In Jan David Blais' latest book, "Twentieth Century Limited - Age of Reckoning," he turns some of America's most controversial political topics into the background for a political thriller.
The author lived in Glover Park for a summer (and so does his main character) and recently discussed his work, the second in the series, with Watertown Patch, where he currently lives.
Georgetown Patch: How was it you came to live in Glover Park for a summer?
Blais: I had a State Department summer job before my last year at Harvard Law School. I lived on Huidekoper Place, off of Wisconsin Avenue. Of the many places to live in the District, Glover Park turned out to be a great choice. The novel’s chief character, Paul Bernard, also has a summer position at State and not surprisingly, he also lands in Glover Park. I figured, it worked for me, it can work for him -- though his experiences and acquaintances are mostly invented.
Georgetown Patch: Did you have a favorite Glover Park or DC pub or restaurant?
Blais: My favorite DC watering hole? That’s an easy one – many pleasant hours (perhaps too many!) spent in Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown.
Watertown Patch: What inspired you to write "Twentieth Century Limited"? Does it come from your personal experience?
Jan David Blais: I set out to write a story illuminating the fascinating times I’ve lived in ‒ the latter half of America’s Twentieth Century. And center it around a character who was a significant player. That turned out to be Paul Bernard.
Some aspects of Paul Bernard’s early life draw on my experiences and help form a “coming of age” dimension that’s essential to the story. Though certain settings are factual, most of the events are invented ‒ they never happened to me or as far as I know, to anyone else. Though they could have.
Watertown Patch: The book deals with some major political debates that have faced Americans over recent years, including the Iraq War and the response to the Sept. 11, 2001 Attacks. Why do you think readers would be interested in a political thriller on these topics?
Blais: The American people’s basic good sense compels them to stay connected with these events that to this day affect the country so deeply. And with a good story bringing them back into focus ‒ that’s a powerful combination.
Watertown Patch: The main characters work in the media. Do you have a background in journalism? And, why approach it from their point of view, rather than politicians or someone in the military?
Blais: Except for working on my high school newspaper, I was never a journalist. But I’ve always been fascinated by newspapers and newspaper people. The success of news drama like today’s The Newsroom and the classic Network, shows a lot of people share this interest.
With the journalist Paul Bernard as my main character I was able to project readers into the major events of our time and show them top newsmakers in action. A military man could do only part of this, a politician could do only part of this, but a leading reporter and TV newsman in the picture when big things are happening ‒ that perspective works. Let me add, in the story Paul Bernard does serve in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, he stays involved with veterans, and he reports on our subsequent wars. So the military point of view is present throughout the story, in fact it’s a vital, contributing part. The political is also, though that’s developed differently.
Watertown Patch: You live in Watertown. Will local residents recognize some of the scenes in your book?
Blais: Readers will recognize scenes of Cambridge and Boston, as well as Providence and Worcester. And they’ll identify with portraits of New York, points in Maine, the San Francisco Bay Area, Quebec, Paris, Moscow and the Middle East, among other locales.
Watertown Patch: Tell us about your other works, and what do have planned for your next book?
Blais: My first novel is Flight Path, a story about the airlines ‒ I’m in that business. The story is set in the late Seventies/early Eighties when airline deregulation burst upon us. Big airline versus little airline, big boss versus protege, profits versus safety ‒ a lot of interesting ingredients. It’s just been reissued in paperback and as an eBook.
Another novel is coming into view, but my next is likely to be a collection of short stories. And speaking of local, one story I like a lot is centered on Mount Auburn Cemetery. That one will definitely make the cut.