CJ Jessop tagged me in her blog last week to answer questions about my Next Big Thing. Technically, my NBT is Story a Day in May, but I also have a novel in progress, so I chose to answer questions based on that.
1. What is the working title of your story?
2. Where did the idea for the story come from?
Partially from a song by John and Mary, Summer Street, which is where I got the name. It’s about sifting through boxes, “wondering what to keep,” and the memories that the objects evoke. From that, I added elements from the TV show Hoarders and people I’ve known with this compulsion. The real meat of the story is taken from bits and pieces of family history that my mother has shared with me.
3. What genre does your story come under?
Literary fiction? I hate that term, but it’s probably the best label. Drama with some comic elements.
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
No idea. Let me finish writing it before I think about casting the adaptation. At the speed I write, Most of the cast is in diapers right now.
5. What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Sisters cleaning up the mess their estranged father left behind finally get to know him, themselves, and each other.
6. Will your story be self-published, published by an independent publisher or represented by an agency?
An established publisher, possibly an indie, is my hope, of course. Self-published books turn so many people off that I wouldn’t go that route unless a good editor were willing to work with me for a reasonable fee.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I’ll let you know when that happens.
8. What other books would you compare your story to within your genre?
Fannie Flagg’s novels, probably, although I don’t know if I’ll ever reach that level of writing. Perhaps it would be easier to compare it to TV shows like Gilmore Girls or Parenthood in its tone, the idea of family trying to figure it out as they go along.
9. Who or what inspired you to write this story?
A few things. The history of my family, on both sides and going back a couple of generations is where I’m getting the bulk of the details, but with everything mixed up and moved around among the characters. Also, my good friend Ernesto works as a therapist, especially in the technique of Family Constellations. In this therapy, people represent the people in your constellation, and subtle placement and movement of the players shows the patient things that s/he didn’t realize about the family dynamic. I learned from my participation that our perception of who we and other people are is usually not quite right. That has colored much of my writing. In this novel, the sisters have to face some unexpected truths. Some of it is ugly in the moment, but ultimately beautiful in the discovery. At least, I hope so.
10. What else about your story might pique the reader’s interest?
No matter how much you love your family, conflict is something that we can all relate to. My brother and I were talking about when we were kids a few years back, and I think we were both surprised at how our perceptions and beliefs were different about the same people and events. Now, he’s three and a half years older, so that’s part of it, but personality also comes into play. I’m sure we’re not unique in that experience.
The basic question is this: Do you like your family? It’s easy enough to love your family, hell, people love family members who do some pretty horrible things, but how do you come to like your family, consider them your friends? That’s the hard part for some people. (Not for me, so much. My mother and brother are among my best friends.)
11. What has been the hardest part about writing this story?
Organization. I’m not very good at outlining. I tend to write as I go, which is fine when I’m writing flash fiction, my strongest area so far, but with a novel, you need a road map. In this case, especially, because I deal with several time periods. The big challenge here is to do it without losing the reader.
12. What has been the most fun?
Starting small, building up, and still having readers’ interest. One critique said, “I have the impression someone’s left the gas on in some as yet unopened room, and all it will take is the spark of metal on metal when the doorknob’s turned to…” I hope to keep that up just long enough that it doesn’t frustrate.
13. Has writing this story illuminated any of your own strengths or weaknesses for you?
Yes. As I mentioned, I’m bad at planning, good at making it up as I go along. Now, I have to balance those skills so that I actually sit down and write. I think I’m good at dialog, certainly much better than when I started writing. I’ve received positive feedback on my use of dialog to show character. Another weakness I really have to work on is expressing time. I often get called out on muddy time frames, even in my flash fiction. That’s going to be another great challenge here, since I have different time frames to work with, and everybody is on the move so often.
14. What misconceptions do people have about your genre, and do you think your story addresses them?
That those of us who write it and read it think we’re above so called “genre fiction.” For submission purposes, we’re in a really bad place. I loathe the term “literary fiction.” It reeks of pomposity, but that’s what we’re given. I do read other genres. You have to when you’re in a workshop setting, and you find things that aren’t really your go-to genre. I’ve also received great feedback from writers of romance, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, etc. I think that as readers and as writers, we need to erase those imaginary lines and look for good stories.
15. What is your favorite scene you’ve written for this story?
Well, I haven’t written much, but there’s a scene with the sisters sitting by the pool, the day before they embark on their journey to their father’s home. I like how it shows that they do love and respect each other, despite their differences and conflicts. There’s another scene that I haven’t written, where the dormant volcano erupts and they have to find a way to deal with issues they never addressed, the heart of the whole story. It’s clear in my head, though, that moment that sets everything off.
That’s me. What’s your Next Big Thing?
(For those who don’t write, or who write and have other activities going on right now, I’d still love to know.)
I’m tagging a few favorites of mine, in case they haven’t covered this already. Even if they don’t, they’re worth checking out just because they’re excellent writers/storytellers.
Next week, I’ll answer some questions from another blog roll, sent to me by Alexis Hunter. Alexis A. Hunter, an author I have worked closely with on Scribophile over the past year and change.