I’m pleased that Christine Hale asked me to participate in this project and primarily because I admire her writing so very much, I decided to give it a try. Her Basil’s Dream is a wonderful novel and from the sounds of her blog post her memoir In Your Line of Sight: A Reconciliation will also follow suit. You can read an excerpt of it at Spry.
When I first read the phrase "The Next Big Thing," the words didn’t give me pause: the manuscript I’m working on is my big thing, for sure. It didn’t occur to me to think of the project as meaning the next big thing for the world. Only as I started asking my other writer pals if they wanted to play along did I realize that they got it: they were thinking of the phrase as if were they to take up the challenge they would be declaiming their work as the next big thing and were loathe to make that claim. They didn’t have the hubris.
Interesting. There’s a level of seriousness involved there that I don’t quite share, I suppose. While I’m not one to talk out a work-in-progress and find I need to keep much of it to myself, to dwell in the mystery, and let the words go toward the creation of the work itself, I also think it’s possible and helpful to share certain ideas. In any case, it’s been fun to talk about my work-in-progress and with any luck it may be fun for whomever reads about it. And if Blow the House Down becomes the next big thing of the universe, well, hey! You got a little glimpse into its very early gestation.
Without further reflection, here’s my “interview.”
What is your working title of your book?
Blow the House Down
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Exactly where the idea originated is hard to pinpoint. A set of characters – a pair of siblings – suggested themselves to me at some point over the past year and it became clear to me after a while I was writing a long piece about them. Around the same time I came across a book called For Girls Only: The Mysteries of Womanhood Explained, by a doctor Frank Howard Richardson published in the 1950s. The index listed such evocative topics as “Friendships, Abnormal,” “Narcissism,” “Mothers Try to Understand their Daughters,” and the book dispenses such wisdom as the necessity of girls cultivating popularity with boys, among other – suggestions is too mild a word – directions and admonitions, let’s call them. On the inside leaf, an aunt has written a letter to her niece about why she’s gifting the girl with this book, and that seemed to add another dimension to my imagining my protagonist Shelly (short for Michelle) as a girl. I’d also been reading The Chemistry Between Us: Loves, Sex, and the Science of Attraction (by Larry Young), which discusses epigenetics and lifelong effects of lack of mothering and oxytocin on children. In the manuscript the parents of Shelly and her older brother Tommy are most notable for their absence in the sibs’ early days. I liked the idea of exploring an intense bonding between a brother and sister, in which they’re really in their own universe separate from adults, and how that informs them throughout their lives.
What genre does your book fall under?
Contemporary lit fiction. It’s a novel-told-in-stories, and the stories are very very brief: flash.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Tommy: handsome, intense actors such as Johnny Depp, Ryan Gosling, or possibly James Franco (I’m a little off the last since reading his recent chapbook Strongest of the Litter, no matter that the title would seem to imply a good fit between the poems and my evolving manuscript; however, I’m hoping his upcoming Graywolf book of poems will make up for my current disappointment). Shelly is harder to cast. I’m not sure why or what that says other than I don’t watch enough movies maybe.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Too early to say.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Represented. An excerpt has just been published by one of my favorites, Joyland Magazine. Read it here.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The first draft continues to evolve and is far from finished.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Dare I? Some of its trusted readers suggest Mary Robison’s Why Did I Ever and Justin Torres’ We the Animals. I like those comparisons a lot. In terms of structure, I think other good comparisons are Nick Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City and The Ticking of the Bomb, though those books are of course memoir. Also, perhaps, Thaddeus Rutkowski’s Haywire and other novels.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
See above answer to where did the idea come from. I have a passion for writing flash fiction; I love the form. I’m fascinated by how miniature stories can have the explosive or resounding or far-reaching effects that they do, and particularly interested in when they are structured to form a larger manuscript how they accumulate both in what they say and, much more so, in what they don’t say.
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
There are no vampires. Well, I think that’s a plus. Seriously, one thing the flash form does better than other forms or genres is to more nearly approximate life, in that it’s made up of moments lived one at a time. What Shelly does is what we all do, live moment by moment and decode, over time, the individual moments and what they become. It’s an emotionally, maybe even brutally, honest exploration of siblings. And it’s funny sometimes. If you like your humor with a little edge to it. That’s what I think today. As the manuscript nears completion I may have different thoughts, hopefully more complex and erudite thoughts. Though I doubt they will involve vampires.
Check out the next five writers I’ve asked to participate in The Next Big Thing.
On January 22 Michael David Lukas, author of the award-winning The Oracle of Stamboul, will post here about his forthcoming The Forty Third Name of God, which tells the story of an Egyptian Muslim family charged with guarding the Ibn Ezra Synagogue in Cairo and its famous Geniza (a treasure trove of medieval Jewish manuscripts found in the nineteenth century by Solomon Schechter). A multigenerational chronicle of the al-Raqib family, this is a novel about Muslim-Jewish relations in Cairo, the hidden secrets of the Kaballah, and the sometimes conflicting ties of family and religion.
On January 24 Rob Yardumian will post here about his novel The Sound of Songs Across the Water, coming out in June, which traces creation and betrayal, joining and fissure at a time when lovers still made mixtapes to show they cared. Rob is a wonderful musician as well as writer so there’s no doubt this book will rock. (Nobody says “rock” anymore but the novel is set in 1995, okay? And he totally does.)
On January 26 Rayme Waters, author of the wonderful The Angel’s Share (Do you know what the angel’s share is? This novel has one of the best titles ever), will post here about next novel, Quicksilver, which is a young adult novel this time, and concerns a family that moves from San Francisco to an upscale Bay Area suburb for better schools, but find out the town is cursed, they are in grave danger, and only the daughter of the family can undo the spell.
On January 25 the sublime Ilana Simons, author of A Life of One's Own: A Guide to Better Living through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf, painter, and short story writer extraordinaire, will post at her blog about her work-in-progress that she’s titled “Little Narcissistic Clara Burns” and “Who in the World is Clara Burns?” and will title something else yet. The range of those two titles – moving from one to the other – already has me fascinated.
On January 29 when Thaisa Frank, author of the award-winning Heidegger’s Glasses, takes a break from her travels she’ll post on her blog about her current work-inprogress of which the title is secret. What you are permitted to know at this moment is that the novel is set in a house that is under surveillance in an undisclosed country that is having a civil war and explores how the conundrum of personal identity is brought into bold relief by war.
Please be sure to read what these wonderful writers will so generously share with you about their works-in-progress. I know you won’t be disappointed.