Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Next Big Thing: My New Project

Thanks to Lindsey Crittenden for inviting me to participate in this blog chain.  I met Lindsey at the Glen Workshop; she is the author of The Water Will Hold You: A Skeptic Learns to Pray and The View From Below: Stories.  Lindsey lives in San Francisco and teaches creative writing at UC Berkeley Extension.

Although the title of this post promises a new project, I’d like to talk instead about my little-known but almost-award-winning novella.  It was a finalist in the 2010Miami University Press Novella Contest, and since only the first-place novella was published as part of the prize, I’m still looking for a home for mine.

What is the title of your book? 
When the Aged Are Reverently, Passionately Waiting, after a line in W.H. Auden’s poem, “Musee Des Beaux Arts”

Me at my old desk in Fairfax
Where did the idea come from for this book? 
A friend told me about a woman in an assisted living facility who had a distant relative move into the same facility.  The problem was, the woman had never been especially fond of this relative and wasn’t thrilled about her moving in.  I found myself fascinated with that idea of how you just get stuck with some people in your life, and that often it seems the people you want to avoid are the hardest to get away from.

What genre does your book fall under? 
Literary fiction

How long did it take to write the first draft? 
I intended to write a short story.  I’d received two hand-written rejections from The Missouri Review, and I wanted to follow up with something better than what I already had in my small arsenal of short stories (I’ve never been much for short forms).  Sixty pages later, I realized this really wasn’t a short story.  Still, the composition went surprisingly quickly, as I find it does when the subject really clicks with me.  I had the revised version finished within three months of starting.

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
When Louise’s sister-in-law Shirley moves in to the same assisted living facility, Louise broods over the plague that Shirley has been to her life, nursing a hatred born of believing Shirley had ruined herself with another man before marrying Louise’s late brother; this memory, however, is undermined by Shirley’s own contradiction and worsening dementia, and Louise finds herself left alone against a void of not-knowing and extinction. (Yes, I cheated with that semi-colon…)

What actors would you use for a movie rendition of your book?
I’m terrible with actors, but I can tell you that Julie Christie very convincingly and movingly portrays a woman with Alzheimers in Away from Her.  In my novella, Shirley is the character with dementia; I’m not sure who would play my leading lady, Louise.

Will it be self published or represented by an agency?
I hope to find a home for it in a lit mag.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I was working on a novel about love at the time.  I didn’t sit down intending to write a story about hate, but when I was finished, I saw that that was what I had on my hands.  Louise hates her sister-in-law to the very last, which, from what I know about long-standing grudges, seems truer to life than any sort of Hallmark realization that her sister-in-law is in fact empathetic and dear.  So in a way, maybe this was an inverse urge to that which was prompting me to write my novel on love.
            More specifically, many of the details of the assisted living setting and especially the nursing ward were taken from my own memories of my maternal grandparents’ tenure in such places. 

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The only book that readily comes to mind is Alice Munro’s Away from Her, about a woman and her husband dealing with her worsening Alzheimers.  
            The judge of the Miami University contest, David Schloss, called my novella’s premise Rashomon-like, by which he meant that the question as to Louise’s particular memory of a past event involving her sister-in-law—and the contradictory memory Shirley herself has, along with the reader’s own judgment—creates a scenario in which there are multiple narratives of the same event, rendering the truth of that event unknowable.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Although my first novel took years of labor and got me an agent, I feel this novella is, from a craft standpoint, the best thing I’ve written to date.  I used close third-person in a way I hadn’t before, veering into Louise’s own indirect discourse without ever losing narrative control.  It was one of the best experiences of my writing career so far to have Mr. Schloss, in post-contest correspondence, assure me that my work had been “understood, and appreciated.”

Please stay tuned for links to the next writers I’ve invited to take part in this blog chain….  First up is the talented Rion Scott, a fellow alumni of the George Mason MFA program:

Rion Amilcar Scott lives and writes in Beltsville, MD. More info on his work: http://forgottentunneltv.tumblr.com/WolfTickets.  See his blog post here.


  1. This was neat. I liked that even I learned something about your writing.

  2. Mazel tov, indeed! Exciting times for writing coming out of Witt alums!

  3. Thanks for tagging me. Looking forward to reading the novella sometime!

  4. I am woefully late (practically eons in cyber-time) in commenting. I'm glad to read this now. I hope the novella finds a lit-mag home in 2013. I'm intrigued by what you say about hate & by the possibilities of an unreliable narrator. Wishing you all best for 2013.