10 Questions with Andrew Rosenheim

My guest today is Andrew Rosenheim, author of Fear Itself, an excellent historical thriller that came out today in hardcover. Please scroll down to enjoy his exclusive interview.

Who is Andrew Rosenheim?

Andrew Rosenheim came to England from America as a Rhodes Scholar in 1977. He has lived near Oxford ever since. In October 1999 he was travelling in from Oxford to his job as MD of Penguin Press when the train he was on collided with another just outside Paddington. Andrew was in the front carriage of the Great Western train (Carriage H). For him it was a life changing experience. He decided to leave his senior position in publishing and write full-time.

10 Questions with Andrew Rosenheim

Mr. Rosenheim, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Your thriller, Fear Itself, came out today in hardcover. Tell us a bit more about this work.

It’s an historical thriller set in the years before America entered the War. An FBI agent named Nessheim, himself of German-American stock, is sent to infiltrate the German-American Bund, an extremist pro-Nazi organization. The agent uncovers a plot to destabilize the American government and keep America out of the War – at a time (1940) when Roosevelt was actively trying to rally support for the beleaguered British. The action moves from Chicago to San Francisco, then Vermont and New York, until it reaches a climax at the very heart of the government in Washington.

2.         Who is Jimmy Nessheim and how did you go about creating his character?

Nessheim is an ‘accidental’ agent of the FBI, who has ended up at the FBI purely by chance — a former all-American football player, both his sporting days and his college scholarship ended after an accident on the playing field. Nessheim is a classic Midwesterner – the product of a small Wisconsin town, and a mix of innocence and experience.

 3.        What attracted you to set you novel in the 1930s?

I have always been fascinated by the later years of the Great Depression, as the storm clouds in Europe threatened to come west. The sheer ‘Germanness’ of much of America, though little recognized, has also always intrigued me.

4.         Why do you write?

I write because if I don’t write (and unlike some authors there have been periods in my life when I haven’t) something seems missing. And when my work goes well it provides a unique kind of satisfaction.

5.         A word of advice for new writers?

Write a lot. Don’t go over and over the same material, honing and rewriting. Editing yourself is of course important, but finishing a work – whether it’s a poem, essay, short story, or novel – is even more so. I did not complete a novel until I was over thirty years old (though I had a drawerful of unfinished ones); I regret that, for I think that whatever a work’s defects, you learn something just by finishing it.

6.         What is your typical writing day?

It alternates between walking around listening to the voice in my head and, when enough has accumulated there, rushing to write it down. In between I fail to do The Times (London) cryptic crossword. My family says they know I am working when I walk around looking abstracted.

7.         What are your favorite pastimes?

I read a lot, but also like to fly fish, play golf, prune trees, and walk.

8.         What other books are you working on at the moment?

I am trying to finish a sequel to Fear Itself. It’s called The Informant, and is another novel involving my accidental agent Nessheim, and his rough-hewn but honest boss, Harry Guttman. This one is set largely in Los Angeles in 1941, just before Pearl Harbor.

9.         What do you like to read and what are you reading now?

I like reading writers of the outdoors – Thomas McGuane is a writer I particularly admire, even when he’s describing activities I know nothing about (like cutting horses). I like historical thrillers (surprise surprise) – those of C J Sansom, Philip Kerr and Alan Furst strike me as especially good. I also like many modern poets, particularly those of my father’s generation — Berryman, Jarrell, Lowell, and Elizabeth Bishop are favorites. Right now I’ve been rereading A Dream of Governors by Louis Simpson, an underrated poet (who has just died) who wrote beautifully about his war-time experiences as a soldier in Europe.

10.       What can readers expect to find in Fear Itself?

I hope the book is a proverbial page-turner, but with evocative accounts of characters and places. I hope readers will also discover a vivid sense of the tense atmosphere in America during the years immediately preceding our entry in World War II.

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