The Next-Best-Thing

The following is my piece of the next-big-thing interview several writers have been participating in. Writers are using their blogs to talk about their current projects, then linking to other writers’ blogs, who do the same.

Thanks to members of the Toronto Women Writers’ Salon, who first brought this awesome project to my attention.

A special thanks to Terri Favro, who tagged me, and whose novel, The Proxy Bride, was recently published by Quattro Books.

Here’s what I’m working on now:

What is the working title of your book?

Staying in the Family, a short story collection.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

This book has been in development for years. One story, “Luck,” was published in The Fertile Source in 2010. Another story, “In the Afternoon,” was published by Found Press last summer.

 What genre does your book fall under?

Some might call it domestic fiction. Because the book includes stories with non-domestic settings (a mountaineering story I’m working on now takes place on Mt. Everest), I call it domestic-adventure fiction!

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

“In the Afternoon” is thematically linked to Eric Rohmer’s movie L’Amour L’Après-midi. If my movie were filmed in the 1960s, I would pick Zouzou, who stars as Chloé in the movie, to play Jackie. For a contemporary version, I’d love to have Audrey Tautou play Jackie. For “Luck,” I’d pick a young Debra Winger, as she looked in Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Staying in the Family explores the theme of longing—whether sexual desire, envy, or a desire to escape one’s circumstances—and what gets sacrificed when you get what you want.

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

Represented by an agency, I hope. I’m not yet an established author, so I don’t have a good sense of what to look for in an agent. However, I’m going to aim high! I would love to be represented by agents who work with some of my favourite canadian authors, including the Bukowski Agency (Annabel Lyon) or Anne McDermid (Angie Abdou, Lisa Moore, Michael Winter).

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

I’ve been working on these stories for seven years! During this time I was fairly busy raising two young children. Since they started school this fall, I’ve been able to write more quickly than in the past. I intend to finish the book by 2013.

 What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Sarah Selecky once compared my work to Richard Ford, which is a lovely and generous compliment. I am always re-reading Ford, particularly his collection, A Multitude of Sins. Another mentor is Katherine Mansfield. I also love 19th century French authors such as Alphonse Daudet, who writes character-driven stories. Sometimes I think my work is anachronistic!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Films, experiences, conversations overheard. Mostly my stories start with an image or a snippet of dialogue. In Rohmer’s L’Amour L’Après-midi, the protagonist says he hates afternoons, (he makes love in the afternoon to stave off a sense of despair) and his comment resonated with me. I’m a morning person: afternoons have always depressed me. In response to Rohmer’s film, I wrote “In the Afternoon.” My story “Luck” was inspired by my travels in Ethiopia, where I witnessed street children experiencing terrible poverty.

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

Here’s an excerpt from the collection, a story-in-progress called “Starting Somewhere”:

 My cabin had been the first of ten cabins, up a hill like a series of brown steps. Each cabin housed ten campers and two counsellors. They had been re-finished, and you could smell the addictive smell of wood stain. The screen doors were rickety and their hinges squeaked.  None of them shut properly: you had to pull hard to get the latch to click.

Each evening, Jen, my co-counsellor, and I sat on the cabin steps, and Darren joined us. He sprawled at our feet, against the bottom step, and complained.

“Suze showed me a naked chick,” he said, once. He was grinning, but his face was red.

“A chick?” I asked.

“You know what I mean.”

“I was giving a camper a shower,” I said, “and he walked in.”

“You could have warned me,” said Darren.

The camper, Betty Bernowski, was in her fifties. Her buttocks overflowed on the backs of her thighs. Her forearms were pockmarked with insect bite scars. Darren had knocked on the washroom door. I told him to walk in, and he did. “Jesus,” he said, and tripped on the way out.

“What,” I said loudly. “Can’t handle it?”

Playing Darren was fun. He was fifteen, a virgin, and he liked me. Plus I’d had a bad time with the girls at school. I’d slept with most of eleventh grade guys but had no real girlfriends. Teasing Darren made me feel a whole lot better.

“And thanks for the little present,” Darren said. Betty had soiled herself on the bench outside the dining room, and I’d left the mess for Darren.

“That’s your job,” I said, though it came out a little shaky.

“Is seeing someone naked wrong?” Jen said. “Fundamentally, I mean.” It always gave me a jolt, seeing someone with purple hair consider things seriously.

“Wouldn’t you care?” Darren said.

“No,” Jen said. She tugged at her tank top and made as if to flash him.

“Oh lord,” said Darren.

I could do it, I thought. I could pretend that my body means nothing more than a collection of skin cells, that my nipples are just a tagged on, dark conglomeration.

“Society has to start somewhere,” Jen said.

Thanks for reading! Now, over to some of my colleagues, some amazing writers. I hope you visit their blogs too.

Julia Zarankin

Sarah Sheard

Phil Dwyer

Margaret Webb


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