Surprise, gratitude, and relief came to visit when I saw that Kourtney Heintz had tagged me to participate in The Next Big Thing.
I’ve been working on a blog post for several days that hasn’t come together yet. How much less stressful to answer a set of structured questions about my work-in-progress and pass the torch to five other writers*.
So here goes.
What is the title of your Work in Progress?
Sotto Voce. This is a working title. I realize some people may need the definition of “sotto voce,” which means the title violates at least one rule of titling (make it instantly communicate the essence of your book). I also have a working subtitle—“A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Regret”—which is confusing since it’s a novel. But it’s a novel in the form of a memoir. Suffice it to say, I will figure these things out before launch!
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I took my son snowboarding a couple of years ago. Waiting in the lodge while he was on the slopes, I struck up a conversation with another mom waiting for her family. She told me way more than she might have intended—about her son’s time in rehab, her dysfunctional marriage, and her job loss. I kept thinking, “But she looks so ordinary!” It got me thinking about how we all have hidden stories and how our exterior selves are often so different from our interior selves.
What genre does your book fall under?
When I started, I thought it was literary fiction. Now I think it might be contemporary women’s fiction with a literary flavor.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
That’s a challenge. Since the book spans 50 years, it contains both young and old versions of the characters. Also, it’s an ensemble work: six characters each take turns telling their stories. But for two of the characters, I’d pick Edward Norton, because he plays disturbed so well, and Sarah Polley, because, according to IMDB, “Polley has become a favorite of critics for her sensitive portraits of wounded and conflicted young women in independent films.”
What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?
A young man holding his mother at gunpoint—in a misguided attempt to convince her to listen to him—learns more than he bargained for about his past.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I don’t know yet.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
About nine months. It took me another six to edit; it’s now out with the first round of beta readers.
What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?
In form, it’s a bit like Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad (comingling story lines, with each chapter intended to be capable of standing alone as a short story). In theme and tone it’s a bit like Elizabeth Strout’s Amy and Isabelle.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My parents and my children. My parents are gone but I continue to feel their influence on my life. My children have only begun to evolve into the adults they’ll become, yet I fret constantly over their evolution. Writing a book about the complicated relationships between parents and children seemed like a good outlet to channel my anxieties so I wouldn’t overwhelm my flesh-and-blood offspring. That said, if either of them ever do anything as stupid as some of my characters, I’ll wring their necks!
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Although the story takes place in venues and times I’m familiar with (New York state in the 1970s and present-day California), I did a lot of research. One of the characters, a Vietnam vet, came to me begging to be in the story. Since I am not a man and did not serve in Vietnam, I had to work to capture his voice and his story. But isn’t that what writers do?
Passing the Torch
*The writers I’d love to hear from about their Next Big Thing (with absolutely no expectation of participation unless it feels right) are: