When my writing friend Candace White of aintgotenoughgravy blog fame asked if she could tag me for “The Next Big Thing” blog hop, of course I said yes. After all, 2012 was a good year for my writing life. Decent Pan of Cornbread, my spoken word and old-time music CD with Kelsey Wells, came out, and I had a bit of other poetry and nonfiction published in various places. Similarly, 2013 is off to a good start. I’ve been writing almost every day and am looking forward to a couple of publications this spring. So I must have a Next Big Thing to talk about, right?
In truth, my Next Big Thing – in the form of a completed novel – has been lurking on the lower shelf of the coffee table in my office for a few years now.
While many of you know me as a poet, my first major creative writing project was a novel. A few years ago I submitted the manuscript to about a dozen agents and one publisher over the course of a year or so. As I waited for the rejections to trickle in, I didn’t really want to get my head involved in another big writing project. So I started reading and writing more poetry.
Before long I found myself smitten with the genre, and then, lo and behold, the marvelous Bill Brown offered to “sit down and talk poetry” with me. In other words, he graciously and humbly offered to mentor me. A couple of years later at one of our meetings at the Nashville library cafe, Bill stunned me by suggesting I had enough poems for a book. One of the rules of my writing life is to trust and take action on my mentors’ advice, so I started putting a manuscript together. It wasn’t too much later that March Street Press published Heaven Was the Moon.
During this time, the Next Big Thing gathered dust on the shelf of my coffee table. I claimed that I was busy with my poetry, and of course I was, but the truth is, I had also run out of steam. The work of finding agents or publishers to query, the time waiting for a response, and the emotional game of interpreting a specific phrase in a rejection note (if I was lucky enough to get any specific feedback) all took their toll on me.
I don’t mean for you to think I felt defeated…it’s more like I lost my passion for the Cause, and it was so easy to find a New Cause in my poetry and performing with Kelsey. And so the Next Big Thing sits. Occasionally it gives a little whine and a sigh and wants to go out, but mostly it sits.
So here I am, post-CD and pretty far from having another poetry manuscript ready, and now seems a good time to decide: Should I get the novel out and try it again? Or should I accept it as an effort that built my experience, but isn’t destined for publication? Perhaps more significantly, can I be a poet and a novelist at this point in my life (while I also have a “real job,” a family life, and other passions to tend)? Or would I be better off just focusing on my poetry in the limited writing time I have?
It appears my Next Big Thing is simply figuring out what I want to do next with my writing life. But I’m glad to answer the following questions because it reminds me of what I’ve got invested this first “baby” of mine:
1. What is the working title of the book?
White Line to Graceville. For a few years it was Divining Rose, and it was a finalist in the novel-in-progress category of the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Competition under that title.
2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
Certain questions fascinate me. As a person with a fairly unique given name (especially for a woman), I’m intrigued with whether or how our names impact our lives. I’m interested in how the things we lack – or perceive we lack – in childhood stay with us for a long, long time. I’m amazed at how we’ll bend the rules and side-step into sacrificing what we have for something we don’t have. I’m forever perplexed at how love and attraction last – or don’t last, for some. As a Southerner, I delight in the quirkiness of our region and people, even as it constantly changes. These are some of the major ideas that I explore – and have a lot of fun with – in the book.
3. What genre does your book fall under?
4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I don’t exactly stay on top of the most current movies, so in my mind, Sally Field at age 35-40 would be the perfect fit for my main protagonist, Diana Rose Sudberry. Since Sally’s a bit older than that now, she might have to appear as Diana Rose’s mama, Wanda Fox.
In terms of currently appropriately-aged actors, I could go for Renee Zellweger or Kelli Williams for Diana Rose. As a fan of Suits, I could steal from their cast for my two leading men: Rick Hoffman as Diana Rose’s husband, carpet salesman Jerry Sudberry, and Patrick J. Adams as the younger, oh-so-tempting Bradley Peters.
5. What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
As I’m writing this, it’s late at night and I have my real job to do in the morning. Recalling Mark Twain’s famous quote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead,” I’ll give it to you in two sentences:
Diana Rose Sudberry has never been one to have strong evangelical tendencies, but when she meets Bradley Peters for the first time, the spirit takes hold. Tempted to tell the younger man he’s the best looking thing she’s seen in a long time, she instead does the only acceptable thing that comes to mind as a married woman with two kids – she invites him to church.
Well, that’s probably not even very complete in two sentences, but much temptation and soul-searching ensue.
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
While I started out looking for an agent, I’m not necessarily opposed to a small press or self-publishing.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I worked on the first draft for several years while also doing a bit of other writing on short stories and the occasional nonfiction piece. First draft plus revisions took a total of about five or six years.
8. What other stories would you compare this story to within your genre?
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My writing teacher and coach at the time, Darnell Arnoult, gave me much encouragement – first by telling me the short story I read in class one night was really a novel, then by offering specific feedback and ideas on both my developing manuscript and my identity as a writer.
10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It attempts to answer the age-old question, “Does a hardwood floor woman belong with a wall-to-wall carpet man?”
So let’s keep this Next Big Thing blog hop hopping! I’m tagging two writers:
Jennie Fields, a dear friend and the very talented author of several novels, most recently The Age of Desire, inspired by the life and letters of Edith Wharton. (read my review “Remarkably evocative, sensually luxurious, emotionally complex,” on Amazon). Jennie’s blog
Susan Cushman, a writer, artist, and writing conference director who’s a steady inspiration on her blog Pen & Palette, and whose work appears in Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, in skirt! Magazine, and many other publications. Susan’s Pen & Palette blog
And don’t forget to go back and check Candace’s aintgotenoughgravy blog for some mouth-watering writing about food, plus some sassy thoughts on Southern story and life.
If you’re a writer or have any sort of work you’re passionate about outside your “real job,” I applaud you. But I also ask: How do you balance it all, and are there particular things you do to focus your passion? I’d love your comments!
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