“The Next Big Thing”
is a viral sensation where one author answers ten questions about his or her current work. That author then tags 3 to 5 other authors, who answer the questions and, in turn, tag 3 to 5 more, thus spreading the word exponentially.
I was tagged by Meghan Arcuri. You can read her answers at http://www.meghanarcuri.wordpress.com. Meghan and I were at Borderlandspress Writer’s Bootcamp last year with authors Michael Bailey (http://www.nettirw.com ) and Richard Payne http://www.rbpayne.com . It was an intense weekend which encouraged me to continue writing. Incredible to spend the weekend with like minds!
Our work is critiqued by fellow “grunts” while authors F. Paul Wilson (http://www.repairmanjack.com), Tom Monteleone (http://www.borderlandspress.com), and Doug Winters guide us in such a way that not only do we learn to critique the works of others, but help us see our own writing from another point of view. I’ve written short stories because of my time at Bootcamp which is something I didn’t think I ever would have attempted. Short stories are harder to write than a novel. Not as forgiving and every word is crucial to the story itself.
This year Meghan and I will be roommates at Bootcamp. I’ve read her latest short story and am amazed at how much her writing has improved from last year. I enjoyed her story “Worse Ways” and believe that if she keeps this up, she’ll go beyond “The Next Big Thing.”
Now for my questions (sort of like interviewing myself):
1. What is the working title of your book?
I’m almost finished with a book titled “Song of the Cicadas.” I’ve put it on hold for a while because I had an idea for another book I submitted to the Borderlandspress Writer’s Bootcamp, “The Family Tree.”
2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
“Song of the Cicadas” was a manuscript I found in a box I had in storage. I started it when I was 19 years old and apparently put it away for a time in my life where I didn’t have to worry about paying the rent. I don’t remember writing it. I found it at an appropriate time and thought it was a great story. The funny thing is, it’s about a woman who comes home to bury her mother she hasn’t seen in 17 years and the mysteries leading to their separation. I couldn’t figure out why I would write such a story when I was young, but when I found the manuscript it had been 18 years since I’d seen my own mother. How could a 19 year old know what it’s like to be estranged from her mother for so long? I know now.
“The Family Tree” came to me when I read some of the stuff my aunt dug up about our family. She’s been researching our genealogy and there are some great characters in my ancestry. I put a few of them together and gave them a sinister plot. I told a friend about the story I outlined and she told me about the fairy rings around the oak tree in her parents’ back yard and I thought what an awesome way to keep the curse going ( my family is actually blessed but I couldn’t let that get in the way of a good story). The premise of “The Family Tree” is jealousy is a curse and bad deeds carry throughout family history acting as a curse not doled out by an evil spirit but by the wickedness of family members.
3. What genre does your book fall under?
“Song of the Cicadas” would be considered Southern Gothic. It takes place in the mountains of Virginia and defies the Southern Belle traditions. It has all the elements found in Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee and William Faulkner. Not that I think this book will be as great as those written by these authors but one can only try. Racism and misogyny are prevalent and there is a hint of supernatural. The mysteries of southern superstitions drive the characters.
“The Family Tree” also contains elements of the supernatural. The Walsh house has an energy that seems to speak its history. The wicked deeds of the past carry forth to the future claiming yet another “victim” even though the “cursed” tree has been uprooted. Genre? I don’t know. Maybe horror in the sense that “Wuthering Heights” was horror, or “Rebecca” with her “ghost” lurking about.
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
“Song of the Cicadas” cast? I can see Beyonce playing Rachel, Charlize Theron as Kitty, Queen Latifah or Angela Basset as Sadie Johnson. I think Donald Glover would make a good Whitey Johnson. Since the movie would be more of a woman empowerment film, I wouldn’t have any A-list male actors but someone who could steal the show and become a hero because of this movie. Mysterious and handsome, paternal with a dark side for Michael Rivers.
“The Family Tree” I would cast Elle Fanning as Sophie, Dakota Fanning as Hannah, and Kathy Bates as Aunt Margaret. I like Jake Gillenhaal as Richard Walsh since I can see him playing a Heathcliffe type character.
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
“Song of the Cicadas” is about a young woman who returns home to bury her mother only to dredge up a mysterious past that led to their estrangement for seventeen years, her mother’s murder and possibly her own in a killer’s need to keep their past buried forever.
“The Family Tree” is about a young architect who falls in love with a house she yearns to restore only to find hidden secrets buried in the attic which brings her close not only to discovering a family curse, but her own link to the family’s past and her part in continuing the legacy.
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I will seek representation.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Like I said earlier, I started “Song of the Cicadas” when I was nineteen. I found it in a box about five years ago and have been working on it since. I work-shopped it at The Borderlandspress Bootcamp two years in a row. I’m almost finished but put it aside to write short stories and “The Family Tree” which came to me one morning after reading about my family history. I was able to outline it during Hurricane Sandy which left me out of work and in the dark for three weeks. I wrote by candlelight which made me feel like a true scribe. I was amazed at how easy it all came to me since I had no other distractions and was able to focus solely on the story. If I didn’t have to go back to work, I think it would be done by now.
8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
“Song of the Cicadas” is like no other book I’ve read, but has elements found in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“The Family Tree” seems a little like “Wuthering Heights” meets “Rebecca” but I might be a bit too ambitious in thinking I could pull off such a great novel. A contemporary novel that might be comparable is “The Forgotten Garden” by Kate Morton in that it flips back and forth from past to present with different characters’ point of view.
9. Who or What inspired you to write this book?
Ragin’ Cajun (my restaurant) was shut down by the fire marshal when the town used eminent domain to redevelop the downtown area. While I was trying to get reopened I read a lot and went to the gym every day to work off the negative energy. I read a book by Rita Mae Brown who lives in Afton, Va. where I grew up. I bought the book for 75 cents at a paperback exchange store. While riding the bike at the gym, it took me 45 minutes to read the book.
I can do this, I thought. My story is much better than a dog and a cat solving a murder. I could write a book about what was happening in my community, to me and other business owners because of eminent domain. I decided not to complete my workout but go to Barnes and Noble to buy all books on writing in the Mystery genre (my sense of mystery works were limited to Charles Dickens and Willkie Collins, I never bought books at the grocery store). Here was a chance to tell my story and maybe start a new career. Wouldn’t it be great if the town closes my restaurant and in my revenge I sell a novel about that same story? My second thought was I would call F. Paul Wilson (www.repairmanjack.com) and see if he would help me because I’d never written a novel.
As soon as I got off the bike to head to the locker room, Paul was standing in front of me and my heart raced. I told him what I wanted to do. He was pleased and told me to get the restaurant open because he missed coming on Sundays. I started writing “Imminent Domain” and from there found “Song of the Cicadas.” Paul convinced me to go to Boot camp and that’s how all this got started.
I believe that once you get the creative juices flowing, there’s no stopping it.
The restaurant reopened and is doing better than it ever has. I have three novels that are almost complete. “The Family Tree” was inspired by my own family history and I wanted to write it as a fabulist fairy tale. Because of the storm that left me in the dark, I was able to outline it in a way I never did the other two and so this will be the novel I’ll complete first. Wouldn’t it be great if I can tell my publisher I have two more novels to immediately follow?
When bad things happen, it’s best not to think of it as the end of the world so much as the beginning of something potentially greater than you’ve known. Every time “bad” things happen, I put pen to paper. Now all I have to do is follow up.
10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
“The Family Tree” has a little history of Bradley Beach. Anyone who grew up on the Jersey Shore will appreciate some of the references to landmark spots and things like eating Jersey tomatoes and going to Vic’s Pizza.
“Song of the Cicadas” addresses racism and misogyny. Overall, it’s a story that empowers women and whose characters are strong. This book will make a great movie because that’s how I see it in my head, like a movie.
I’d like to tag a woman I met not too long ago. Patricia Florio is author of “My Two Mothers” published August 2011 by Phyllis Scott Publishing. Patricia is a travel writer for http://www.stripedpot.com and lives in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. She contacted me for The Literary Adventure Author’s Reading Series where I was able to talk about my cookbook “Sittin’ Bayou Makes Me Hot!” (http://www.ragincajunnj.net). It was a great afternoon and I met some awesome people. Patricia is active in the Jersey Shore Arts Council and has invited me to join their writers group. Read Patricia’s blog http://www.patriciaflorio.blog.com.
I also met Rosemary Calabretta who told me to call her Sugie. She helped me set up the food and made me feel comfortable at The Literary Adventure Author’s Reading Series. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but Sugie wrote a children’s book for her two granddaughters “Bella the Bright-eyed Reindeer.” She also collaborated on a book with two other authors V.G. Wells and Rosaleen Mooney Myers “Three Brown-Eyed Girls.” I haven’t read it yet but look forward to it since I enjoyed Rosemary’s company and can’t wait to see her again.
I can’t wait to get back to Bootcamp (http://www.borderlandspress.com) in January. My first year was amazing and you should be on the lookout for Kyle Steele, Angie Deptula and Thomas Carson. We all sat up well into the wee hours writing our Sunday assignments. Kyle and I then drank screwdrivers out of coffee mugs and talked about what we wanted to do about our writing and other matters of life. Angie and I stayed an extra night (her flight was Monday and I decided to stay and keep her company in that creepy hotel). We sat up all night eating Chinese and freaking each other out. It was a spooky night with strange happenings. Definitely haunted and Angie ended up writing a short story about a woman who kills her roommate because she dreamed she was a sea hag. Thanks a lot Angie for allowing me to inspire you. It was a great weekend and we all keep in touch. Angie is moving to Paris to write for a year and Kyle is almost finished with his novel. Thomas Carson is a character himself. He lives in Maryland and pops in to bootcamp to say hello. He’s currently working on a book about his grandfather Ray Ewry who won 8 Olympic gold medals at the turn of the twentieth century. His novel “Unsung” is due for publication soon and I can’t wait having read the beginning and loving the main character who is someone you might find in a Carl Hiaasen novel.