In Germany, you have a huge official memorial to the murdered Jews and then you have this artist who's been putting these stumbling blocks, these brass cobblestones, outside the houses Jews were taken away from. It's somewhat controversial and has met some resistance.
Imagination, it turns out, is a great deal like reporting in your own head. Here is a paradox of fiction-writing. You are crafting something from nothing, which means, in one sense, that none of it is true. Yet in the writing, and perhaps in the reading, some of a character's actions or lines are truer than others.
Over the centuries, and even today, the Bible and Christian theology have helped justify the Crusades, slavery, violence against gays, and the murder of doctors who perform abortions. The words themselves are latent, inert, harmless - until they aren't.
And as journalists we look for differences - differences between countries, cultures, classes, and communities. We're very sensitized to difference, but it's much harder to write about similarities across countries, cultures, classes, and communities.
So the premise of 'The Submission' is that there's an anonymous competition to design a 9/11 memorial and it's won by an American Muslim, an architect born and raised in Virginia, and his name is Mohammad Khan.
As a novelist, you deepen your characters as you go, adding layers. As a reporter, you try to peel layers away: observing subjects enough to get beneath the surface, re-questioning a source to find the facts. But these processes aren't so different.
Fiction just has a lot more room for ambivalence and internal conflict, contradiction, and for me that sums up so much of what people felt after 9/11 - confusion even. And I think that's hard to capture in journalism.