Hello, Next Big Thing Questions

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So! Mairead Case tagged me in the Next Big Thing interview thread, and thus: I am answering some questions about works in progress.

What is the working title of your book?

Reel is the short novel I’m currently trying to find a home for. The novel I’m working on writing doesn’t have a title as of yet — the folder it’s saved in is called Untitled New Duchess Project. I’m writing this in pieces right now, and there isn’t one overarching image that lends itself to a title. Or, at least, there isn’t yet. It’s still a ways from being in any condition that would merit showing it to people.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve got a novel sitting in a drawer called The Freestanding. Chances are pretty good you’ll never see it. There are things about it that I love, but there are also parts of it that flat-out don’t work — ultimately, I think I plotted it a little too heavily, and the end result was something that never quite felt…right to me. That said, the first third or so — about a guy gradually losing his shit and surrendering to a particular set of masochistic impulses — is work I’m still really happy with. (I keep thinking about whittling it down to a novella, but the brighter, shinier, newer work keeps taking precedence.)

Reel was written as a kind of reaction to that — a much more improvisational style of plotting, basically, to see where that led me. I’d had the scene that opens the book — two people meeting and immediately clashing at a Seattle punk show — stuck in my head for a while, and somewhere I have a folder full of false starts. A version closer to what eventually made it into to the novel appeared on Vol.1 Brooklyn a couple of years ago. There were a few other scenes that I knew I wanted — including one sequence where one of the two central characters takes a train from New York City to Charleston, South Carolina — but largely, I didn’t really know where the narrative was going, and that was liberating.

The New Duchess project is a little more organized, structurally speaking. I keep filling up Field Notes notebooks — I’m using the County Fair editions for this, because it’s a very New Jersey-centric project. I’m writing a lot more about punk and hardcore in this one. If you go even further back into the “books in my drawer” category, there’s a novella about the slow disintegration of a friendship set against a backdrop of VFW hall shows, hardcore, and the like. I realized that, aside from a few short stories, I hadn’t really returned to that world.

What genre does your book fall under?

They’re both literary fiction, I’d say. Reel has some pulp-y elements, but I wouldn’t call it anything other than a novel.

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

I’m not really sure. In the back of my head, I kept thinking of one of the main characters of Reel as looking somewhat like Kathy Foster of The Thermals

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Reel: The parallel lives of two people who meet at a Seattle club and immediately clash.

The New Duchess book: The rise and fall and reinvention of a trio of friends who came of age in a small New Jersey town’s punk scene.

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

With respect to Reel, I’d like to see it come out via a publisher, large or small. I am proud of it; will that pride mean that I’d self-publish if a publisher couldn’t be found? Maybe. But I’m not necessarily qualified as a designer, or a proofreader, or as an editor — and if I was going to set up that kind of structure for something, I’d want it to be for purposes beyond just getting one short novel out into the world.

In terms of the in-progress New Duchess book, I’m nowhere near done — it’s possible that, at day’s end, I’ll have a lot of loosely connected short stories as opposed to anything else.

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

Reel took…maybe a year and a half? Two years? There are a bunch of rough starts to it sitting in old folders on my hard drive. In one of them, I coined the term “brunched econo,” which I suspect I might go to some sort of punk rock hell for.

What other books would you compare this story to in its genre?

For Reel, I’d cite William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition and the novels of Javier Marias as being very influential — especially in their ability to blend proper thrills with heady concepts. (I can and have raved about Marias’s All Souls and Your Face Tomorrow to nearly anyone who’d listen.) I also think that, in retrospect, Rick Moody’s novella “The Carnival Tradition” inspired certain structural elements.

For the New Duchess book? I’m not totally sure. It’s a novel about music, but I’ve tried to steer clear of books that have touched on the northeastern hardcore scene — working on this book is why I haven’t yet read Eleanor Henderson’s Ten Thousand Saints, for instance. And I’m still not sure if some of the weird structural things I want to do with it will actually hold up as I start revising it.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve wanted to write about Seattle for ages, and the bulk of Reel is set there. (I hope I’ve made a reasonably accurate portrayal of the city.) But it also let me riff on a lot of things, from characters’ desire to travel to mixtapes to the pleasures and anxieties that come from wandering through a city.

And one of the main characters is, basically, hyperaware; were this novel actually a pulp detective story, his powers of observation would make him the hero, but since this is more or less the real world, he’s a recluse who gets drunk most of the time and occasionally starts fights at punk shows.

In terms of the New Duchess book, I missed writing about hardcore, and New Jersey. But I also wanted to write across the span of a number of years. Reel is very, very condensed in its timeframe, and while I think that worked for that particular story, I was also eager to show relationships play out over a longer period of time. (Working on the story “An Old Songwriter’s Trick” reminded me of how enjoyable this could be — and how effective.)

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

It’s got punk rock, bad tattoos, strange art, and mysterious antiques. Reel does, anyway. Admittedly, the book in progress has several of those things as well, and a lot more Jersey. And, as of now, a section mentioning both the Hartford Whalers and Coney Island High. Why not?

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