Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?
Peter Behrens: My own family history: all that I knew and didn't know about my grandfather J.J. O'Brien. He was very much the inspiration for the novel's main protagonist, Joe O'Brien
JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?
PB: There is a scene in the novel where Joe O'Brien physically attacks his beloved son. Joe speaks to him with violent language then bashes him over the head with a tennis racket. When that scene began, I had no idea Joe was going to do that, although there was a tennis racket propped against the wall in a corner of his office, where the attack takes place. It belonged to his youngest daughter Frankie and he had picked it up from a sports store where it was being re-strung. I thought the scene, which takes place in October 1939, was going to be about Frankie's carefree heedlessness--playing tennis while Europe lurched into war---but it turned out to be about something else.
JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?
PB: Well, my last job-job was as a cowboy on the GH Ranch, Sundre, Alberta. I had a bad horse wreck that damaged my knee. I was never a very skilled cowboy; would never have been a top hand. I overcompensate for my truncated career by walking around town in a big cowboy hat. Though I only do this in West Texas, where we live in winter. Can't get away with it in downeast Maine, where we live the rest of the year.
JG: What else are you reading right now?
PB: "The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multiethnic City," by James Barrett; a 4 volume history of the Ford Motor Company; and Hans Magnus Enzensburger's "The Silences of Hammerstein," about the Prussian general who was army chief of staff when Hitler came to power and whose daughters were children were communists; and "The Master," a novel about Henry James, by Colm Toibin.
JG: What's next for you?
PB: A novel about a man's journey through the 20th century that starts on a 4-masted bark in San Francisco Bay in 1885 and ends in a hospital room in Montreal one hundred years later.
MORE VIDEO:Peter Behrens talks about how his grandfather was the inspiration for his new book, "The O'Briens."
For more on "The O'Briens," visit the Random House website.