not just the end result.

A HUGE thank-you to Justin for taking the time to answer my questions! I absolutely loved you sharing advice that I can pass on to my son, who is graduating high school this year!! It is my belief that everyone will be able to learn something new or gain a new perspective in the world of writing, while also getting some interesting tidbits, in the making of some fantastic characters.


As a thank-you to all my blog readers: Justin’s book, The Preservationist, is being offered as a giveaway!

In the comments section:

Leave your email, along with what you found interesting about the book and/or interview!

All entries must be completed by November 30, 2013.  Due to postage, only US entries.

8 thoughts on “Author Interview & Book Giveaway: The Preservationist by Justin Kramon

  1. The book trailer was just great. I love that the book has secrets and suspense, and the trailer left me wanting to know more. I would really enjoy reading this book. Thanks for having the giveaway.


  2. The book interests me mainly because of all the great reviews of it I’ve read all over the Internet. My name and email are in the fields below. The name I use is the one I use online. If I win the book, of course I’ll provide my real name when you email me.


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