Sissel-Jo Gazan’s science-driven thriller, The Dinosaur Feather, has been hailed as one of the best crime novels of the last decade in her native Denmark.
What drew you to dinosaurs and the scientific controversy over whether birds descended from them?
I was very interested in marine biology and animal behavior. But then my husband left me and I was alone with a one-year-old child, and the thesis I had planned to do included long periods of collecting data in Canada. So I had to think of something else and fairly quickly. One of my old professors suggested writing about the bird origin controversy. First I wasn’t so sure, it sounded very dry, but then I did some research and became fascinated by the scientific argument. How do people get so stubborn when evidence is literally pouring out of the ground? Is it pride? Prestige? I realized science is a very explosive and emotional field.
What inspired you to start The Dinosaur Feather?
I began the novel during the last three months of writing my master’s thesis. I was at university 24-7 and I was very frustrated and angry, a little bit like Anna, the lead character in my novel. It was also a bit scary. I was all alone and there were dead creatures under glass everywhere, and even the night guard seemed scared. So I just began writing about a frustrated single mother and biology student in that creepy environment.
How much of yourself did you put into Anna? Are you surprised some reviewers find her irritating?
Now Anna is merely a fictive character, but back then I could see myself in her. I was working hard, I was hurt and frustrated and challenged. I had trouble using my temper as the great tool it is, and often just bit peoples’ heads off because I was stretched so thin. Anna is irritating! She had to be. She is completely lost in her own anger, shouting at everyone and everything, until she starts to center herself and stand tall. I wanted people to think, “What a bitch”—and still really like her.
The toxic effects of lies and the theme of parents and children seem central to the novel.
It’s kind of strange because I grew up in a very transparent family myself. But maybe that’s exactly why I am so fascinated with lies in families that aren’t like mine. I think big family secrets like adoptions or deaths or different fathers or whatever can take up so much energy on a physiological level. I think it’s better to know everything and then be able to live life.