About The Author
Brian Kimberling grew up in Evansville, Indiana, and graduated from Indiana University. As a student he was involved in a major study of songbirds, an experience central to his first novel, Snapper. Subsequently he taught English in the Czech Republic, Mexico, and Turkey. He now lives in England with his wife and son.
His first novel is Snapper, which charts the disastrous love affair between career birdwatcher Nathan Lochmueller and the place that made him. Set in rural Indiana, it's a book about birdwatching, a woman who won't stay true, and a pick-up truck that won't start. Here turtles eat alligators for breakfast, Klansmen skulk in the undergrowth and truckers drop into the diner of a town named Santa Claus to ensure that no child's Christmas letter goes unanswered, while Nathan grapples with the eternal question: should I stay, or should I go?
In this exclusive interview with Foyles, Brian talks about Indiana songbirds, Daffy Duck and an America without Starbucks.
The Author At Foyles
How did this novel come about? Are any of Nathan's experiences based on your own?
I was a research assistant on a major study of Indiana songbirds for two summers in the mid-nineties. I wasn't very good at it, owing to a hearing impairment - I couldn't tell where the birds were singing from. But I was very jealous of the people who were good at it, so much so I created a fantasy career for a fictional version of myself seventeen years later. Many of the incidents and details of Nathan's life are borrowed or made up, but the emotional arc of the story is mine.
Most people's formative years are idealised to an extent, and Nathan certainly seems to switch between love and hatred for his home town. Do you think that this is a particularly nostalgic novel?
Yes, I do. Nathan has reached a certain age and he's about to go into 'pest control, where the money is'. He's looking back at a time when he was free and he is not quite aware that he has one foot already planted in a severe mid-life crisis.
Humour is obviously a very important aspect of your writing. How did you go about finding the right balance between humour and seriousness in Snapper?
I usually start with a joke I've heard or some amusing anecdote that has stuck with me for some reason. Then I discover that beneath that joke or anecdote lurks something serious and interesting of a social or emotional nature. Finally, I revise endlessly and often end up removing a lot of humour to strike some balance. It's always a sort of guess, though.
Do you think there will always be parts of America that could authentically be described as 'backwoods', or is there nothing that can stop the inexorable march of the coffee-shop chain?
Somewhere in the middle of Ohio you reach the frontier of Starbucks saturation, which by definition is the beginning of the middle of nowhere. By the time you get to Indiana, well... there will always be American backwaters, I think. It's just a question of space and population density, ultimately, and it's a big country.
Who are your literary heroes?
Peter Taylor, Katherine Anne Porter, Frank O'Connor, JF Powers, Jane Austen and Robert Louis Stevenson. The first four of them are rather glaringly short story writers.
And finally... what is your favourite bird, and why? And what sort of eggs does it lay?
The truthful answer is Daffy Duck, because he's deeply charismatic and fiercely intelligent and always persecuted, like me. You were probably fishing for something like the wood thrush, which is Snapper protagonist Nathan Lochmueller's favourite, as well as Audubon's and Thoreau's. It has a beautiful song and a bourgeois demeanour and a Protestant work ethic, which is a striking combination for a bird. Its eggs are approximately the colour of the underside of a Spitfire wing.
Available Titles By This Author
Past Events for this Author