In a recent New York Times essay re: the staying power of (printed) books, Gillian Silverman reminds us of their inherent vitality. It was Thoreau, she says, who characterized the book as “the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips; — not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself.” Virtuoso violinist Christian Tetzlaff might beg to differ: “I find that music is humans’ most advanced achievement, more so than painting and writing, because it’s more mysterious, more magical, and acts in such a direct way.” As someone who hears – looks for – the music in language, I take heart in both views. I could not live without reading, or writing. And I could not live without music.
Which brings me to the thread here, ‘the next big thing.’ It was Zoe Brooks, with her extrapolation of timely and terrific tidbits via her newspaper, Women’s Fiction, who brought me into the chain. A fiction writer and poet herself, she tagged me. And I responded in a heartbeat. Do I have the ‘stuff’ from which the next big thing might be made? I don’t know. Here’s what I do know. Just the other day (before I turned into a zombie from the red-eye flight I took from the West Coast), I saw a retrospective of the work of Mel Ramos at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. In a video/interview, he tells about a piece of art he did twelve years ago and shelved, thinking it was going nowhere. When he pulled it out recently, he had a completely different take on the work. “I loved it,” he said. Coincidentally, someone interested in commissioning him happened to come by, saw that painting, and bought it on the spot. Ramos says the moral is “don’t prejudge things.” I say, “We are our own harshest critics/worst enemies.” Writers need to be ever more critical of themselves in a publishing environment in which (alas) anything goes. And we also need to give each other a pat on the back, a nudge toward the next big thing, week #10 now. I’ve discovered some pretty interesting writers/works-in-progress as part of this thread. My turn now to share some thoughts on my own work.
What is the working title of your book?
Dancing into the Sun
Where did the idea come from for the book?
From a standpoint of theme, the book began as a reflection on the notion that family is more dispersed than ever in our society, each generation one step further from the fold. It also reflects my fascination with migration legends (in general) and the Hopi migration legends (in particular), which suggest to me that finding a place to settle – a place to call ‘home’ – encompasses much more than meets the eye. Out of that reflection emerged a character, a single mother on the road with her seven-year-old daughter, directionless, unable to settle in any one place for long. I began to see her as a kind of everywoman, searching for something that eludes her. As the novel evolved, it became an intergenerational story: grounded by a wise-beyond-her-years daughter and a mother coming to grips with a world too changed for her taste (family far from a hop, skip and a jump away), Daphne unwittingly zigzags her way through the Four Cardinal Directions that individuals go through to achieve wholeness: East is understood as illumination, and the place where ideas begin; South is the place of innocence and trust; West is the place of looking inward; North is the place of wisdom. Each stop along the way – Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles; Zitacuaro, Mexico; New York and New England – becomes home for only so long, Daphne sure of nothing except the need to keep in motion.
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I could see Emma Stone as Daphne. The ‘love interest’ who eludes her would have to be Johnny Depp.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The changing nature of what we call ‘home.’
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My inclination, at this point, is to find an agent.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
There’s no straightforward answer to that question. I was nearly three-quarters through a first draft when I took a break – to focus on bringing attention to my short story collection via a new, digital edition. That would have been almost two years ago. Going back to the novel, after a period of time away from it, allowed me to see that it began in the wrong place. So I started again – from a later section not yet written – which set in motion a different trajectory for the story.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
A mother-daughter/on-the-road story might call to mind Anywhere but Here by Mona Simpson. And I can’t help but think of In Case We’re Separated by Alice Mattison, with its intergenerational, ethnic dimension. Since there is mythology infused in my novel, and, at its heart, it’s a journey of transformation, I also imagined a modern-day spin on The Odyssey. It took Odysseus a long time to find his way home. And he did hit a lot of stumbling blocks along the way.
Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I would have to say that the way in which a ‘New Age’ mindset insinuated itself into our culture had something to do with what made me write the story. There are no shortcuts to enlightenment, and, yet, we’ve managed to put a marketing spin on spirituality. Another key component to the story is the watering down of traditions with each passing generation. The rituals I grew up with — holiday meals for the Jewish New Year, Passover seders — were an assumption. To keep them alive, and make them meaningful, requires more effort in a culture of assimilation.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
A metaphoric undercurrent of the novel is the journey of the monarch butterfly. The section entitled ‘South’ in fact takes place in the part of Mexico where the butterflies overwinter. I would also say that music plays a big part in it – both in the way it places us in a particular time and in the way I use lines from songs as chapter titles.
Now it’s my turn to single out a few writers.