"The O'Briens," by Peter Behrens

Bill Geisler ,Random House

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.


Peter Behrens talks about how his grandfather was the inspiration for his new book, "The O'Briens." Peter Behrens talks about how his extended family felt about turning their story into his novel, "The O'Briens."

For more on "The O'Briens," visit the Random House website.

  • Jeff Glor

    Jeff Glor was named anchor of the Sunday edition of the "CBS Evening News" in January 2012 and Special Correspondent for "CBS This Morning" in November 2011.