Five minutes with debut novelist Ivy Pochoda
It’s tough having your debut novel come out the same day as the new Dan Brown thriller, but Ivy Pochoda, author of The Art of Disappearing (St. Martins), made the most of it—namely, by writing a Huffington Post blog about the situation. While Pochoda’s tale about a Las Vegas magician whose dangerously real powers wreak havoc on the lives of those around him may not boast Brown’s print run of 6.5 million, her novel is getting plenty of buzz in its own right; Booklist called it “a phantasmagoric exploration of the ever-shifting line between destiny and coincidence.” The Brooklyn-born author, 32, studied classics at Harvard and then lived in Amsterdam for seven years, where she played professional squash and worked as a journalist. We recently caught up with the author, who now makes her home in Cobble Hill.
Where did the idea for the book first come from?
When I was in high school I’d written something about a magician who performed the illusion of cutting women in half. The idea stuck with me—I wondered about the psychology behind these misogynistic illusions and why people allow themselves to be tricked into seeing something that’s not real.
How did you end up in Amsterdam?
I went there to play squash. It used to be a real hotbed of squash —Holland is so centrally located in Europe that I played for club league teams in Holland, Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic. I also played in individual tournaments all over Europe. I won the Luxembourg Open and some small Dutch tournaments.
So you supported yourself with your prize money?
That’s precisely what I did. I could see exactly how many matches I needed to win to make enough money. Then I started doing journalism to balance it out. It was really fun, for a couple of years.
Are you still playing squash now?
Just for fun—I’m not playing competitively anymore. I think I’d like to play in the over-35 British Open, but I have a few years to go.
Was the book influenced by your time in Amsterdam at all?
Well, a lot of magicians did retire to Amsterdam at one point. Also, it’s a very old-fashioned city, which was ideal because I wanted to write about old-fashioned people.
What’s your next novel about?
It’s set in a version of Red Hook, Brooklyn, where I lived for three years when I got back from Holland. I’m hoping it’s going to be a social novel. It’s about different people and classes coexisting in a really small space. It’s another Brooklyn writer writing about Brooklyn but people seem to be interested.
You’re in the midst of your first book tour. How’s that going?
I’ve had a huge turnout at all my readings, it’s been pretty surprising. I get psyched up to read aloud—I got really nervous when I played squash, so reading aloud to a group of people is a walk in the park. It’s so much easier.