Safe at Home
Novelist Christian Bauman finds happiness and inspiration in New Hope
by Bill Donahue

After so much time spent on the move—on military missions in hostile territory and, later, as a minstrel wandering the United States with a guitar in his trunk—novelist Christian Bauman has settled down in the tranquil borough of New Hope. Even so, Bauman continues to follow in the footsteps of the great travel-writing pioneers Ernest Hemingway and Bruce Chatwin, by cultivating stories based on past experiences that were “both horrifying and hysterical.”


“There is no shortage of writers I admired who wrote from a place of pure imagination,” says Bauman, who has written and published three novels and is now wrapping up his fourth. “But for myself, as an artist and a writer, I try to look at things as more of an observer and come back with the story. That might have taken some people down the road of journalism, but I don’t know if I would have been a good journalist because I have a hard time sticking to facts.”


Bauman was born in Easton and spent time in Doylestown and across the river in New Jersey before joining the U.S. military, which sent him as far afield as Haiti, Somalia and Sri Lanka. Upon his return stateside, he traversed the country as a musician with a guitar on his back, playing in small clubs, meeting a diverse cast of characters and, simply, forming the kinds of memories that make for compelling fiction.


“It was a difficult transition from army life to becoming a civilian, but I was playing music all throughout my time in the army, so that helped,” he says. “Only the last five years did I feel comfortable in my own skin, and that’s probably one of those things that got me on the road in the first place.”


His books tend to follow the basic arc of his life. He is perhaps best known for his chilling 2002 debut novel “The Ice Beneath You,” about a young American soldier returning from a military conflict in Somalia. (Others might remember him for his short essays, which appeared regularly on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” program between 2003 and 2006.) His 2005 follow-up novel, “Voodoo Lounge,” was about a female soldier infected with HIV during the 1994 occupation of Haiti, and his third novel, 2008’s “In Hoboken,” revolved around a group of young musicians set in the mid-1990s.


Bauman hopes to have his newest book, tentatively called “The Dog House,” published in 2012, though he says he’s writing more slowly than he has in the past. “The Dog House” is about a man and woman who have many dogs, living in a place that bears a strong resemblance to New Hope. Coincidentally, he and his family have four dogs—a chow, a beagle and two pugs—though he wasn’t always what one might refer to as “a dog person”; he grew up in “more of a cat house,” he says.


His adventures at home and abroad have blessed him with, among other things, the gift of perspective.


“With ‘The Ice Beneath You’ and ‘Voodoo Lounge,’ I wrote those about 10 years after those events happened to me, which is probably about the right amount of time,” says Bauman, who works as creative director for an advertising agency in Manhattan. “You have to have time to let the ideas germinate, to feel the good stuff rise and let the stories develop. If you wait too long you might lose the edge a little bit. When I think back I have a much harder time remembering the bad stuff [in Somalia and Haiti]; mainly I’m just remembering the funny stuff, which is kind of a blessing.


“I can never speak for anyone else, but for me [traveling] has helped me as a writer,” he continues. “What’s happened to me in my life, I’ve drawn upon for my art and whatever that’s been—novel writing, shorter writing or songs. I have a hard time imagining what I’d be writing about if I hadn’t done all the stuff I’ve done.”