Friday, March 8, 2013

Tag, You're It: The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop is a chance for writers around 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 Victoria Barrett, a woman whom I regard as a serious force of nature. Who else could write fabulous stories, teach full-time, and start up the small press, Engine Books, in her, uh, spare time?

I’m thrilled to be a part of the Engine Books family myself, having just signed a contract to publish my novel, Looking for Jack Kerouac, with Lacewing Books, its new Young Adult imprint that will be headed up by Andrew Scott. Watch for it in August, 2014.

Click to check out Victoria’s NBT post. And watch for posts from Nicole Louise Reed, Sarah Layden, Sherri Emmons and Melissa Fraterrigo coming up soon.

Meanwhile, here goes with the questions:

What is the working title of your book (or story)?

Looking for Jack Kerouac

Where did the idea come from for the book?

A friend who’s a screenplay writer had the idea, which I fell in love with: 1964, an 18 year-old kid goes in search of his hero, Jack Kerouac, but finds him a down and out drunk, living with his mother in a ticky-tacky house in St. Petersburg, Florida. I said, joking, really, “If you ever decide not to use this idea, can I have it?” “Sure,” he said—and a few years later, he bequeathed it to me.

What genre does your book fall under?

First, I have to say the whole idea of genre drives me a little crazy. Body or no body, isn’t every good novel a mystery, after all? How in the world could you categorize the Harry Potter books, which have devotees of all ages? Who gets to decree what’s literary and what’s not?

Ideas never come to me labeled by genre; nor do I think about audience. I write what is compelling to me, what seems possible. That said, Looking for Jack Kerouac is a YA novel.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’m pretty clueless about the cool young actors of the moment, so I’ll show my age and pick (the young) Matt Damon as Paul, Jack Nicholson as Duke, and Sissy Spacek as Ginny. Jack Nicholson in his forties would make a great Kerouac, too—and since this is total fantasy, why not let him play both parts?

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When Paul’s mother is diagnosed and subsequently dies of brain cancer during his senior year in high school, he begins to question everything about his life, ultimately ditching his girlfriend and taking off on a road trip to Florida with a friend when they find out Jack Kerouac is living there.

Do you have a publisher for your book yet? Who? Was the book agented?

Yes! Lacewing Books! The book was agented for a while and several editors wrote glowing responses, but didn’t buy it—possibly because there were no vampires or zombies in it.

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

I have no idea. I write so many drafts of novels that I can’t keep track of them. But I can say that October 29, 2005 is the first date in notebook I kept as I worked on the novel. If you looked through the notebook, you’d see that there were huge gaps in time between that date and the last one in January 27, 2012. LJK wasn’t the only thing I was working on during that period. But I kept going back to it, determined to make it work.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I hate this question. So I’ll just say that, for me, The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger) and A Separate Peace (John Knowles) set the standard for books that honestly portray life as an adolescent. If I could ever get anywhere close to the feel of these two books in my own novels about teenagers, I’d be really, really happy.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think there are two parts to inspiration. The first is the idea itself, the sudden, thrilling intuition of a story—the “Aha” moment. The second is way more complicated. You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if there’s not some piece of yourself in it, some question you need to answer, some issue you desperately need to resolve, the story you make of it will fall flat.

As I said, my friend gave me the idea that turned into Looking for Jack Kerouac. Sadly, though, it was my sister’s diagnosis of and eventual death from brain cancer and observing her teenage sons as we all cared and grieved for her that gave me the thread I needed to give the story substance and set it in motion.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

The Sixties. 1964 was a pivotal year—the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, the strife surrounding civil rights, the first stirrings of protest about Vietnam. Kerouac himself, who turns out to be nothing at all like the legendary character in On the Road. He’s a sad, wrecked man, who, nonetheless gives Paul exactly what he needs.

Click to buy the book:

Check out a few “Next Big Thing” posts by Indiana writers for more great stuff about the creative process.

Cathy Day
Bryan Furuness


Steven Pettinga said...

Come on Barb. They lobbed you a softball. It was your chance to hit it out of the park. Re: What book would you compare it to? Oh...The Bible.

Barbara Shoup said...

Dang. Didn't think of it::-)

Scott Atkinson said...

Flashbacks: "isn’t every good novel a mystery, after all?" and "...that gave me the thread I needed to give the story substance and set it in motion."

Both ideas I remember and continue to think of while writing from the 2010 workshop in Ann Arbor.

Looking forward to reading this.