Gruen is best known for her 2006 novel Water for Elephants, the story of Jacob, a young man tossed by fate onto a rickety train that is home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, and to Rosie, the untrainable elephant. The movie version of the book, starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, was released in April, and on Nov. 1 it was released on Blu-ray and DVD. Gruen's latest book, Ape House, involves the bombing of the Great Ape Language Lab, a research center studying the communicative behavior of bonobo apes. We caught up with Gruen via phone from her home office in North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, three children and several horses, dogs, cats and a goat.
What's on your nightstand?
While I'm working on something, I try not to read other people's fiction because I don't want their voice sneaking in. I believe the last big wow novel I read was The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. I loved it.
What made it so good?
He set it up so well, and I loved how I kept getting excited to read what was going to happen next. I think the greatness of it is in the fact that it is audacious. It was over the top.
It must have been thrilling to see your book become a major motion picture. Do you think the experience has changed the way you think about your craft?
It was so much fun. I loved it, but actually, I think I've always seemed to rely on visual imagery. For example, I came up with the idea for Water for Elephants when I saw a vintage circus photo. So no, the way I go about my daily writing has not changed.
Which came first — your love for animals or your love for books?
I started reading at 3, and I was born loving animals.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer