After years at the helm of the online magazine The Morning News, Rosecrans Baldwin has made his fiction debut. And what a debut it is—in addition to being a BookPage top debut for 2010, the LA Times placed You Lost Me There on its Summer Reading List, and TimeOut Chicago named it as one of the Best Summer Reads.
An intimate look into the evanescence of memory and the troubled man who has made his living studying its breakdown, You Lost Me There is an unforgettable read. Before the simmering hype comes to a rolling boil, Baldwin took some time out to talk to BookPage about the union of art and science, his other writing projects and how he plans to celebrate the launch of his first novel.
Throughout the novel, Victor undergoes some rather weighty moments of introspection—do you feel like you learned anything previously unknown about yourself while writing You Lost Me There?
Absolutely, and I wouldn’t think of sharing it in public. That’s what novels are for.
One of the conflicts in You Lost Me There seems to be based on fundamental incompatibilities between Victor and Sara—he is a scientist and she is an artist. Do you think science and art are diametrically opposed, or can they be reconciled?
Artists and scientists have lots in common. They work instinctively through long investigations, where the outcome is unknown. Both fields appeal to those who are drawn to lifelong disciplines, and also dabblers. I don’t think that Sara and Victor’s difficulties necessarily arise from their occupations, but it is their work where those difficulties often play out.
Do you feel like problems in relationships arise because the players change or is it perhaps their inability to change that causes issues?
Both—and six billion reasons more. But those two reasons are significant, absolutely. Sara, quoting Victor, says at one point maybe some marriages aren’t meant to last beyond a certain period—that, like humans, there may be diseases inherent to the body of the relationship that stay hidden for decades, but eventually appear.
One of your characters is a poet, and some of her verses are scattered throughout the novel. What was it like writing those? Have you ever had poetic aspirations?
I wish I could write poetry. I’d say I’m halfway-awful at it, which is what I’d also claim for Regina, the poet in the book. I wrote poetry all through college—and as soon as I graduated, I moved to New York and switched to writing novels in the mornings before work. Recently I’ve gone back to writing poems, but as warm-up exercises. I write really good warm-up poems. They are the equivalent of sweatpants.
As someone who didn’t necessarily excel at the sciences when in school, what was it like to research such a complicated topic like Alzheimer’s?
It was interesting. Less about Alzheimer’s Disease specifically, more in talking to scientists about their daily work—hearing about how labs function, how grant-writing works. For a while I thought academic scientists and writers were very similar; now I think it’s scientists and baseball players. Lots of training, lots of drudgery. Endless scoreless innings, but with occasional flashes of brilliance. And an idea of working in a tradition.
There’s a lot of drinking going on in this novel. What’s your alcoholic drink of choice?
I am a tequila guy.
How was writing a novel different from developing The Morning News and writing for a magazine?
They’re entirely different, but they’re both things I love doing. TMN gives me a venue to collaborate. One of our editors describes working on TMN as like playing in a band with two-dozen close friends, and I think that’s about right.
One thing our readers may not know is that every year The Morning News holds an NCAA-style literary match-up of the year’s most notable books (The Tournament of Books). Any hopes (or fears) that You Lost Me There might make the cut next March?
We instituted a rule that books from the Tournament’s staff are forbidden from competing. Thus Kevin Guilfoile’s new novel, The Thousand, won’t be eligible either. But yeah, if my book was in competition, I would be terrified of fighting in 2010. It’s been a terrific year for novels.
It took you five years to complete this novel—will we have to wait another five for your follow-up or do you already have something in the works?
I’m currently working on two new books, a nonfiction book about Paris and a novel about Tijuana. Hopefully, they won’t take decades, but you never know.
I imagine an author’s first release party for his first novel is kind of like a girl’s sweet 16th birthday party . . . but maybe with fewer frills and less pink. How do you intend to celebrate the release of You Lost Me There?
With roasted pink frilliness. My wife and I live in North Carolina, where the regional delicacy is pork BBQ, so we’re throwing a “pig pickin’ ” in the back yard. That’s where guests arrive to find about 90 pounds of animal smoking in an oil drum, and they tear the meat apart with their fingers.
Author photo by Susie Post Rust