The Next Big Thing is a cool sort of combination of chain letter and a “tag-you’re-it” interview game for writers. I was tagged by Nick Courtright (who was tagged by Kyle McCord who was tagged by Matt Guenette who was tagged by Mary Biddinger who was tagged by Jennifer Militello…) to interview myself about my most recent book with the following 9 designated questions, post it somewhere on the internet today, and then tag five writers for the next week to do the same. My answers are below.
What is the title/working title of the book?
The title is A Secret Woman.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The original seed for the novel came from research I did when working as a journalist for a national New Age magazine, Common Boundary, for a story on what feminists in the various Christian churches were doing to reform ideas about gender in the clergy, in scripture, and so on. Several of the women I interviewed had taken inspiration from the great flowering of women’s mysticism that happened in Europe the Middle Ages, roughly the tenth through twelfth centuries. This is when I first read about the great mystics Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich, and got acquainted with the wilder side of Teresa of Avila.
Though I was and am primarily a poet, I had then just finished writing, producing, and acting in a one-act play, Looking for Guenevere, so I was already open to the idea of working in forms outside of poetry, and I had also fallen in love with British medieval history, myth, and landscape. And so I began to think about what it must have been like to be a woman of that era with mystical gifts. Then I found some tales — some true, some apocryphal — of women who had passed as men. Something went click, the central character of my 12th centaury narrative was born. The contemporary heroine, my primary narrator, the artist Louise Louise, came later – and I’m so glad she did. She was the way into a lot of material that otherwise would not have fit.
What genre does your book fall under?
That’s a tough one! It’s literary fiction, but also historical fiction, a mystery, a quest story, a mother-daughter story, and an artist’s coming of age story.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I love this question! I have a fantasy of Julia Stiles playing my contemporary heroine, Louse Terry. Louise has a monk who becomes a mentor and advisor to her, Brother Paul, and the wonderful Eric Stoltz would be fabulous as him. And for Louise’s mother? Julianne Moore. Hey, if you’re gonna dream, dream big
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
This page-turning mystery is a sexy romp through time and space, a profound meditation on the mother/daughter connection, and an enlightening exploration of what it means to make love, to make art, and to make a life worth living.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
About nine months. But that was a very different version from the published book.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I read more novels than anything else, even poetry – I love novels, the architecture of them, the way you can build multiple strands of thought and character over time. I had always wanted to write one – just never had a big enough subject. And then, all of a sudden, I did.
Most inspiring of all were my research trips to England. I fell in love with the country, and with Oxford in particular, the way you fall in love with a person. I was able to express some of that enchantment in Louise’s reactions to the place. It was very satisfying to write that.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It is utterly beautifully made, with a wonderful cover by the amazing Randy Stanard that looks like it could be one of Louise’s paintings. It’s got deckle-edged pages, and French folds that open up to reveal co-publisher Chris Andrews’ fabulous photos of Oxford and London.
Was your book self-published or represented by an agency?
Neither. My book was pushed by a consortium of small independent presses here and in the U,K. – Alan Squire Publishing, Santa Fe Writers’ Project, Left coast Writers, and Chris Andrews Publications Ltd., Oxford, England. These are small indie publishers who work directly with the authors, without agents, picking just a few titles a year. It’s a great situation. I got lots of individual attention, spectacular editing, and a beautiful cover, too. It also meant book launches on both coasts here, and in the U.K., as well.
My tagged writers for next Wednesday are: