Friday, January 18, 2013

The Next Big Thing

Now it's my turn to take on The Next Big Thing.

My friend Traci  tagged me to participate in this ongoing chain of writers answering ten questions about their latest work or work-in-progress. So here it goes...

What is your working title of your book (or story)?
The Altar of Dead Pets

Where did the idea come from for the book?
It’s got kind of a convoluted evolution, but basically, the novel grew out of a short story that I wrote about fourteen years ago. The short story grew out of a free writing session two friends and I did on the word ‘choice.’ The first lines that came to me were, “School shrink says everything’s a choice and I think he’s full of it, because what about some fool-ass kid who sticks his head out of a car doing eighty…” and it was basically this teenage boy talking about how his brother had stuck his head out of a car while joy riding and ended up dead when he collided with a bunch of wood in a dumpster. That idea combined with the wild horses I’d seen during an off-roading trip with my husband and our then two-year old son (he’s now 17) in the back country around Reno (where we were then living), as well as the way my high school boyfriend had worshipped his older brother who had actually been a drug dealer, and became the story of Matt who discovers that his idolized older brother isn't the person Matt's always thought he was. 

I wrote the story in about a week. It went on to win some awards and get me a couple of grants, and got some good rejections from places like the New Yorker, but didn’t sell, so I started revising it. It was one of those projects that I would put down for a while and then come back to, and it gradually morphed from a short story to a novella. Then I started working on a (different) novel and decided to get my MFA at SF State. I used the original short story in my application for grad school.

In my second semester I was taking a short story workshop and was totally stuck for a second piece to bring in, so I told my professor (the wonderful and incredible Alice LaPlante) about this story and how it was now a novella and asked if I could bring in the original story to see if my revisions were on track. She said yes, and I did, and the comments were great. A couple of months later, I was doing a half-day workshop (with the also wonderful and incredible Matthew Davidson) and was working on a different project. Matthew gave us a prompt and I literally walked across the room to the desk where I would write thinking about this other project, sat down at the desk, and this scene from “Choice” just flowed from my pen, and that was it. The story told me it was a novel and that it was the only thing I was going to be working on until it was done. So far, it’s been true to its word.

What genre does your book fall under?
I got told by an agent that it is “upmarket fiction” which is the new term for what used to be called literary/commercial.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Wow. The only character I’ve ever had an idea for is the stepdad, Alan, and Denzel Washington would be an exceptional choice. When he was younger (like from his Gilbert Grape or Benny and Joon days), Johnny Depp would have been perfect for the older brother because Denny needs the charismatic, dramatically good-looking, wounded-boy image that Depp was really great at projecting. Matt, the younger brother, would have to be played by a really talented newcomer. And for the mom, Rachelle, I could see her played by Sandra Bullock. She’s outwardly fragile, but has got a core of strength that she doesn’t know she has.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Perfect recall is not perfect knowledge.

(Incidentally, this question has been the bane of my existence since the summer. Just so you know…)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Agent and traditional publishing.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The first draft of the story as a novel took about two years, but I was also in grad school at the time. I finished the second draft as my Master’s thesis, and the third draft took about a year. I’m doing revisions and hope to have those finished by March.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Catcher in the Rye was a huge influence on this book – especially the grief and longing that drives Holden over the edge. I’ve also compared this book to The Virgin Suicides, The Lovely Bones, and  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
In addition to Matt, who kept revealing himself and making my heart ache, I started exploring the intersections of memory, identity, history, and the creation of the narrative we call History. My narrator, Matt, has an extraordinary memory – he remembers everything that ever happened to him, which is both good and bad. Two things happen to him in the course of the novel. The first is that he can’t remember the night his brother died. He was there, but the trauma caused the memory of it to be erased. The second is that, even though he remembers everything about his brother, he didn’t know who his brother really was. Perfect recall isn’t the same as perfect knowledge.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
There are wild horses, the Nevada desert, and a crazy campfire ritual at the end of book that doesn’t quite go the way anyone expects. 

So, I'm tossing The Next Big Thing to Nina Schuyler next. Nina was one of my first professors at San Francisco State. Her next novel, The Translator, will be published July 1st of this year. Her first novel, The Painting, was nominated for a Northern California Book Award wand named a Best Book by the San Francisco Chronicle. She'll be posting on her blog at

I'm also giving a shout out to my friend, Kelly Gilbert, who's first novel is going to be released later this year by Disney Hyperion. Traci tagged her first, but head to her blog to check out what she has to say about her wonderful novel. 

1 comment:

Kelly Loy Gilbert said...

Oh, Denzel Washington as Alan is absolutely perfect.

Also, I just read this revision of the opening pages, with Matt there--wow. I can't wait to see what comes of it.