The Next Big Thing

Welcome to the The Next Big Thing!  Some people call it a “blog chain, and some folks call it a “blog hop.” Authors around the world take turns answering ten questions about their work, then pass the questions on….

March 4, 2013: This week it is the turn of Gabrielle Burton, author of Impatient with Desire and Searching for Tamsen Donner (two books I loved). Burton answers ten questions about her next Big Thing, Don’t Sit Down Yet. After reading her answers, I cannot wait to read the new book. And I won’t sit down!

What is the working title of your book? Don’t Sit Down Yet: What We Talk About When We’re Not Talking About the Children

Where did the idea come from for the book? When I read writer and critic Maureen Corrigan’s book, Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books, I was fascinated―actually gobsmacked–by her genre of “female extreme-adventure tales,” i.e. stories of women having adventures while maintaining a covert guise of socially acceptable behavior for females. I realized that her “veiled narrative” thesis explained and clarified things I had done in my life, and it fit a book I was writing: a series of pieces about a year I’d spent at age 21 in Barbados WI as a “lay missionary,” and a six month trip backpacking around the world with my husband and five daughters. Both experiences were “female extreme adventures,” one taken under the mantle of missionary, the other under the mantle of wife/mother. I was also writing short pieces about traversing aging and old age, and I thought, Well, that’ll be the third section of the book. Though not confined to women, getting old is an adventure, and because of the Women’s Movement, I can do it my own way–whatever that might turn out to be. And then, since I’ve been married 50 years, my husband snuck into it. My friend, the playwright, Kathleen Betsko, read an early draft and said, Do the aging part in a book of its own. Oh, I don’t have enough material, I said. But I eventually gave it a shot, and my first draft was 300 plus pages.

What genre does your book fall under? Memoir.

Which actors would you choose to play you in a movie rendition?
 I want Meryl Streep to play the lead in every book I’ve written, especially the pioneer heroine, Tamsen Donner.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 
Can I have a couple of sentences, okay three?
1. One day you open the door and get a big surprise: Old, standing there grinning at you with her yellow teeth.
2. To quote a line from Time of Day by Ron Carlson: “We’d better face it: though we love our coffee, it isn’t morning around here anymore.”
3. Old Guy and me: How does a marriage last 50 years? (Hint: Don’t discount luck.)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
 I hope that my terrific agent, Lisa Bankoff of ICM, will be able to sell it. But if the fates decree, I’ll certainly explore the exciting, if daunting, idea of e publishing.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
 About a year. But I’m not at the end of the tunnel, though there are occasional glimmers. I have a lot of pages, but the book hasn’t jelled yet.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
 I wish I could think of one, then I could go read it and say, Hey, that’s the way you deal with all this material, stories, riffs, opinions, etc. It’s not memoir in the sense of: I was born at an early age… The form I’m still in the process of discovering is unorthodox. What I know at this point is that it’s not linear, but moves around in time and place. Some of the stories (as true as I can remember) are in fiction form, some short, some long. There are several poems by poets I admire, and a haiku I wrote. I tell myself several times a week that if I just keep writing, one day this book shall reveal itself.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
 We’re all interested in things we’re dealing with or struggling with. A lot of books about aging are dreadful and discouraging―How You Die!–or falsely chipper, It Sure Beats The Alternative! I feel a little about those books, and the Take your vitamins! books, the way I felt when I was a young trapped housewife: There has to be more than this. Don’t Sit Down Yet is about two things, aging and a long marriage, 50 years. By this point, so many of Roger’s and my days and experiences are inextricably mingled–you might say wedded–warp, woof, who can say? And though we’re taking this particular extreme-adventure of old age separately, we’re also taking it together.

Old age is often trivialized. About once a week, somebody says, “You and Roger are so cute!” Do I say, “Babies are cute, kittens are cute, teddy bears are cute, Thank you, that’s why we lived, loved, grieved, learned a combined total of 157 years always hoping, dreaming, striving toward the goal of someday being cute.” No, I don’t. They don’t mean harm, don’t know they’re patronizing. I stand as straight as I can, muster all my dignity, and give them a little grimacy smile, which probably just makes me look delightfully perky.

Similarly, long marriage is often falsely glorified in a shallowly sentimental way―Same refrain: “You guys are so cute”―or regarded (as many old people are) as a fossil or a saint’s relic.

