Q&A with J.R. Thornton, author of "Beautiful Country"
J.R. Thornton, author of the incredible novel Beautiful Country, sat down for a Q&A with us. Make sure to stop by Book Culture on Columbus to pick up your copy today.
1. How did you come to write Beautiful Country?
I began Beautiful Country when I was in high school actually. At the time I had finished all the creative writing courses that my school offered, and I was told if I wanted to continue doing creative writing I would have to find a teacher willing to work with me on an independent study project. I was lucky enough to have an English teacher, Fritz Mark, who loved the idea and persuaded me to try working on a novel. He told me if I turned in a chapter every month that he’d give me an “A” for the course. That seemed like a good deal to me, so I took it before he changed his mind!
As far as how I decided what to write about - Like the narrator of Beautiful Country, I also had spent a year training in the Chinese state sports system as a young teenager. It is difficult to convey how meaningful and life altering that experience turned out to be. In Beijing I saw a side of life I had been completely sheltered from up until that point. I went from being surrounded by classmates who were wealthy private school kids from suburban New Jersey, to spending every day for a year with Chinese kids who were trying to work their way out of poverty. I think a successful novel takes an experience like that, strips it down to the essential elements and simplifies it into a story that allows others to understand what it is the author has taken away from it. At that point in my life that was really the most life-altering experience I had ever had, and it seemed like a natural thing to write about.
2. What are you currently reading?
Let’s see… I just finished The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder, and absolutely loved. I also just read The Price of Prosperity: Why Rich Nations Fail by Todd Buchholz, which was super interesting. At the moment I have just started Phil Knight’s autobiography Shoe Dog.
3. Do you have a personal favorite book of all time? If so, can you share it and tell us why?
It’s hard to pick just one, so here are a few I would consider among my favorite: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams, The Old Man and the Sea - Hemingway, Shadow Country - Peter Matthiessen, The Phantom Tollbooth – Norton Juster, A Confederacy of Dunces - Toole and The Stranger - Albert Camus.
4. What’s next? Any upcoming book projects in the works that you can tell us about?
Yes! I’ve been working on a second novel, and am quite far along with that. Also I just recently sold an option on the film rights of Beautiful Country, and am going to be taking the first crack at writing the screenplay.
Born in London, J.R. Thornton graduated from Harvard in 2014 where he studied History, English and Chinese. He lived in Beijing as a teenager, returning recently to undertake a fellowship at the International Writer’s Center at Beijing Normal University. An internationally ranked tennis player as a junior, he later competed for the Harvard men’s team and on the professional circuit. Beautiful Country is his debut novel.
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