We're Middle School Students Writing about Reading!

Welcome to our blog--we're always in the middle of a good book here!

Our posts may include book reviews, original fiction, interviews with authors and bloggers, fan-fiction, fan art, and more, so join us in our journey to explore great books and learn about book blogging!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Interview with Sara Gruen, author of Ape House and Water for Elephants

Less than a week ago, I had the immense honor of being able to interview author Sara Gruen, whose works include Riding Lessons, Water for Elephants, and her newest book which within a few weeks jumped to number six on the New York Times best seller list, Ape House.

Q: How was your book tour?
A: It was grueling, lots of time in airports….

Q: What was your first book called, and was it ever published?

A: My first book was not published, and hopefully never will be. My husband threatened if I get hit by a bus he will publish it… Well, now I’m looking both ways crossing the street! It is NOT publishable.

Q: What was your first book about?

A: Well, lots. I guess it was a kitchen sink book. It is mostly about a very stupid kleptomaniac that worked high finance, a patsy; she had dreams of being best seller. She plagiarized work but got caught in an Enron type thing…It’s fun, but I don’t want people to think of that as me or my work.

Q: What inspired you to write your first book?

A: I always wanted to write, that’s why I wrote tech. I got a degree in English literature and took creative writing but when I graduated, I needed a job. That’s how I fell into software.

Q: How did you feel when your book became so famous?

A: Well, with Water For Elephants, it’s funny, because it was really a slow burn, I didn’t know. I had no publisher for it when I wrote it, I just hoped someone would pick it up. Then it was, but at last minute. There was a very small print run, and the first edition copies were shorter than the real one. If you have first edition, keep it!  Like I said, it was a slow burn… I don’t know if there was a minute when I said OK. It was more a collection over two years, then I slowly realized it would be OK.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your newest book, Ape House.

A: It’s about well, lots, but family of bonobo apes, one of the four “great apes”. They are very egalitarian, very amorous. This book has a hard look at the culture of celebrity, twitter--instant communication, how it makes us feel like we know someone we’ve never met, at a distance, hiding behind a monitor as people make train wrecks of their life…

Q: Are any characters in any of your books based off of people in real life?

A: No...well, yes and no…some of the researchers on the great apes are in the book; I didn’t disguise names much, only as much to ensure that people know who they are. But characters, I don’t do that…very little is private in my life now, and I want to defend that the best I can. I use little details, like I used to eat Ramen noodles separately like some characters do. That’s not my character, but little things in life I used in the book.

Q: Which of the characters in the books do you think is most like you, and how?

A: Uhhm…I really haven’t written any like me, and I don’t plan to.

Q: Are you planning on writing more books in the future?

A: Yeah, this is my life now. I’m planning on starting a next book in three months, but I can’t write on airplanes at all, I can’t be that super human…the idea…Uhm, OK… [laughs] I do have an idea floating around my head for another book.

Q: How did you come up with the ideas for Water For Elephants and Ape House?

A: I opened paper one day and saw a vintage circus photo. It was taken by a home-made camera. It was huge! The camera weighed like 25 pounds, and it produced negatives up to 12 inches by 24 inches, and the camera caught an enormous amount of details. It seemed like anything could happen, and could because pictures proved it! I picked up a novel I abandoned a while ago, and it just turned into Water For Elephants.

For Ape House, I got an email to a Great Ape website. I was fascinated; I’d never heard of bonobos, and I soon knew I wanted to write a book about them. But also knew I had to meet them, because wanted to do it authentically.

Q: Now, you spent two years researching and communicating with the bonobo apes, correct?

A: Three years, actually. The last time I saw them was September 8, and this is my third year with them…I will always go and visit them as long as I am invited; they are true friends.

Q What was it like to meet the apes?

A: Oh, it was incredible! I knew the science, and I did a crash course. Others do up to twenty years of classes before they can meet the apes, so I had to crash course. It was so amazing to have a real tea party in forest with the apes, who asked everything from who had eggs for breakfast to requesting us to bring back the Easter bunny!

Thank you, Sarah Gruen, for agreeing to speak with us!

By: Up North Girl


  1. This is way way cool!!

    I loved "Water for Elephants" and am looking forward to the movie.

    I enjoyed reading the author's descriptions/discussion about the idea for Ape House. What an incredible experience to spend that much time with bonobo apes.

    My book club read Water For Elephants, and now I will suggest that we read Ape House soon.

    Nice work Up North Girl!! How wonderful to interview an author.

    Mrs. Harold

  2. @Mrs. Harold: You brought up an excellent point! When I interviewed Mrs. Gruen, I had no idea they were making a movie. I wish I had, so I could have asked her about it. I am very excited for the movie! I actually just started reading Water for Elephants, and am almost finished with Ape House. I am really enjoying both books! I really hope they will make a movie out of Ape House, too.

  3. I think this was a good post and was very detailed. It had good questions and responses.
    I really liked book too.

  4. I think it's so amazing that you were able to call up a very famous author and chat like this! You really did your homework and wrote excellent interview questions. Way to go! :)

  5. @elissa Thank you! I was so bummed that I didn't find out that they were making a movie until after I interviewed her; that would have led to some great questions. Perhaps Mrs. Gruen would consent to an interview in late April of 2011, after the movie is released!


Talk to us!