Writers are tagging writers in this new questionnaire meme that’s been circulating on the interwebs. It’s called “The Next Big Thing.” I’m not exactly keen on the title, but I’ve enjoyed answering the questions, and I thank writer extraordinaire Gary Barwin for tagging me. His responses are here.
And here are mine:
What are you working on?
I’m working on a couple of different book projects at the moment. My novel Watch How We Walk will be out in Fall of 2013, so I’ll be putting the finishing touches on that critter over the next while. Right now, my publisher and I are trying to finalize the cover design, and it’s been really interesting for me to see someone else’s visual interpretation of the text.
Meanwhile, I’m about halfway through a new manuscript of poetry.
What is your working title of your book?
The working title of the new poetry collection is Play Date with the Monsoon, but it’s very much a working title at the moment. Something better may reveal itself later. I’m not sure yet.
The novel has always had the same title, working and final: Watch How We Walk. I knew that from the first draft and never wavered from it. It’s lifted from an actual song in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ song book Singing and Accompanying Yourselves with Music in Your Hearts. The song “Watch How We Walk” is my main character Emily’s favourite song. She later becomes drawn to tightrope walking, so the title ties in there too, and after I finished a few drafts of the novel, I noticed that there is in fact a lot of walking in the book. Stuff happens while the characters walk; whether it’s in the city or on country roads or in the bush or on the high wire, action and epiphany happens when the feet are moving. That was not intentional, but I noticed that much later, and thought the title became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
I always find the short synopsis, the “elevator pitch” as it’s called in film and television, really difficult for the novel. It’s a 300 page fiction written by a poet, so the language – its sparseness and precision and image patterns – is really important, and that doesn’t come across in a description like: “A family of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ belief system starts to splinter and their relationships erode as Emily’s sister Lenora vanishes, and she begins to question the rigid rules within their unusual and isolationist religious lifestyle.”
For the poetry manuscript-in-progress, it’s even harder. How about this: Weird poems about fear for weird people without fear? Nah. That’s pretty cheesy. Paranoid poems infused with the absurd?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
With Watch How We Walk, the book grew out of a voice. Any time I sat down to write fiction, no matter what the story or idea, it ended up being Emily’s voice. For years. I couldn’t get rid of her, and it was clear quite quickly that hers wasn’t a short story, so I committed to giving her voice the full space of a novel.
While I know pretty clearly where the ideas in my novel came from, I definitely cannot say the same for my poetry. It comes from a different space, a different way of thinking and writing completely. I have no idea how a poem will be until I start writing it, and even then, I don’t know what it will ultimately be until it’s finished (finished-ish, what is finished?), or gone through a few drafts. I’m not one of those writers who composes a poem in their head while walking or driving or whatever, only to put it down on paper later. I don’t get that; it happens in the act of writing for me. My poems are irrational in the true sense of the term, and as such they rarely come from an “idea;” it’s more like the act of creating within a poetic form generates the “idea” itself.
What genre does your book fall under?
See “weird” and “fear” above. Is voice-driven poetic narrative for ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses a genre? I guess not, since very, very little has been written about Jehovah’s Witnesses in fiction. Let’s just settle on “literary,” for what it’s worth.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Oh I’m terrible about actors and their names. I really don’t know. I would defer to my friend and fellow writer Julia Tausch. She would have much better insight into this.
Young Emily – small, intense girl child with dark brown or purple eyes, able to sit unmoving for long periods of time, but can spring into motion quickly when necessary. Soft but clear voice and unnervingly steady gaze. Bruises easily.
Early 20s Emily – Muscular young woman with vast scar collection. Full of bravado, but deeply vulnerable.
Tyler – Pale young man, average height, wiry, loves cars, and secretly, leather. Edward Norton with a moustache and a bit of a mullet.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Watch How We Walk is being published by ECW Press. I’ve done some self-publishing, dig. and chapbooks, and the small press has always been essential to me as a writer and to the larger literary culture. I love and value the small run, hand-made indie publications, but for my novel, I’m happy to have ECW publish it.
No, I don’t have an agent.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Watch How We Walk took a long time about five or six years, and another year back and forth-ing with agents. Some writers say that the first novel is teaching yourself how to write a novel; my hope is that the next one won’t take as long.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I hope that if you enjoyed and appreciated Camilla Gibb’s Mouthing the Words and its young narrator and disturbing story, or Miriam Toews’ darkly funny A Complicated Kindness, you’ll like Watch How You Walk. Or if you like novels written by poets. Or you just always wanted to know what the deal is with Jehovah’s Witnesses…
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
As I mentioned earlier, Emily’s voice was one that wouldn’t go away – every time I tried to write fiction, whatever the story was supposed to be, it became hers. So as much as I wondered “Does the world need another weird loss-of-faith coming-of-age story?” I decided that yes, it does.
For my poetry, I am inspired by the process of writing itself, its sense of discovery and uncovering, and by other poets, like Anne Carson, W. S. Merwin, Adrienne Rich, and many others.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Regarding the novel, Jehovah’s Witnesses are tremendously isolationist. Their association with worldly people (non-Jehovah’s Witnesses) is very limited, and there hasn’t been a lot written from that point of view. Growing up, our family was deeply immersed, so while Emily’s story isn’t my own, I am very familiar with the lifestyle, codes, diction and details of that sect’s unique way of being. And it’s a story about betrayal. And there’s sex. And tightrope walking.
For my poetry, perhaps a love of language, a morbid curiosity, a craving for the new.