Month: January 2013

The Next Big Thing — Miranda Field

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

Foxglove.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

It’s a collection of poetry, so each poem has its own circumstances of conception.  But I would say, as a whole, the book came from some of the superstitions and beliefs of the culture I grew up in.  And the lexicon, and dark humor, and furious, jealous, besotted rhythms of the speech my childhood was steeped in.   Some people have said they have to look up words from my first book, SWALLOW, in the dictionary.  Those words flowed into me with mother’s milk. And from growing up in a nearly-all female family (I have three sisters). And from the condition of being dislocated from my birth-place.  And insomnia, and love, and eros, and birth, and anxiety.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Anne Bancroft as my mother.

Marlon Brando as my father.

Charlize Theron as my blonde sister.

Viggo Mortensen as— well, the ms. isn’t finished yet, I could write a poem with him in mind.

And and creatures from The World of Darkness* in many overlapping roles of “I,” and “You,” etc.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

“Lacking sun, ripen in ice”— though I didn’t write that sentence, Henri Michaux did.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Agents pretty much never represent poets, unless the poet is branching out into novels, so it’s up to the poet to shop her/his ms. around. I hope Foxglove will be published by a publisher at the top of my wish list— a small, independent literary press that specializes in poetry, and has fairly good distribution.

My first book was published by Houghton Mifflin, who had contractual “right of first refusal”— they refused this one.  so it won’t be them.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Ten years.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I think this is another question really aimed at fiction writers.  Oh, lord, it’s hard for poets to answer this.  I mean, so many influences come in, and not a few of them while one is unconscious.  I would say there’s a lingering love of the animations and imagination of Hayao Myazaki in there.  And I would love to think my book might be compared with Frida Kahlo’s just-discovered, never-before-opened-wardrobe. If I could decide what my book would bear a resemblance to, I’d choose  this,  but that’s fantasy.  And, I guess none of those are books.  Books. And within my genre, too?  (I was going to say Moominland Midwinter.)  Ok. Mother Goose.  And, actually, I’m not joking.  The old Mother Goose rhymes and chants have been a fundamental influence on my poetics.  Mother Goose’s rhythms, music:  they’re in my bone marrow.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It took me— did I say this?— ten years to put this thing together. And it’s on the shorter side for a poetry manuscript.  That would pique my interest!

* Bronx Zoo

Intrigued? Read more of Miranda’s work at her blog, Hen’s Egg.

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The Next Big Thing with Natalie Danford

The Next Big Thing lives! Enjoy this marvelous post by Natalie Danford, author of the novel Inheritance. Here she dishes about her newest book, Into the Wolf’s Mouth. Of course, take a moment to read Rebecca Kinzie Bastian’s post below about her book of poetry Charms for Finding. Also, next week look forward to more The Next Big Thing posts right here by Allison Lynn and Michael Dahlie, both of whom have books coming out shortly.

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

Into the Wolf’s Mouth

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The book is partly a work of historical fiction about Pellegrino Artusi, who wrote the first Italian cookbook. His book, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, first published in 1891, is still the bestselling Italian cookbook of all time. Then the larger story of the book—the story of Maude, a woman who is writing a biography of Artusi in post-9/11 New York and who was living in Bologna, not far from Artusi’s hometown, in the 1980s, a time of great political foment in the area, and the story of her budding revolutionary daughter—began to grow out of it and around it. Maude specializes in biographies that identify the three key points in a person’s life and use them to paint a portrait of the whole person, and that’s what she’s trying to do with Artusi.

What genre does your book fall under?

literary fiction

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Luca Zingaretti, Melissa Leo

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Hunger drives us.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Lisa Bankoff at ICM is my (long-suffering) agent.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I have no idea. I can tell you that I edit so much and so widely that there are few phrases in the final draft that appeared in the original, when the story was vastly different. (For example, it didn’t contain anything about Pellegrino Artusi.) I have a file of material that I’ve cut that’s much longer than the actual manuscript. I always think I’ll go back and reinsert some of it, and I never do.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

This always feels so immodest. These are books I loved that triggered something in me:

