I was tagged by Charles Tan to take part in The Next Big Thing meme, which occurs every Friday, in which writers talk about their next book project. It’s an interesting meme, though the questions seem more pointed toward novels than any other kind of book, so I’ve tweaked some of the questions to better answer them for my next book, which is a full length short story collection. Some of the writers I’ve tagged at the end of the post for next week write poetry, not short stories or novels, so I hope they feel free to tweak this meme toward their own ends too!
So here’s my next big thing:
What is the working title of your next book?
I have something better than a working title for my next book. I have an actual title! It’s a full-length collection of stories, not a novel, though this meme seems made for novelists. I’m going to tweak the questions liberally to make them more open-ended for writers of various kinds of books, not just novels.
The collection’s title is: Before and Afterlives
Where did the idea come from for the book?
A really novel-oriented question again, though there are short story collections that ARE conceived of first as a concept, and then the stories are written to fit that concept. Angela Carter’s brilliant collection of rewritten fairy tales, for instance, The Bloody Chamber, was written with the concept in mind.
But there are also collections that come together in different ways. Some by theme, some by voice, some by a shared setting between the stories. In my case, the stories in Before and Afterlives were written over a period of decade, the first decade of my career as a writer, and though they were not written with a specific theme or style in mind, after I had written a good number of them, I noticed that I had been working with what must have been unconscious obsessions. Hauntings, mainly. Sometimes ghosts, sometimes imaginary friends, sometimes children who have vanished but continue to exist. Though the other previously unconscious obsession I had in writing these stories was the concept of turning points—the hinges in our lives where suddenly a door opens, and we walk through into a life quite different from the one we’d been living.
When both of these obsessions were realized, the collection was easy to put together, and the title for it came after I understood how they were all bound together by the themes of hauntings and turning points. Before and Afterlives was conceived in a process of discovery, which is my usual mode of operation.
I like to surprise myself.
What genre does your book fall under?
I might have already answered this in the description of how I conceived of the collection, but briefly: it’s a mixed genre collection. In this book you will find supernatural tales, dark fantasies, a few forays into science fiction, and contemporary fantasies (I prefer using the term contemporary fantasy to urban fantasy because some of my stories take place in urban settings, and others take place in rural settings. Occasionally I write from suburban settings as well. Urban fantasy is just too limiting a term, I think.)
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Since there are 17 stories in this collection, with many characters in them. I can’t possibly answer this question without going a little crazy, I think, so I’m going to pass on this one.
I’ll say this, I guess: If I were to pick out someone to play the part of Rose in the first story, “What We Know About the Lost Families of — House,” it would be Lana Del Rey.
Yes, Lana Del Rey. The story is about a young woman who falls in love with a house haunted by the history of the families that have lived in it over a hundred years, all of whom came to terrible ends. As long as Lana would act as troubled and unnerved as she does in many of the videos for her music, she’d be a great Rose.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Again, very easy to synopsize a novel, but a collection of stories is a different beast. How about a one sentence description from my publisher about the book:
These are tales of relationships with unearthly domesticity and eeriness: a woman falls in love with a haunted house; a beached mermaid is substituted for a disappeared daughter; the imaginary friend of a murdered young woman stalks the streets of her small town; a mother’s teenage son is afflicted with a disease that causes him to vanish; a father exploits his daughter’s talent for calling ghosts to her; and a wife leaves her husband and children to fulfill her obligations in the world from which she escaped.
Is it cheating that he used semi-colons? Nope. He just knows how to use semi-colons.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
This is kind of an odd question, as these two things are separate things. The book will NOT be self-published. I DO have an agent, though an agent is different from a publisher. They sell your books to publishers. The book will be published by Lethe Press.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Another novel-oriented question. Since these stories were written over a period of slightly over ten years, I have to say it took about 11 years to complete the draft of this manuscript. How’s that for a long-term project?
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
This is a good question. The books I would compare it to would be other mixed genre collections of speculative fiction like Joe Hill’s Twentieth Century Ghosts, or Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners. Jeffrey Ford’s collection Crackpot Palace. M. Rickert’s Holiday. Jonathan Lethem’s collection from an early part of his writing career, The Wall of the Eye, the Wall of the Sky. Theodora Goss’ collection, In the Forest of Forgetting.
You should read all of those collections, by the way.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Each of the stories has their own inspiration, which is difficult to list here, but I’ll say I’m inspired by people in my life who have marked me in some way, family and friends and people I’ve been in love with.
I’m inspired by places where I’ve lived or where I’ve spent a significant amount of time, too. In this collection, some of those places are the beach towns of southern California, the small rural town where I grew up, Kinsman, Ohio. The nearby post-industrial cities of Warren and Youngstown, Ohio. Pittsburgh. San Francisco. The Allegheny Mountains.
And I’m also inspired by other writers like the ones whose collections I’ve compared this one to. Along with them, writers like Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter, Graham Joyce, Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin (oh how I am inspired by Ursula K. Le Guin!). Jonathan Carroll. Carol Emshwiller.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Many of the stories inside it have won or been finalists for awards like The Nebula Award, The James Tiptree Jr. Award, the Spectrum Award, and have been reprinted in a variety of Year’s Best anthologies, like those edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror), Jonathan Strahan (The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year), Steve Berman (Wilde Stories) and Stephen Jones (The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror).
So in essence, a lot of people have thought many of these stories were something people should read. I hope you do read the book when it comes out on March 18, 2013. And I hope you agree.
And in the tradition of tagging other writers for this meme: