Thanks so much to Sybil Baker for inviting me to participate! Sybil’s work means a lot to me, since she’s given me such great material to edit in her novel Into This World, so I’m always excited to see (and share) more about her process. Read her answers here: http://sybilbaker.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-next-big-thing-questions-and.html.
Next week, you can read answers from Bryan Furuness right here, from Barbara Shoup at her blog, and from Jill Stukenberg (link coming soooon!).
If you know me on the internet, you probably know me more as an editor than as a writer. But of course I came to everything that Engine Books does and stands for through my own growth and practice as a writer. I’m torn about what to write about here, since I have a completed novel that’s floating around some offices, waving its hand in the air, begging to be picked, but I also have this new thing that I’m a little bit giddy about.
Hmmm. New thing? Finished thing (that’ll probably end up getting revised again before it heads out into the world)?
New thing. Let’s do the new thing. Answers below are ridiculously tentative and squishy. This thing is just barely a zygote.
What is your working title of your book (or story)?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Unlike most of the work I’ve done since college (which is to say, the work that has the remotest chance of being any good), this book is really personal for me. A few years ago, my mother went on this weird divesting binge–she pulled the old photographs out of the ancient, wax-bound albums (does anybody else still have those?), sometimes peeling the backing. These were pictures from the years she spent married to my father. That marriage ended in 1980. The photos were those fabulous 70’s prints with the rounded corners, all faded to a perfect sepia.
She was going to throw them away. Which: no.
So I took the photos. In the earliest ones, both my parents were much younger than I am now. At several points, I didn’t exactly recognize them. Who are these people in these photographs tending to this ugly, giant-headed baby? (Truly, I was a hideous child until I was at least 3.) The point of Ghost Road isn’t so much to find out as it is to create a new story about a family living in the same place and time, in some of the same situations as my family did then. Some of the episodes I’m exploring are lodged in my memory–I believe they took place–but these memories are unreliable at best. As I child, I could never distinguish my memories from my dreams. Others are invented wholesale. Most importantly, though, the points of view the novel’s exploring are entirely products of my imagination, and I don’t think, when I’m done, that this family will likely end up resembling the one I came from much at all.
What genre does your book fall under?
Literary fiction/realistic fiction/novel.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Oh, gosh. I have no idea. I don’t usually picture things like book covers or movie adaptations any more. Besides, I doubt they cast babies quite that unappealing.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
During the summer of the US bicentennial celebration, Diane, Jack, and their children move to a farm in rural Boone County, Indiana; over the next five years, their lives will change in ways they cannot predict or prevent.
Do you have a publisher for your book yet? Who? Was the book agented?
It’s really just an icky cluster of cells at this point. I do have editor crushes and agent crushes. But I’m keeping those to myself. My first novel, Four Points Gin, is in the process of meeting people who I hope will fall in love with it and represent it. Should that happen, I hope they’ll fall in love with this one, too, and stick with me.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
In the past, I’ve been sllloooooowwwww. I took ten years, off and on, to write and rewrite and re-rewrite Four Points Gin. This material has come faster for me, because it’s image-driven and the characters’ voices are deeply embedded in me, as they’re the voices of the place I came from. I don’t write straight through, and it’s hard to predict how long it will take me to stitch all these moments I’ve been drafting together. But I wouldn’t say ten more years. Maybe one or two, if I really get on it.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Oh, I think that’s a crappy trap of a question. Do I have the hubris to compare myself to some literary great? Do I pick one of my sort-of-peers? The truth is, I can’t think of another book I’ve read that this resembles for me. Not because it’s the most original thing ever written, but because whatever books it resembles I haven’t read yet.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Well, that’s mostly the same answer as where the idea came from, except to add that I think we have a very unhealthy relationship with nostalgia, culturally speaking. The glorification of the past that saturates our political and media discourse makes me a little bit queasy. I know that the years from 1976 to 1980 are not the years they’re holding up as ideals, but I wanted to explore the past in a way that feels more honest to me. So far, this is a dark book. It’s been dark enough, at a couple of junctures, that I had to stop writing and step away from the manuscript to regain my perspective.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The manuscript will be image-driven and lyrical. I’m doing everything I can, including lots of research, to keep those images accurate to the lived experience of that time. For example, did you know that a Dust-Bowl level cloud enveloped the Southeast at one point in the late 70’s? Me, either. Our TV and movie depictions of the late 70s don’t much resemble people’s lived experiences of those years, I think, though I know there’s wonderful literature already that does. I hope, by the time it’s done, that this project will be able to join that literature’s ranks.