The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass

Possession by A.S. Byatt

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Years ago I saw a one-man show about the famous French chef Carême, and I came away fascinated by the idea of how his personal life (he had a very difficult relationship with his daughter, at least in the play) had had impact on his very detailed and tidy professional work. Around the same time I read a biography of Mrs. Beeton, who wrote the great housekeeping manual for British women, and discovered that she’d been raised at a racetrack. The person who decided how we should polish our silver and how often our sheets should be changed was, literally, raised in a barn. I started thinking about the lives of people who tell us the “correct” way to do things and how distant their experiences may be from their own prescriptions.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

In a bizarre coincidence, as I was finishing up the novel, someone who had no idea I was writing it approached me out of the blue about creating a website that would be a kind of updated, crowd-sourced version of Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. I’m hoping to have that up and running soon, and I think it will be a lot of fun. Stay tuned.

The Next Next Big Thing Post–Rebecca Kinzie-Bastian

Friends, I’m thrilled to share this marvelous post by poet, Rebecca Kinzie-Bastian, who has taken The Next Big Thing torch and shared beautiful insight into her new book of poems, Charms for Finding. Read and enjoy!

Thanks to Sarah Yaw, author of The Vanity Chair, for inviting me to participate in The Next Big Thing—a blog chain that has been circulating in which participating writers answer ten questions about their books. Be sure to check Sarah’s post from January 7th.

Here are the questions and my answers:

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

The title of my book is Charms for Finding.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The first poems in the book started as a way to work through an idea or awakening, hopefully away from the idea and into something more instinctual and essential. I wanted this book to hold the tension between what we think or believe and what is – the mores of ugliness and beauty, what is venerable and what is ignored or thrown away.

I also began reading where the looking seemed to take me – some Joseph Campbell, some Matthew Fox, lots of Neruda and Whitman, a little Jung again…. The Iraq war had just started and I felt involved politically for the first time since moving from Sweden, and so tender toward our miserable species, trying to figure out how we can love and hate and be repulsed by the very things we embrace in a different form.

What finally happened, I think, is a kind of slanted enactment of a via negativa, not in the theological sense that Thomas Aquinas taught (that we can only understand deity by what it is not), but more in the sense of the via negativa. A way to acknowledge that we are afraid of the dark, of no-light, of silence – and still see its gorgeous embroideries and learn its lessons. I hope that it is an exploration of the unknowable, a stitching through darkness toward light.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Since the poetry is more lyric than narrative, this question probably doesn’t apply, but I wouldn’t mind if Johnny Depp played any part – from a dead chipmunk to a baby in a jar at the Mütter Museum. He could pull it off, couldn’t he?

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

I keep a lark

in the freezer, field still bright

when I open the door.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The Italian-American poet, Alfredo De Palchi, arranged to have the manuscript translated into Italian by Elisa Biagini, and it was taken by Italian publisher, Hebenon. I’m still looking for an American publisher.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

It took about two years for the poems to finally come together in a cohesive enough way to form a manuscript. It took many more years of trimming and shaping for the collection to become what it is now. I have completed another manuscript but I still go back and poke at it now and again.

What other books would you compare this to within your genre?

This is a really difficult question for me. I don’t think I can really compare it to any other book. I could say what inspired me, instead. The Book of Nightmares by Galway Kinnell, Swallow, by Miranda Field, Song by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Vesper Sparrows by Deborah Digges, the Ghosts of Eden by Chase Twichell, and many more but lists get boring when they are too long.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Road kill. Yep. Most people are a bit surprised that a book of poetry started with something so ugly, but it’s true. My family and I had moved to the country and I had a long drive to work. Every day there seemed to be some newly hit animal on the road or in a ditch and I began to think that instead of turning my head away, or squinting, or whatever we do at 55mph to avoid seeing something horrible, I ought to start looking at it, honoring it as much as I could. The more I looked, the more the dead animals became emblematic for a lot of questions and ideas that had been twisting around in my head.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

In 2008, Holland Cotter wrote an article in New York Times about the Frida Kahlo centennial retrospective exhibit, “… Kahlo enters your system, fast, with a jolt, an effect as unnerving, even repellent, as it is pleasurable… revolutionizing the concept of ‘beautiful…’”  While I am certainly no Frida Kahlo, this is what I hoped the book would be: A jolt that jerks vision and sense in a different direction. A direction that points to grace.

