The Borrower FAQ

Posted in Uncategorized on August 17 2011· Tagged:


Okay, the ‘F’ part is debatable, as is the ‘A’ part, but these are definitely ‘Q’s. And I even answered them!

What is The Borrower about?

It’s about a librarian who inadvertently kidnaps a child.

How do you inadvertently kidnap someone?

I’m going to refuse to answer that, to trick you into buying the book.

How long did it take you to write The Borrower?

I wish I had an hour counter, sort of like a writer’s pedometer. All I know is that I started in 2000, abandoned it many, many times, and “finished” it in 2009. I wish it hadn’t taken me quite that long, but I’m also glad that I didn’t try to complete it when I was 23 years old.

I’ve read The Borrower, and I’m wondering how much of it is autobiographical.

Seriously? What’s wrong with you?

But I thought writers tended to rely on their own lives and experiences for material. At least a little bit. Is it maybe, like, fifteen percent true?

No. Zero percent of this story is based on anything related to my real life. My mistake was writing my first novel in the first person, wasn’t it. Damn. And with a young, female protagonist, no less.

Zero? Really? I’m kind of disappointed.

Okay, zero point four. In the interest of total honesty, here is a complete list of all elements of the novel that relate to anything real:

  • My father was a refugee. But from the failed Hungarian Revolution, not from Russia, and he ended up becoming a linguistics professor, not a Mafioso. He told me a story once about his friend’s underground chocolate factory. That was pretty much the extent of the story: that there was one. But you can’t say something like that in front of a writer and expect her not to use it.
  • In college, I once stayed at the house of some people who had ferrets. I was really creeped out.
  • I worked circulation for two summers in the world’s smallest graduate school library, where my primary job was keeping the firewood stocked. In all honesty, I took the job long after I’d started writing The Borrower, because I wanted to be able to write with more authority. It wasn’t all that helpful, really. But it was a nice job.
  • You know the family crest described at the end of the first chapter? The really gory, unrealistic one? That’s the actual Makkai family crest, or close to it. In the book, the man on the Hulkinov crest has a book in one hand, a severed head on a pike in the other. The Makkai crest is a more writerly combination of severed head and quill pen.

That’s ridiculous. And kind of disgusting. Prove it.


Did you do any research into “gay rehabilitation” ministries as the basis for Glad Heart Ministries and the character of Pastor Bob?

I did as much as I could stomach. There is a horrifying number of them out there, and the largest, Exodus International, has over a hundred chapters in the US. (They’ve recently changed the name of their youth ministry from Exodus Youth Network to Exodus Student. I’ve tried to muster a modicum of gratitude for the excision of the word “youth,” but I’m just not feeling it.) For the record, GHM is not directly based on Exodus, and as far as I know Exodus does not work with ten-year-olds, although there are groups that do.

I’d provide web links here for the edification of the curious, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Here, instead, is a link to The Trevor Project, a fantastic organization dedicated to supporting gay kids and teens and keeping them alive to see a better day.

Will you ever write a sequel? Will you tell us how Ian’s life turns out?

I doubt I’ll write a sequel, but I will make this promise: If I’m lucky enough to keep writing books for many years, and you’re kind enough to keep reading them, you will see Ian Drake again. I have a plan.

Is there really a joke about the cat and the mustard?


Please tell it.

No. It’s revolting and not very funny. But if you ever meet me in person and catch me in a really good mood and buy me a drink, I’ll think about it.

Why does Lucy Hull not have an MLIS degree? Do you hate librarians or something?

Some of the most amusing (at least to me) reactions to this book have been from librarians who are put out not that Lucy kidnaps a child, but that she doesn’t have the optimal degree to be a proper librarian. In those earnest readers’ defense: Anyone who wants to be a librarian should absolutely pursue a Master of Library and Information Science degree, which is necessary for most jobs in most libraries. Lucy, being fictional, did not qualify for admission to any US library science school. She was accepted to one in Guatemala that did not care about her fictional status, but sadly she does not speak Spanish. Concerned librarians can rest assured that during her time in Hannibal she got paid only in fictional money, and thus did not take funds from more worthy applicants.

More seriously (because this does deserve a serious answer): I originally had Lucy as a full-fledged Masters-holding librarian (and even included a scene in which she explains and defends the MLIS to a drunken man at a fundraiser), but this detail just wasn’t in keeping with the haphazard way she lives her life (a trait necessary to the whole throw-your-life-away-for-a-kid thing). It was more important to the story that Lucy be an “accidental” librarian than that she have her credentials in order. So I (quite tediously) figured out a way for this to happen. The job had to be out in the sticks, extremely low-paying, at a very poorly-run library with an alcoholic and lazy boss who was desperate to hire someone — anyone — when she found that her longstanding children’s librarian was dying of cancer. Lucy’s resume showed up, and she decided it was a sign from God, hired Lucy temporarily, and then got too lazy to find someone else. That’s all still in the book, although in earlier drafts it was drawn out and explained in nauseating detail. Fascinating, right?

As for whether I hate librarians… Just one of them. Her name is Bernice. She put mustard on my cat once. The other librarians of the world are quietly brilliant professionals who, in a million little ways, save the world every day. If I had my life to live over but had to do it differently, librarian might be the way I’d go. I’d get my degree first.

How did you get the idea to write this book?

I honestly don’t remember – and I’m not sure that even if you asked me in 2000, I could have told you. I mean, where did you get the ideas for the dreams you had last night?

Okay, no, that’s not entirely true. In late 1999 or early 2000, I first heard of the “reparative therapy” programs like the one Ian is in — and about which we now collectively know a bit more thanks to Marcus and Michele Bachmann. I was horrified. And if you ever do buy me a drink in your effort to hear the cat-and-mustard joke, I might tell you the circumstances in which I first heard about it. This is too public a place for that story. If I were a different kind of person, I’d have gone home and punched a punching bag. But I’m me, so I went home and started a novel.

That’s all you’re getting for now.

You sound kind of cranky and put out, considering this is a fake interview.

I do, don’t I? I’m a little sleep-deprived right now. I have a baby.

Go get some sleep.

That’s a very good idea. Thank you.

You can read a real review with Rebecca, as well as a reading Guide for The Borrower at the Penguin Books website.

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