The Next Big Thing: what I’m working on

One whole month ago—honestly, we’re probably closing in on six weeks at this point—my friend (and talented novelist and poet) Lisa Pasold tagged me in the literary-blog-chain-letter called “The Next Big Thing.” The premise is simple: a bunch of writers all answer the same questions about their most recent project. Though I don’t go in for many internet trends, I thought it might be a good exercise to take a big-picture look at this project, so I happily agreed to do it.

But I didn’t do it. I don’t know why exactly, but every time I looked over the questions, I felt myself wither under their expectant gaze. They wanted answers. I wasn’t sure I had any, especially after reading the articulate musings of my colleagues around the web. I wanted to read all of their books. But I’d spent the previous two weeks feeling slightly nauseous every time I opened my own project—how (or better yet why) would I convince someone to read something that was making my own stomach turn? So, in the grand tradition of writers everywhere, I postponed.

DSC_0332

A retreating glacier. Wait for it…it’s relevant.

Then last week something unexpected happened: a bunch of strangers started reading this blog. When I began blogging a year and a half ago, my only goal was to establish a small but public home for the book I’ve been working on. The surprising side-effect of keeping a blog was that my friends and colleagues began asking me about my writing. Their interest and curiosity was motivating, reminding me that the very solitary act of writing also has some community-minded goals. I write to understand something about the world, but also to connect with readers—both friends and strangers.

Until last Monday, most of my readers were friends, and, when I got an e-mail from WordPress saying they were “Fresh-Pressing” my blog post and that I should “get ready to welcome some new readers,” I didn’t take it too seriously. (When it comes to internet-ing, I tend to know only what I need to to get by.) So I was pretty shocked to discover, when I logged on a few hours later, that hundreds of people had visited my blog, and they were reading and commenting and subscribing. (!) It’s a bit strange and a lot exciting to see your audience quadruple over just a few hours. And while I’m with it enough to know that, in the wide world of blogging, these numbers are actually quite modest, I’m f-ing thrilled. I am.

The comments are thoughtful and kind. And the interest seems genuine. Isn’t the internet supposed to be more hostile and embittered than this? Reading the comments, I sometimes find I don’t always know how to respond in a way that seems genuine rather than hollow. I don’t know how to convey warmth I feel toward a stranger who is represented only by a few pixels and a few words. But I’ll say it again here. Thank you, good friends and total strangers, for making my writing world just a little bit bigger. If there was ever a time to buck up and answer a few questions, this is probably it. So here goes:

What is the working title of the book?

This is a thing I should have. I don’t. I have a blog called “The Love Story Project.” According to all-knowing Google, I’m not even the only one with this project title. (Though the other one looks very different and quite interesting.) I promise I’ll have a title, one day.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I always knew I would write a book about love. As far as subjects go, love has permeated almost everything I’ve ever written, whether I’ve intended it to or not. There are lots of good reasons not to write about love, the most significant being that it’s easily dismissed as girly or sentimental. But, I don’t see any way around it.

I knew I was writing this book about love about two weeks after my parents told me they were splitting up. I was twenty-six, and devastated. Naturally divorce is hard any family, but it rattled us—it rattled me—to the core. My parents seemed as surprised by their decision as the rest of us. A few months later my dad and I took a cruise to Alaska and toured melting glaciers. That’s what the end of their marriage felt like to me: watching something pristine and essential become irretrievably lost. Something that was supposed exist—according to all laws of nature and the universe—suddenly didn’t anymore. I began to think about why their love story mattered so much to me, and, more broadly, about the power of love stories in general, and the pressure they put on my own unraveling relationship. A few years later, I started this book.

What genre does your book fall under?

Memoir. Want to know more? See here.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? 

I hate this question. Hate is a strong word, I know. But, in a book about real people in the real world, actors are a strange premise. Sure, memoirs become movies, but imagining such a scenario doesn’t seem very helpful for me or readers.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

How about a question:

What is it about a love story that captures us and what happens when the stories we build our lives around start to break down?

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

I’m still writing. (Can you see why these questions intimidated me?) I wrote two-thirds of a draft over about two-and-a-half years. I’m now contemplating either finishing or starting over. I don’t know which strategy is the best one. This is the very difficult thing about writing a book for the first time. It feels like walking through a corn maze on a cloudy night wearing a blindfold…for years.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My parents, who have always been very good models for how to love someone. And the man I loved for the entirety of my twenties, whom I loved very hard but not very well. Or, more accurately, I was inspired by the puzzle of loving him. And by that very unpleasant question about how and why we stop loving someone.

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16 thoughts on “The Next Big Thing: what I’m working on

  1. maybe it’s just me but i thought your replies in the FP’d post were well considered, warm and very honest, i enjoyed our conversation. and yes the interwebs can be quite hostile, i began my writing journey at such a place. on the plus side there was instant reaction and very long comment threads, most of them very encouraging and often educational. the downside was the judgement and hostility, that’s why i came to WordPress. the tradeoff seemed worthwhile.

    i like the ‘melting glacier’ metaphor very much, though a product of a divorce at a much younger age (my parent’s relationship was more like a crusty pile of snow!) it was no less traumatic. divorce is a shared family trauma no matter what age we are, we are still their children and they will always be our parents.

    the dashed hopes and expectations, parental modeling, what we hopefully learn and apply to our present and future relatonships, all rich and fertile material for writing. i look forward to your progress.

    • I agree–the comments were absolutely well-considered and warm! I don’t know much about different blogging platforms, but this particular one has been positive and welcoming. I’m glad to hear your experience has been the same.

  2. I’m one of the freshly pressed readers and gratefully so. Great, intelligent, and intrinsic writing- I especially loved your answer comparing your parents divorce to a melting glacier. Startling, but beautiful.

    • Thank you. When I wrote about the glaciers, I hesitated, thinking it might not be an appropriate comparison as because divorce is so small, so human and inconsequential compared to these disappearing monoliths. Their loss matters so much more than the loss of one relationship, or even of many. And yet, it felt that big at the time. It felt catastrophic, and I’m interested in that warped sense of scale. I wonder if there’s a way to reverse our sense of scale and get people more invested in catastrophes with greater scope than our tiny lives.

      • Wow, interesting. I see it completely opposite. Like there is nothing more majestic or palpable that love, shared or dissolved. I think the glacier scratches the surface of what I would assume your parents shared, and what it evolved over time. I thought it was an absolutely exquisite comparison. It reminds me of the sigur ros song, varuo. Did you share it with either of them-if so, what did they think?

        • I don’t share my writing with my parents very often. They know I write regularly and they know what I write about, but I leave it up to them to seek it out. They are incredibly private people, and I try to honor it as much as possible by leaving a bit of distance between my work and their daily lives. Maybe this will change one day, I’m not sure.

  3. Im one of your new readers, and I thought you very much deserved to be freshly pressed. Writing sometimes seems more about the journey of writing rather than the first act of putting words down. Writing, rewriting, major edit, minor edit, backburner. I hope you stick with your project.

    • Thanks, bdh63. I think I will stick with it, as I’m too far in to back out now. And I don’t think I’d know what to do with myself without this big thing to return to each week.

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