The next part of the prophecy just said: “Quick, duck!”



Writer and dear friend Mairead Case tagged me for The Next Big Thing, a blog chain wherein writers interview themselves about their works-in-progress. I love nothing more than thinking and talking about my book-in-progress – so I did. (Also check out the bottom of this post for some links! At last!)

Here’s my interview:

What is the working title of your book?
Rusalka. The name comes from an opera and also a particularly interesting piece of Polish mythology – both of which are thematically important in the novel. I settled on the title awhile ago, and so far it’s stuck – whenever I tell someone I’m not sure about it they brush me off and keep using it. So there she is.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
In the first year of my MFA program (lo these several years ago – I’ve graduated now) I wrote a story about a family of women, each generation of which is whittled closer and closer towards physical and musical perfection. In the original piece this concept was very literal – not only was each woman a better singer, she was physically smaller. But the story spanned too much time to fit into a short piece, so I expanded it into a novella, and then a novel. It keeps growing! The reverse of the women. (Incidentally, that literal concept of shrinking has become a more metaphorical loss, which I hope to god is a bit subtler and more interesting.)

What genre does your book fall under?
Literary fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I have a hard time with this for my protagonist! She’s very particular – small stature, dark (but not black) hair, strong jaw. Maybe a young Meryl Streep, with darker hair. For some reason I have an easier time casting her estranged mother, Sara, who is sort of a vamp in her youth – Eva Green, all the way.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A talented operatic soprano must decide – for herself, and for her newborn daughter, who is the product of an affair – whether a good life can be built on a beautiful lie instead of a painful truth.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Hopefully represented by an agency. I queried the most recent draft, and got several enthusiastic responses, but everyone (including me) agreed that it needed a rewrite first. So that’s what I’m doing now, and I feel really good about the direction I’m heading.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Er, which first draft? The short story? (A week, maybe.) The novella? (Six months.) The novel? (Another six months, full of additional grad school/story writing/teaching/editorial responsibilities.) I revise a lot as I write, so I probably didn’t have a novel draft I was happy with for at least a year, and I’m currently working on draft…I think four.

What other books would you compare this story to in its genre?
As I learned while trying to think up comps for my query letter, there isn’t a perfect choice. But there shouldn’t be, should there? So I’ll list books I’ve taken inspiration from reading while I worked on the first couple of drafts – even though none of them shares, in practice, a great many elements with my book: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston, The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht, Wittgentstein’s Mistress by David Markson, Wild Dogs by Helen Humphreys, Tinkers by Paul Harding. Plus, for pure sound: Hinge & Sign by Heather McHugh, View With a Grain of Sand by Wisława Szymborska , and anything by Vladimir Nabokov.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I always start writing from an image or idea, and that was the case here, too. But I do come from a family that is both proudly Polish and full of strong storytellers, and the book owes heart to both.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It hinges on a deal with the devil.

Next up (this is now hard, since so many people have already been tagged, & I’m not sure everyone here has a blog. But I’m throwing this out there): Melissa Bull, CJ Hauser, Emily Nemens, Corie Rosen, Sam Martone, Justin Boening.


Links! I already sort of cheated by tagging Melissa as Lemon Hound, but check out the new issue of Lemon Hound in any case, and be aware that they’re now accepting fiction, which is rad.

Also very much worth a look:

Elisabeth Geier in Painted Bride Quarterly, Sam Martone (again! Hi Sam!) in The Collagist, and the inimitable Alissa Nutting in New Delta Review.