I know some reasons, and have more guesses, why our marriage has lasted 50 years, but I know positively it’s not because we were so cute. (Because there have been a lot of times in the last 50 years no one, not even ourselves, thought we were cute.)

I’m not saying old age is so great you’ll wish you had it when you were younger, I’m saying we’re lucky to be living in a time when old age may be a dead end, but it’s not a closed book. If we can expand our imaginations to really see old people and our possibilities, and if we can learn to love ourselves, sag and all, we can have a different reality of aging, which’ll keep evolving as we improve our eyesight.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? Where the title came from: for Roger’s 80th birthday, we went to Africa on a yoga/safari/work at an orphanage adventure. On the safari, all the animals were beautiful in their natural environment, but the elephants were heart-stirringly magnificent, the grandest land animals on Earth.

“Adults can weigh seven and a half tons and live past 70 years old,” our safari guide said.

“After 35 years the adult elephant is so large,” he added casually, “it can no longer sit down because it could never get its massive bulk up again.”

He followed that amazing statement with this dazzling one.
“When it’s going to die, it sits down.”

You never really know with guides, but if such a splendid fact weren’t true, it should have been.

Roger wasn’t feeling well and about every fifteen minutes I felt impelled to say, “Don’t sit down, Roger!”


Three authors tagged to answer the ten questions of The Next Big Thing over the next few weeks:

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning author and poet, who writes about women and the immigrant experience, people caught between two worlds. Her books have been translated into 29 languages, and two novels, The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart, have been made into films. Her most recent novel is Oleander Girl. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Houston.

Diane Glancy is a prize-winning author, poet, and playwright of Cherokee and English/German descent. Much of her work is based on Native American life and how traditional values and ways of life interact with those of modern America. “I write with a a split voice,” she says about her stance in between two cultures. Her works include Pushing the Bear: A Novel of the Trail of Tears, and Stone Heart: A Novel of Sacajawea. She teaches drama and poetry at Azusa Pacific University.

M.G. Lord is a cultural critic and investigative journalist. She is the author of the widely praised books Astro Turf: The Private Life of Rocket Science, a family memoir about Cold War aerospace culture, and Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll. Her latest book is The Accidental Feminist: How Elizabeth Taylor Raised Our Consciousness and We Were Too Distracted by Her Beauty to Notice. For 12 years, she was a syndicated political cartoonist and columnist based at Newsday. She teaches in the Master of Professional Writing Program at University of Southern California.

February 13, 2013: This week it is the turn of Rachel Howzell Hall to answer ten questions posed to writers around the world.

What is the working title of your book?
Land of Shadows

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Dual identity has always fascinated me. As a woman and as an African-American, I am required in many ways to be different people. And as a reader, the stories I enjoy most revolve around ‘self’ and others’ perceptions. Combine this with my favorite city in the world, Los Angeles. L.A. is the place where non-natives come to remake themselves. It’s also a place where natives (like me) rejoice in our city’s big-city-is-really-a-small-townness which non-natives will never understand. Los Angeles is a town of shadows, a town inhabited by shadows.

What genre does your book fall under?

Which actors would you choose to play you in a movie rendition?
For the role of Detective Elouise Norton, an actress who can take up a room, sexy, no-nonsense. Women like Aisha Tyler or Taraji Henson, Sanaa Lathan or Regina King. For Lou’s partner Colin Taggert, a cocky, rugged-looking guy like Daniel Craig or… or… sorry, got lost there with Daniel Craig.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Detective Lou Norton investigates the murder of young woman found hanging in a closet of a South Los Angeles condominium — a condo owned by Napoleon Crase, a self-made millionaire . . . and the man who may have murdered Lou’s sister thirty years ago.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m represented by awesome agent Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The ugly first draft took six months — feels like it took longer!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
That’s a hard one, really — there aren’t many contemporary mysteries starring black lady-cops in Los Angeles. Paula L.Woods and her Charlotte Justice serials come the closest.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I decided to write this particular novel when then-Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks’ granddaughter was killed years ago in a gang-related shooting. Many people wondered, why was a good girl, whose grandfather was the chief of police, hanging around gang-bangers? Really: what is a ‘good girl’? And who ‘deserves’ to die and who doesn’t? Anyway, the life of young women is provocative and filled with secrets. And sometimes, those secrets can get you killed. Ka-POW: Land of Shadows.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Like all of my stories, this is an L.A. story — one you don’t see much on television or in the movies. A story about regular people doing brave or stupid or random things but featuring a black female homicide detective. You don’t get to read many stories like that!

