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Border Songs: an interview with Jim Lynch

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Jim Lynch's sophomore novel, Border Songs, is in stores now

Anyone who has read Jim Lynch‘s debut novel, The Highest Tide, will already know that he’s one of the most exciting new authors to have appeared on the Northwestern scene in recent years.

Jim Lynch’s sophomore novel, Border Songs, goes even further in reinforcing this impression. Telling the story of birdwatching Border Patrol agent Brandon Vanderkool, Border Songs introduces us to one of the most intriguing and unusual characters in modern fiction. It also reveals a fascinating subculture that exists along the Canadian and American border, delving into the hot topics of drug smuggling and human trafficking along the way.

We caught up with Jim Lynch in this exclusive interview, prior to his Western Washington tour later this month.

Dan Coxon: It must have been hard to follow up the international success of The Highest Tide. What made you settle on Border Songs as the next story you wanted to tell?

Jim Lynch: Just as Highest Tide grew out of my fascination with Puget Sound, Border Songs grew out of my fascination with the western end of the U.S.-Canadian border. The more time I spent up there as a journalist, the more it struck me as a great brain-bending setting for fiction, a place where the two countries are often divided by nothing more than a drainage ditch. Such a border is interesting in quiet times, but during the tense years following 9-11, its dramatic potential increased.

DC: I know you like to research your books thoroughly, and you come from a background in journalism. What research did you do for Border Songs? How did this shape the book?

JL: I rode around with the Border Patrol as a journalist and then later as a novelist. That helped a lot. I learned the nuances of their work and their language. I spent time on a dairy farm, interviewed Canadian marijuana smugglers and hung out with the best birders in Whatcom County. I also just drove the valley between Peace Arch Park and the Cascades again and again on both sides of the border while the story and its characters slowly emerged in my mind.

Jim Lynch's Border Songs

DC: Brandon Vanderkool is such a unique and intriguing character, so I have to ask… where did he spring from?

JL: Brandon came out of my imagination. I’ve never met anyone like him. Temple Grandin’s books about living with autism helped me create a man who is far more attuned to animals than humans. His fascination with birds and temporary art grew out of that. It took me a long time to get to know him well enough to write this book.

DC: Border Songs once again sees you writing about Washington State, albeit from a different angle. How important is it to you to write about the scenery and the people that you see around you?

JL: I love setting novels in Western Washington. There are plenty of places with more culture and history, but it’s hard to find a more exotic landscape/setting in my opinion. I enjoy trying to bring it to life on the page, and spend a lot of time out in it with pen and paper, trying to describe it as precisely as I can.

DC: Do you have any plans for a third novel in the pipeline? What can we expect from you next?

JL: I’m working right now on a novel set in Seattle. It jumps around in time, but much of it is set during the 1962 world’s fair, which arguably launched modern Seattle. I hope to finish it within a year.

DC: And finally… Border Songs brings up the issue of the legalization of marijuana, so I have to ask – where do you stand on the issue? (And did you inhale!)

JL: As for legalizing marijuana, I don’t really have strong opinions other than that I think the U.S. war on drugs goes overboard when it comes to pot. A new administration and the spread of medical marijuana is changing all that too. I think eventually it will be legalized and this will be looked back upon as the era of prohibition. Personally, I’m a simple beer and tequila man, so it won’t affect me much either way.

Jim Lynch will be reading at the Whidbey Island Library (Langley, WA) on Wednesday August 18, and at the Edmonds Bookshop (Edmonds, WA) on Thursday August 19.  He will also be reading at the Chapel on Echo Bay, near Gig Harbor, on September 21. For more details of his books and reading events please visit Jim Lynch’s website.

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