The Next Big Thing

Saturday, February 02, 2013

The wondrous J. Hope Stein has tagged me in this self-interview series.  As she explains it, "The Next Big Thing is a neat, pass-it-on, chain-letter-ish interview series in which you conduct a brief interview with yourself and post it on your blog & at the end of the interview tag 2- 5 [writers]– thereby passing it on to them . . .  just like influenza! or birdsong!"

I believe these are supposed to come out on Wednesdays, but I'm doing it today!  Here goes.

What is the working title of the book?
How We Were Strangers.  I've gone through a series of other titles-- including A Girl's Guide to Self-Hypnosis-- before returning to this original title.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
The book didn't emerge from one specific "idea" so much as it represents a few years of writing poems, prose poems, and short prose vignettes and watching a voice and themes emerge.  One memory comes to mind, though, when I think about having an idea that I could write a book like this.  When I was getting my Ph.D. (in American literature) at Temple University, I was "secretly" continuing my life as a creative writer, which included writing brief prose vignettes that fell somewhere between prose poem and short short story.  Anyway, I showed some of these to my friend Ross Gay, and he commented that he "could read a whole book of these."  I tucked that away in the back of my mind to return to later.     

What genre does your book fall under?
 I'm glad I asked myself that.  I actually submitted the manuscript to publishers as a book of poems and prose poems, and the editor who showed interest, Joe Pan at Brooklyn Arts Press, explained that he would like to work with me in publishing a book of the prose pieces.  So, after some reorganizing of the manuscript in which I reworked some of the pieces and swapped out others, the book is now all prose vignettes.  I believe we're publishing them as "lyrical shorts."

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Hm.  Interesting question.  The book is more about voice, mood, and thematic threads than it is about plot or characters, but I suppose there are some recurring characters.  I guess the speaker would have to be played by a few different actors, like in that I'm Not There movie about Bob Dylan.  One would be a Blue-era Juliette Binoche.  One would be Winona Ryder from Beetlejuice.  And one would be this kid:

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

I wrote this in a job letter:  "The pieces in the book explore the liminal spaces between the lyrical and the surreal, and also between genres of the prose poem, micro-essay, and short fiction, ultimately seeking to depict the fine shadings of individual consciousness as a way to honor that which we share as human beings—mystery, wonder, existential struggle, and a desire for understanding and love."  An even simpler way to say it would be:  How We Were Strangers explores the speaker's longing for solitude and simultaneous longing for connection.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I did an MFA after the PhD, and some of the pieces in the book appear in the 2009 thesis version of the manuscript.  The book has really evolved since then, though, and I've included many pieces that I've written in the last three years or so.  
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
 I'm inspired by writers who have an appreciation for the rhythms of speech and the way that odd or piquant observations intersect with individual consciousness.  For me, this includes writers as different as James Schuyler, Eudora Welty, and James Thurber.  Some of my appreciation for colloquial speech and strange/delightful observation also comes from listening to my mother and grandmother speak.  They're like walking found poems.

I've also been thinking a lot about works that exist at that intersection of genres.  I'd love to teach a class in prose poems, short short stories, and micro-essays, just to explore the blurry boundaries between those genres.  We could read prose poems by Charles Simic and James Tate; fiction by Lydia Davis and Amy Hempel; Abigail Thomas's memoir in vignettes, Safekeeping.  Also, there seem to be many women who identify as poets and write in a form that's somewhere between poetry and essay-- Brenda Coultas, Bernadette Mayer, Claudia Rankine, Maggie Nelson, for example.  I'd like to explore that more.  That could even be its own class.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Below is only one of the three pieces I've written that mention Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  (Well, ok, it's the only one in the current version of the book.)

Everyone’s a Winner

Take me out to the dream stadium, the contest of great minds where players beam down from on high-- all men-- but I find myself in the mix, learning to leap and float above the green green turf. We all contribute something, me, Einstein, the Gandhi-Nehru guy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the poet-athlete from my early years. Our mascot tells us things with his eyes, listens for me during the medal ceremony, as I squat there, falling into a trance to the sound of a weed whacker, picking up small animals, setting them down again.

Is your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It will be published by Brooklyn Arts Press in late 2013/early 2014.

My tagged writers for next week are below.  They may or may not have time to complete the self-interview, but I urge you to check out their work!
Todd ColbyKaren DietrichAnnmarie O'Connell. Lee Ann Roripaugh. Shanna Compton (who's already been tagged five times, but who says she'll do it soon!).

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