Monday, May 13, 2013

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing is a blog hop, a chance for writers all over the world to talk about what they're working on. When you’re tagged, you answer ten questions about your next book or story, link to the person who tagged you, then tag 3-5 other writers.

I was tagged by Barb Shoup, writer and advocate extraordinaire. I like to refer to her as my literary fairy godmother. (Read her Next Big Thing post here.) And while you're at it, read An American Tune, Barb's new novel from IU Press. Great stuff.

Check out a post here from Sarah White, an excellent writer and all-around person.

Now, the questions...

What is your working title of your book? Sleeping Woman


Where did the idea come from for the book? When I started my MFA program at Purdue University, I knew I wanted to try to write a novel for my thesis, though I didn't know yet what I'd write about. In my second semester, I began a very short story told in second person, a "you" who becomes very sick while traveling abroad and is sent home. That short piece became a chapter, and ultimately the "you," once a man, turned into a she: Carey Halpern, the main character. Her physical ailments were revised out in later drafts, and it turned out that her real sickness was grief over her boyfriend's murder.

What genre does your book fall under? Literary fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? When my sister read a draft a few years ago, she pictured James Franco as Ben. And look, if this is fantasy, I'll just go ahead and cast Jennifer Lawrence as Carey. Now that she's done blockbusters, perhaps she'll be looking for some indie work. For Mike: Matt Damon circa Good Will Hunting.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Indianapolis native Carey Halpern buries her grief and guilt deep inside when her boyfriend is murdered in Mexico during her junior year abroad; seven years later, her new job among recent immigrants, a familiar stranger online, and a break in the murder case force her to confront the role Ben played in her life – and the role she played in his death.

Do you have a publisher for your book yet? Not yet. It has come close a few times at places both big and small, which by turns gives me dyspepsia and encourages me to keep trying.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? About 2 1/2 years. I estimate that I've written about six or seven more drafts since then.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Trick question. My work is completely original! But, if you like X, you will love Sleeping Woman! How's this: some books I found helpful while working on this novel were The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, Don Quixote by Cervantes, Birds of America by Lorrie Moore, You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers, and Child of My Heart by Alice McDermott. Also, Susan Minot’s Evening, Tom McCarthy’s Remainder, Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took My Dog and Case Histories. For starters.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? The summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I studied in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. It was life-changing, as these experiences are, and I often found myself returning in memory to that trip, particularly a side visit we made to the medieval city of Guanajuato. When I moved back to Indiana for my MFA, I was amazed at how much the Hispanic population had grown in Indianapolis. My study abroad experience came back to me instantly, though my Spanish was a little rusty. The changes in Indy -- and the way memory changes as you look back -- became topics I was interested in exploring.

A few of us from the exchange program recently reunited, and I found myself caught again between the memory of things that happened, and how other people remembered the same events. Small things, small differences, but still important ones. I returned to Mexico in 2005 to research the novel; much had changed, but there were some things I was surprised to remember wholly. They're in the book.

Guanajuato, GTO, Mexico

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest? There's a lot that people might relate to. Things like coping with a senseless death. Understanding yourself and your place in the world. Navigating language and cultural barriers, both at home and abroad. The electronic miscommunications that occurred in the mid-1990s -- the early days of the Internet and e-mail. Tourism, photography, and being socially aware. Immigration and all its risks.

The issues of immigration, forged documents, and illegal drugs are woven into the novel. Last October, The Indianapolis Star reported a record marijuana bust of more than 5.25 tons in an Indianapolis warehouse. The drugs came from a Mexican cartel. Immigration continues to be a hot-button topic, both locally and nationally, as Latinos are the fastest-growing group in the United States. Indianapolis’s Latino population (based on the city’s West side, the setting in the novel) grew 70 percent from 2000-2005; that’s more than any other group. American tourism in Mexico has plummeted, largely due to fears of drug-related violence.

These are current problems, and there are also evergreen themes: loss, grief, regret, and what to do with love when one’s intended will not or cannot accept it.

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