The Next Big Thing

Last week my friend Matt Hart tagged me for the Next Big Thing self-interview series, in which writers answer the same nine questions about their forthcoming books or works-in-progress. It’s great to have this chance to talk about my work-in-progress and to get to peek into the brains and pending projects of so many great writer friends. Please check back next week to follow the links at the bottom of this post to their Next Big Thing self-interviews!

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1. What is the working title of the book?

The book is called Any Minute Now, which seemed innocent enough when I began working on this project—ten years ago. Now, every time I refer to it, it’s yet another cruel joke on the self.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Like most things I write, this project began as something completely different: a novel about two half sisters jockeying for the affection of their shared father. I wrote a whole draft and threw it out.

I then began writing about a rock band and how its success or failure is hinged on a brother and sister and their respective impulses toward self-sabotage. I got stuck writing the same scene over and over again, which takes place atop the semis pulled up to the loading dock of a cupcake factory. I couldn’t get the scene out of my head—but I couldn’t get it right either. I kept stabbing at it, writing through different character combinations and occupying various points of view. The only fixed elements were:

• The setting—the deserted loading dock of a cupcake factory, after midnight, in winter.

• An inherent sense of menace—danger is nigh!—which kept feeling right no matter what characters were at play.

• It’s winter and the air smells like ho-hos, ding-dongs and snow.

I could not seem to just pick a version and stick with it. I angsted about my project paralysis to the ingenius Matt Hart (poet and friend; see link above), and I believe he said: Why do you have to pick? Why not just write them all and have a whole book that’s one big series of retakes at the same cupcake factory?

I believe I said: Don’t you think it’d be kind of stalled to just have the same scene over and over again?

And he said: Fuck it! I think it’d be awesome.

(Sometimes I think I love the poet people so much because they’re already completely over the idea of being relevant.)

Thus, I began writing a book about a touring rock band by writing variations of the same scene over and over again. I believe this photo narrative best chronicles the process:

So in answer to the question, the idea for the book came from Matt Hart, an 8th grade science book, and an anxious obsession with anxiety. Also, my long harbored envy of anyone in a rock band.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Fiction

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

To answer this question is to reveal my total ignorance about the movie industry. Basically, I picture the book’s fucked-up sister as a cross between Mortitia Addams and Sandra Bernhard. The rock star brother is like a cross between Gomez Addams and Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse.

5. What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

The lead guy in a small town rock band sabotages his rock band’s rise to fame in a skewed act of loyalty to his fucked-up sister.

6. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Ha!

I like to say that I’ve been working on the first draft for a decade, but that’s not actually true. I worked on and off  for about three years to draft the aforementioned novel about the two half sisters. I threw that out entirely, and this new draft has an entirely different cast and crew, but I kept the title, not merely as an act of self-mockery but because the main issue is the same, characters asking themselves: Will I ever escape my own bad tendencies and be the person I wish to be—wope! I’ve done it again, but any minute now… any minute now.

I guess the answer is that I’ve been working on the rock band draft since about 2004, but life has gotten in the way of writing so, all told, I’ve probably worked on it for about three 6-8 month stretches within those 9 years. When will it be done? Any minute now…

7. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Even though I’m a story writer, I think I started writing a novel because I felt like I had to write a novel. (I might have believed this would somehow save me from financial ruin. Hilarious!)

But since I was going to do it, it became apparent that I had to come up with a way to build a narrative out of fragments. I love the cumulative effect of fragments (for example, in Susan Sontag’s story Project for a Trip to China & David Shield’s essay On Collage).  I also spent a lot of time thinking about mechanical physics in terms of narrative. If story is a machine designed to do the work of carrying a reader from beginning to middle to end, then story can work sort of traditionally, like a car—but it can also work like a pogo stick (like the aforementioned Sontag or David Markson’s This Is Not A Novel) or like an aerofoil (like Nicholson Baker’s novel The Mezzanine). I was inspired to write a novel that had real momentum and a satisfying sense of dramatic arc and build—but I’ve thought a lot about alternative ways the machine of story can generate page-turning momentum and gain real velocity other than relying on plot.

My favorite story collections often read more like novels, wherein the whole is somehow greater than the sum of its parts—Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried; Junot Diaz’s Drown; Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son. I was also wholly inspired by talking to poet friends (Matt Hart, as mentioned above, who gave me permission to completely deviate from any expectations of the novel form) and I had the chance to read an early arrangement of my friend Patrick Phillips’ second poetry collection, Boy, and to make some suggestions about how to arrange the material. That exercise really inspired me to think about the cumulative effects of narrative suggestion and imagery.

8. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I have driven x-country 5 times in the past two years with my big dog, and so I have also been making video vignettes to accompany the band’s experiences on tour. I’d love to collaborate with a musician on some kind of song/riff cycle to mimic the cycling scenes and emotions in the book. I don’t know much about digital publishing–but I think this would be great in the e-book version!

9. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Whenever I actually finish it, I hope that someone else will publish my book!  So far, excerpts of it have appeared in Sakura Review, Black Clock, and Copper Nickel. I’m grateful to these publications.

My tagged writers for The Next Big Thing are amazing!

Tom Bissell! (Will be linked to this website; link activated next week.)

Alexander Chee!

Joanna Hershon!

Lauren Marks!

Check out their posts next week! Thanks for reading!