How important is Rome to the book? Put another way, how do you think the story would have been different if it had been set in Paris (where you placed one of your characters, and where you worked)?
Rome is important to my novel in the way that, say, one's house is important: you could have lived in another but the particular setting affects you, determines you in myriad small ways. The novel had to take place overseas, but I ruled out Paris because people might have assumed that the fictional paper was a veiled version of the International Herald Tribune, which it isn't. Since Rome is a city I know well, I set the book there. As the drafts piled up, it increasingly seemed that this could have happened nowhere else: like a lived-in home, Rome came to feel inevitable.
Expats can be a notoriously detached and quirky bunch, expat journalists maybe even more so. I'm guessing your primary purpose in writing the book wasn't to spark a debate about the future of news, but do you worry that readers might get a distorted view of journalism through the expat prism?
No, I'm not worried about that. I believe the depiction is accurate, and I have been encouraged by how many journalists have found in the book characters and scenes that recalled their own experiences. My primary aim was to write a novel that would grip readers, full of stories with thought and consequence in them. If, in writing this book, I also offered a peek into the world of news, then I'm very happy to hear it.
You passed my acid test in writing female characters—namely, my wife really liked the book. I'm curious, though, about how women in general have responded to your depiction of Kathleen Solson, the editor-in-chief, who seems kind of scheming, superficial, and self-absorbed.
Readers have responded favorably to the characters, showing interest and sympathy even for the difficult ones. My book contains a range of people, and there isn't a uniform image of men or of women. I'd be sorry if a reader tried to split characters up by gender—I sought something more complex than two blunt categories. The writers I admire approach characters with a level of curiosity and concern that matches what you feel toward a dear friend or close relative. You don't think of that friend as primarily, say, a 56-year-old or a female or a Scot—you respond to a totality, a person influenced by her parts but defined by none alone. Such are the characters I want to read, and the characters I aspire to write.
Some reviewers have dinged you for an overly negative portrait of journalists. I don't agree—your characters seemed no more guilty of human weakness than people in other professions, and I admired the compassion you brought to them. But your views on marriage were pretty bleak. By my reckoning, there's only one happy marriage in the book (that of Herman Cohen). As they say in the zeitgeist, what's up with that? Is that a reflection of your view of marriage, or your view of married journalists?