January 28, 2013: This week it is Nina’s turn, taking up the torch passed by Maura Lynch.

What is the working title of your book?
Mail Bonding: Letters Between a Mother and Son. The final title? NO IDEA!

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Twenty years ago, I discovered a trunk of letters in the backyard of an old house I had just bought with my husband. The trunk was filled with hundreds of letters written by a boy to his mother from when he was about four years old, through his four years at Princeton from 1908 – 1912, and up until the death of his mother in 1937. I’ve always loved reading letters, and the discovery set me on a quest of understanding the unique qualities of letters that make them such forces for connection and remembrance.

What genre does your book fall under?

Which actors would you choose to play you in a movie rendition?
Robin Wright. Princess Bride to Enlightened, she can do it all.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
With one child off at college, and three more to go, joining their brother in places near or far but not home with me, I need to understand why a letter matters so much.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My book is coming out from Simon & Schuster in Fall 2013. I am represented by the wonderful Esther Newberg of ICM, to whom I owe so much. Esther is a huge believer in the power of letter writing and supported my project from the get-go.

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

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Many other books have explored the phenomenon of letters but mine is the first which tries to distill the exact qualities that make letters so special.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
My family — the letters they have written to me, and the ones I wait for.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
There are so many fascinating stories to be found in old letters, along with great life advice. This, from a letter written by Pliny the Younger, in which he counsels a friend on how to live a long life: by following a regular schedule of long walks four times a day (and at least once a day in the nude, “if there happens to be no wind”), interspersed with reading and writing, riding out in a chariot, composing poetry, being read to while lounging on a couch, and enjoying “elegant yet frugal repast … served up in pure and antique plate.” Most wonderful of all, Pliny advises that every day, we should spend “a considerable time [playing] at tennis.”

A perfect prescription for a good life and I would add in: Write lots of letters!

And here are the five authors I’ve tagged to answer the ten questions over the next few weeks:

Gabrielle Burton is the prizewinning author of the novel Heartbreak Hotel and Impatient with Desire: the Lost Journal of Tamsen Donner; and of the nonfiction books, I’m Running Away From Home But I’m Not Allowed To Cross the Street, and Searching for Tamsen Donner. She has a MFA in Screenwriting from American Film Institute, and her movie, Manna from Heaven, (MGM), was produced by her daughters’ production company, Five Sisters Productions. For more information visit her website,

Mark Chisnell‘s books include the Kindle chart-topping thrillers – The Defector, The Wrecking Crew, and The Fulcrum Files – as well as award-winning works of non-fiction. He’s a former professional sportsman and also works as a broadcaster and journalist, writing for some of the world’s leading magazines and newspapers, including Esquire and the Guardian. Mark’s greatest achievement was probably hitch-hiking to Mt Everest base-camp in Tibet. In training shoes. Or, according to his own admission, maybe that was the stupidest.

Rachel Howzell Hall is the author of the upcoming mystery Land of Shadows (coming from Forge in 2014). Her previous novels include No One Knows You’re Here, The View from Here and A Quiet Storm. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.

Christine Pakkala was born and raised in Idaho. She earned a BA (English) from the University of Idaho and a MFA (Poetry) from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She was the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship (Finland). Her first book, Last But Not Least Lola, is forthcoming September, 2013 from Boyds’ Mill Press. Christine lives in Westport, Connecticut, with her husband Cameron Stracher, their two children Simon and Lulu, and two spoiled Golden Retrievers.

Tricia Tierney grew up in New York but spent many years as an expatriate, including over 3 years in Kyoto, Japan where she painted and sculpted and rode her bicycle everywhere. She also lived in Croatia and Bosnia, working for the United Nations’ Peacekeeping Department during the Balkan wars, where she met a number of budding war criminals as well as the dashing but troubled English international relief-worker she would marry. After a thrilling war-zone romance, Tricia wed her now-late husband in Sarajevo and a year later, after one-too-many bumpy helicopter rides while pregnant, prematurely gave birth to her daughter in Southern Italy. As she prepares to send her (long thriving) daughter off to college in the fall, Tricia is beginning to think about her own next adventures, while continuing to work on her memoir of life during war and peace, loss and sorrow. She writes mostly at the crack of dawn before going off to her full-time job at a Barnes & Noble bookstore.