The Next Big Thing: Blog-TaggingPosted: January 22, 2013
Adriana Paramo, the author of the highly recommended Looking for Esperanza, asked me to participate in this blog-tagging thing called “The Next Big Thing.” All of the participating writers agree to answer a set of questions in common and then tag five other writers to put forward as the “Next Big Thing.” It’s a way to bring attention to writers in a friendly chain of tags. My answers to the questions follow.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Companion to an Untold Story is about the death by suicide of my friend Joel, who carried out a methodical plan to take his own life.
What genre does your book fall under? Literature, not journalism: creative nonfiction. Companion includes all kinds of documentation, but at heart it attempts to sort out what happened to Joel through an assaying of ideas, images, and feelings.
Where did the idea come from for the book? I’m not sure I can reconstruct when it occurred to me that I might be writing a book. As a writer I tend to process experience through writing and that’s what I began shortly after Joel’s death. I began writing numbered entries in a notebook. I felt compelled to do so. The entries weren’t always directly about Joel and yet they were about him, about the effects his death was having on my life. At some point when the entries grew into a sufficient number, I realized I had stumbled into a large project. It has never felt as if I decided to write this book.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? The structure of Companion is not the form I began with. In the beginning I wrote a version that was closer to a biography, and tried to provide a more exhaustive account of my friend’s life and death. I discovered how many things I didn’t know about him, how many gaps there were between the man I thought I knew and the man he came to be. It became clear that in part my subject was how the mysterious resides within the familiar. His suicide exposed that central fact. I also came to see that I had left myself out of the story. In the final version I strive to be a companion to my friend’s story and the theme of companionship runs through the book.
Who or what inspired you to write this book? In part, I wanted to remember my friend. Suicide tends to write over the life lived, to erase it. Finally what one becomes is a suicide. Joel attempted to destroy much of the record of his life. My book remembers him. “Memory is, achingly the only relation we can have with the dead,” said Susan Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others, and so I remember.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Companion to an Untold Story was selected as the winner of the AWP Prize in Creative Nonfiction by Susan Orlean. The book came out September, 2012, from The University of Georgia Press.
What other works would you compare this book to within your genre? John Vernon’s A Book of Reasons, a memoir about the death of the author’s reclusive brother. Paul Auster’s The Invention of Solitude, D.J. Waldie’s Holy Land; A Suburban Memoir, and Anne Carson’s Nox.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? I can’t say what actors I’d choose. I can strongly say I see Terence Malick as the director.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? In the current publishing scene, authors have taken on the bulk of responsibility in promoting their books. In the list of recommended activities the publicist from The University of Georgia Press sent me I was most intrigued by the idea of making a trailer to accompany my book. Instead of posting lots of updates about my book, the trailer offered me the opportunity to make something with its own discrete artistic merits which might also help build interest in my book. Last summer I worked with Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai, my colleague in the Department of English at Michigan State University, to make a trailer for Companion that I am proud of. I also wrote ten blog entries about the process, which was entirely new to me, called The Making of a Trailer.
I am supposed to tag five writers who I think fit the phrase “The Next Big Thing.” And here I have to admit some difficulties I’ve run into trying to fulfill the instructions. I had no trouble thinking of five writers I’d like to highlight. However, I discovered that many of the writers were swamped with more work than they could handle at the beginning of a new semester and couldn’t take on anything else. I fit that profile as well. And some writers didn’t have blogs. Imagine. And so they couldn’t participate. I am tagging three wonderful writers whose books I am awaiting to read with great anticipation.
Nicole Walker is the author of the forthcoming Quench Your Thirst with Salt.
Rae Paris is the author of the young adult novel titled You, excerpts of which were finalists for the Summer Literary Seminars and Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards.
Barrie Jean Borich is the author of the forthcoming Body Geographic.