New novelist visits Bookworm of Edwards Friday
There’s one piece of advice you won’t catch college writing professor Kristopher Jansma giving his students at the two New York-area campuses – Manhattanville College and SUNY Purchase – where he works as an adjunct professor.”People say you should write what you know, but that so depletes our possibilities, and by extent, our literature,” said Jansma, whose first book, “The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards,” has gotten plenty of buzz since it was published last month. Barnes & Noble selected Jansma for its Discover Great New Writers program; and the book is one of this month’s Indie Next Pick selections. Tonight, Jansma stops by The Bookworm of Edwards to talk about his debut. In the novel, Jansma takes readers to far-off climes: Sri Lanka, Iceland, Tokyo, Ghana, Dubai and more. “It was important to me that the novel not just be limited to what I knew already,” he said. “For me, writing has always been an excuse to learn a lot more than the little I know.”Jansma, a 30-year-old Brooklyn resident, has been to some of the places he writes about, but not all of them. “I did go to the Grand Canyon, and rafted the river with my family, and also to Luxembourg with my wife, and we spent a day in the old city there,” he said. “I was also able to go to Ghana with my in-laws, who were taking a sabbatical to teach in Kumasi. But I haven’t been to Dubai or Iceland or Sri Lanka. Yet.”The stories Jansma deftly weaves in the book – one reviewer on goodreads.com said it “reads like a novel and also like a collection of short stories” – required a lot of research, both in libraries and online.”It’s pretty incredible what you can do these days,” he said. “A few mouse clicks and I can be looking at a street view right outside of the Colombo Fort Railway Station. I can look at the cocktail menu for Vu’s Bar in the Jumeirah Emirates Towers. I can go onto a forum where Indian couples are discussing Hindi weddings.”A nameless narratorIn the book, Jansma chooses not to give the narrator a real name. Why, you might ask?”Unnamed narrators have long been a fascination of mine, because here you have someone who is telling you a story, most likely confessing all sorts of personal and intimate things, and yet withholds the most basic social intimacy,” he said. “And this creates a kind of suspicion. Anyone making a confession is also trying to sell you something – a version of events, a justification for wrongdoing, or even just a humanity behind certain actions. But when the person won’t even tell you his name, then it makes you think twice about his agenda.”At its heart, the book explores the concept of truth. That’s because Jansma himself is fascinated by “fakers and plagiarists and liars,” he said. “I’m really a terrible liar myself and I’m always intrigued by people who can do it so effortlessly,” he said. “Growing up, I used to love the character of George on Seinfeld, who advises Jerry on passing a lie detector test: ‘It’s not a lie if you believe it.’ And that’s one thing I wonder about – do these people really believe their own lies?”One of Jansma’s writing professors nailed it when he wrote: Fiction was “something that could have happened, but didn’t.” Despite that, people aren’t quite as moved by a work of fiction as they might be if it were a true story. “Why does the same exact story fail to move us until we’re told ‘this really happened’?” he asks. “People forget that fiction can be every bit as truthful as nonfiction. When the reader begins by accepting the premise that what they’re about to read is not a factual account of real events or the actions of real people … And yet they will still hang on every twist, and still fall in love with the characters and pump their fists in the air when they do well and sob when they fail … Well, that’s a very real thing.”
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