Author of the memoir, Thinking Up a Hurricane, Martinique Stilwell, pass on The Next Big Thing baton to several in a women writers listserv we share. This interlinked blog invites writers to answer questions about their latest book or next big thing:
What is your working title of your book?
The Pictures We’ll Never Print
Where did the idea come from for the book?
As a book of poems, the idea for the book was discovered as I put together my manuscript for my MFA. I was shocked to realize had over 50 poems from my time in the program and before, mostly about my parents’ illnesses and deaths. I found that when arranged in certain ways, I had been writing about excavating the questions I never got questions to about my personal history and about figuring out who I am without the resistance of parents to push back against or to be that loving/nagging voice in your ear. My mentor at the time, Doug Kearney, was key in teaching me how to create various stories through the sequencing of the poems.
I guess the idea for the poems came out of my grieving. I started the MFA a year after my mother died.
What genre does your book fall under?
Poetry. Confessional, lyrical, some are formal and others are experimental. It is a representation of the working out of identity.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
My mother would be played by Shirley MacLaine, because my loved her and would want that. My father by Javier Bardem, mainly so I could get a chance to meet him, but really, he, more than any other actor, can morph himself into anyone. The I of the book would be portrayed by Holly Hunter because she could bring the right mix of strength and vulnerability.
Perhaps this will be the first poetry book made into a movie. Has that been done?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
An orphaned 1st generation Hungarian-American sifts through the legacies of grief and illness to redefine herself.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I am seeking a publisher by submitting to various poetry book contests and small presses.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I was just updating my acknowledgements page and the first poem from the manuscript to be published was three years ago. I started many of the poems, or other versions of them, as my mother was dying and that was six years ago this weekend.
I’ve spent the last two summers in major revisions. I really love revising, so likely, if I don’t find a publisher this summer, it may once again become a different story. Just when I think I got it done, I surprise myself by writing a new poem or expanding poems or cutting poems.
But this asked about the first draft. It is such its own living organism, I don’t know when the first draft came together. Three years sounds about right. Plus three years of revising.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
It feels like hubris to compare my work to the poets I so admire. Moreover, the influences are so varied and subtle, it is difficult to untangle them. Poets I turned to in order to learn how to write about grief and hope include Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds, Marie Howe (What the Living Do), and Terry Blackhawk (The Dropped Hand). I also read a lot of fiction that inspired me to try to get to the root of experience and emotion, such as The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano and Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I started writing, just writing not this book necessarily, just before my mother died. I wrote because I did not know what else to do and realized that the passion and the creative outlet I had been seeking much of my life is writing, specifically writing poetry. This manuscript is a sort of artifact of processing loss (not just my mother’s death, but many losses left undigested) and falling in love, in this case, with writing.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Though many of the poems have been revised extensively, I think the collection of poems from such a vast period of my writing life reflects the arc of the book, as much as a poetry book might have an arc. While there are themes and imagery that weaves the poems into a book, the forms and styles are quite varied. It will either please or frustrate formalist and free-verse poets equally. Hopefully it will open the readers’ own unhealed place of mourning and let them know that healing it is possible, though not easy. Not that I have special insight into this realm of experience, but, like in a yoga class where a teacher asks you to consider a pose in a new way or from a new perspective and suddenly this pose you thought you knew and had mastered opens up in a new way, at once becoming more difficult and more liberating.
This post is something like tag or a relay race and probably has some special internet name I don’t know about (today I learned that FML means more than fix my lighthouse). Read about the Next Big Thing for these talented writers: Khadija Anderson and Heather Luby.