Sena Jeter Naslund is coming to Boca Grande. She has written eight novels: "Sherlock in Love" (1993), "The Animal Way to Love" (1993), the breakthrough best-seller "Ahab's Wife" (1999), "Four Spirits" (2003), another New York Times bestseller in "Abundance" (2006), the challenging "Adam and Eve" (2010) and two story collections: "Ice Skating at the North Pole" (1989) and "The Disobedience of Water" (1997).
"Adam and Eve," Naslund's latest book set in the year 2020, contains her most audacious and provocative storyline - one where science and faith battle to an astonishing end. Critics have not always been kind to this fascinating hybrid, which skillfully mixes the genres of political thriller, romance, fantasy and suspense in ways that don't go where you expect them to go.
Question: Why write "Adam and Eve," a book sure to catalyze critics from all walks of life?
Sena Jeter Naslund
Answer: (Laughs.) Your question is a really complicated one. I come to each of my books with a whole set of reasons for why I want to write it. With this one, the growth and dangers of fundamentalism were really the catalyst for wanting to write it. It's about danger in a world sense.
This is terrifying to me. "Adam and Eve" is not an anti-religious book. But it does suggest that literal interpretations of sacred texts point us in the wrong direction.
I wanted to write this book because I wanted to address the dangers of fundamentalist thinking. That's it in a nutshell. Religious institutions were not created to become institutions of destruction but to elevate the human spirit.
Sena Jeter Naslund at a glance
Occupation: Best-selling author
Hometown: Birmingham, Ala.
Residence: Louisville, Ky.
Family: Daughter Flora Naslund
Education: In high school she played cello with the Alabama Pops Orchestra. She won a music scholarship to the University of Alabama but turned it down to study writing at Birmingham-Southern College. After graduating, she was accepted at the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa where she received her master's and Ph.D. degrees in creative writing.
Professional: In 1971, hired as a visiting professor at the University of Montana then went to University of Louisville in Kentucky in 1972, where she directed the creative writing program and was awarded the university's first Distinguished Teaching Professor honor. She is now Writer in Residence at the University of Louisville, program director of the Spalding University and Kentucky Poet Laureate. She is also editor of The Louisville Review and the Fleur-de-Lis Press.
What: "Adam & Eve" book-signing with best-selling author Sena Jeter Naslund
When: 4 p.m. Jan. 19
Where: Boca Grande Community Center auditorium.
Why: Johann Fust Community Library co-sponsoring with the Friends of the Boca Grande Community Center.
Cost: Free and open to the public with a reception afterward in the Woman's Club Room.
Q: The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1940s and 13 more scrolls were discovered on the life of Jesus in 1945 in Egypt. Is this the inspiration for a crucial finding in "Adam and Eve?"
A: Those findings meant there was not just the four Gospels but there were others that were thrown out of the canon. I decided I would invent a text for my book that had not been discovered - another version of the Book of Genesis. It not only suggests a different kind of mythology, it also commented on the Book of Genesis because it had been done in the same historical era.
Q: In the debate between evolutionists and creationists, "Adam & Eve" blames wars on religious literalism and intolerance. Can mankind ever get past twisting the "words of God" for its own purposes?
A: If mankind is willing to be educated by the facts they may become less literal minded. Many people hold and understand sacred texts literally.
Q: Do you ever foresee religious wars being settled?
A: I think we'll eventually annihilate each other if we don't stop conducting wars over ideology.
Q: How has becoming a New York Times best-selling author affected your life?
A: I've traveled all over the country. My sixth book was the first to be really recognized nationally. In some ways I'm the same as always but I have more freedom and self-confidence than I had before. I've been able to reduce my teaching load. I've established a new creative writing program at Spalding University. So I've been able to travel a lot more and do things I wasn't able to do until "Ahab's Wife" became a really big hit and is now listed as a modern classic. I'm really happy about that.
Q: What authors do you most admire?
A: Virginia Woolf is a favorite author and Charles Dickens, too. Of the more contemporary authors, Irish novelist Colm Toibin brought out "The Master" six years ago using real-life author Henry James as a character. Michael Ondaatje wrote the "English Patient and author Toni Morrison.
But I must say I get the most pleasure out of reading the works of people I know such as Lucinda Sullivan and Daly Walker. (both of Boca Grande) I really love reading the books written by my friends and/or students.
Q: If one of your books was to be adapted for a screenplay, which one would you want to see made first?
A: From a practical standpoint, "Ahab's Wife." It was optioned three times and already has a marvelous script attached but the option has run out and it would have to be re-optioned. I was actually thinking about a screenplay when I wrote "Four Spirits" about four young black girls killed in the Birmingham church bombing in 1963.
Q: How did you discover Boca Grande?
A: I have dear friends in Boca Grande such as Lucinda Sullivan, Daly Walker and Alice Gorman. Lucinda is really a wonderful person. I had come to visit and she had arranged an event for me.
Q: When did you know writing was to become the centerpiece of your professional life?
A: I really started as a 10-year-old with the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. I was reading about a blizzard one summer and began to feel chilly despite the warmth. Her words made me feel that way and I thought I'd like to be able to do that some day. I wanted to be able to transport someone somewhere through the sheer power of words.
Q: Your career has certainly been rewarding. Has it been fulfilling?
A: Absolutely. I love what I'm doing. I have momentum with my writing.
Q: What's next for you and your readers?
A: I'm writing "The Fountain of St. James Court." The novel takes place all in one day. It's got a novel within the novel involving Marie Antoinette. I'm a revisionist about her. She was smarter than she's given credit for and she never said "Let them eat cake." It's due in August 2012.