Next week, look out for Miranda Field’s and Tom Thompson’s posts on their blogs.

The Next Big Thing

Thanks to Claudia Zuluaga, author of the forthcoming Fort Starlight, for inviting me to participate in The Next Big Thing—a blog chain that has been circulating in which participating writers answer ten questions about their books. Be sure to check out Claudia’s post and, of course, look for Fort Starlight out September 2013 from Engine Books.

Now, here are the questions and here are my answers:

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

The working title of my novel is The Vanity Chair.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

A prison is at the center of our town. It is verboten to think about the place for any length of time and the only people in town endowed with the right to talk about it are correctional officers. And they do so in the strangest ways. It is a unique brand of approach-avoidance that has always fascinated me. When the town talks of the prison, it’s to blame it for its ailments. Poor people. Crime. But it often isn’t credited for other more subtle influences, such what it is like for hardworking middle-class families with a mom or dad who come home after a bad day at work in a maximum-security prison. Here, they call it a life sentence in eight-hour shifts. There is also very little mention (in polite conversation) of the lives of the townspeople whose family members are in for life. Essentially, there is this big walled fortress and an irrational belief that the walls separate those on the inside from those on the outside, when indeed the walls are far more porous. I always feel like I’m on the outside—in life, I mean—and I’m always compelled to penetrate whatever it is that I think I’m being walled off from. So, I wrote this book and it tells the stories of the intersecting lives of those who are in and those who are out.

What genre does your book fall under?

Literary fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Sean Penn, who has always reminded me of my grandfather, could play the prisoner, Moses, beautifully because Moses is physically based on my grandfather, and like my grandfather and Sean Penn, Moses is a great sonofabitch. But the three women in the book—Shell, Ellen, and Gina whose friendship is at the center of the book? I’m not sure I’ve seen these actresses yet. I love movies with fresh faces. I’d like these women to be fresh faces.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A quiet old murderer dies behind bars; his death ripples through the prison and into the lives of three young women who share a bond that has, at one time or another, both sheltered and destroyed them.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Remains to be seen…

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

This book has revealed itself to me in the uneven, overlapping ways of an onion. One draft co-mingles with the next, and so on, so I can’t quite ever recall finishing the first and going on to the second. Though, it’s been about seven years since it stopped being short stories and started being a novel. I write slowly. A draft or two a year. But the book keeps getting clearer and better, so I keep writing it. I’d rather not clock it, thank you very much.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

This book is elliptical, told through the points of view of a prisoner and three urbane women in their late twenties living in New York City. I love prismatic books that let us see characters’ blind spots and through which a larger community naturally emerges. So I’m not going to say my book compares to these novels, but books such as these made me jump up and get back to work on my own: The End (perhaps my favorite book of all time), The Hours, Let the Great World Spin, and Great House.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The prison, of course. And Jeremy Bentham’s panoptic prison, but that’s too much to get into here. Here’s a brief, creepy example of why I had to write this book: Recently, my family was struck by the evil Norwalk virus. Think cruise ships shutting down, or Hillary Clinton passing out and conking her head. I bumped into my aunt, a nurse, at the milk cooler in the grocery store and she told me the virus had first gone through the prison. It shut down the prison’s infirmary and the overflow was filling the local hospital. This virus reached out from behind those walls, into the sweet Montessori country day school my three year-olds attend, and brought us all to our knees. Not for nothing, but walls are futile. Viruses, and more lovely things like the human spirit, make rubble out of them.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Maybe it’s just me, but I think prisons are fascinating. There’s the grit, of course, but it’s the resilience of human spirit and the fact that one can find peace anywhere, in any condition, even in prison if one chooses, that I care about. Likewise, people in the most well appointed lives can isolate and self-punish and live as though they are not free. In The Vanity Chair, walls can’t keep the characters apart, but the futility of vanity can; characters condemned to life behind bars experience love and connection, while those who walk free live in shackles. The book, at its core, shows that true freedom can’t be given or taken away; it’s gained through the courage to know one’s true nature and heart.

Next week, look out for The Next Big Thing blogs by Rebecca Kinzie Bastian and Natalie Danford, both of whom will guest blog right here the week of 1/14/2013.