Christine Hale is The Next Big Thing

I'm pleased to share here a post by author Christine Hale in response to The Next Big Thing blog share. Chris and I have not met, but I enjoyed her first novel, Basil's Dream and am glad to hear she’s finished her next book. Here’s what she has to say about it: I've been invited into the blog share, The Next Big Thing, by my host for this posting, Virginia Pye. Her exciting novel River of Dust, the story of a dramatic year in the life of a missionary couple in China whose young child is stolen from them by Mongolian bandits, will be published by Unbridled Books on May 14, 2013. I’m grateful to Virginia for the invitation to post here. She’s been a booster for me and my work since she read my first novel Basil’s Dream (Livingston Press, 2009), a story of love and political intrigue on the fabled island Bermuda, which received honorable mention in the 2010 Library of Virginia Literary Awards.

My new book is titled In Your Line of Sight: A Reconciliation. It’s a memoir I’ve just completed and for which I am seeking a publisher. Here are my responses to the questions posed by The Next Big Thing:

 Where did the idea for the book come from?

 In Your Line of Sight: A Reconciliation is the memoir I never meant to write. A dozen years ago, just after my mother passed away, I began helplessly pouring out onto the page my grief and consternation about my parents’ 67-year epic bad marriage and my growing-up years—in Southern Appalachia—as hostage to their emotional violence. This is some dark stuff. But I soon found myself writing wryly comic stories about the tattooing ritual my two children devised to hold our family of three together when they were teens. I mean, who could not write about that? And then there were the stories I couldn't help telling about my strange—and enlightening—experiences on Buddhist retreats, including a rugged pilgrimage to Tibet I almost didn’t survive. I just knew these three very different narrative threads belonged together somehow, because their significance to me was central to each of them. If I could just manage to reconcile their differences on the page, would I make sense in my heart of my flawed self and my crooked path? What that reconciliation required, it turned out, was to see myself as my beloved others see me, while in turn I looked at each of them through clear eyes: the “you” in the memoir’s title refers to a whole set of loved-and-sometimes-lost people with whom I must set things straight.

What genre does the book fall under?

 It's a memoir, a collage of fragments from the three narrative threads. It works like memories do, one sharp recollection leading to another which sets off yet another, with insights sparking amid their collisions.

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

 My young self must be played by Natalie Portman as she appears in Black Swan: high-strung, insecure, and unstable, a clear and present danger to herself and others. For my now-self, the one doing the reflecting in the memoir, I choose the indie film actress Catherine Keener, described in a Yahoo profile as a “wry, likeable bohemian.” She played Harper Lee in Capote but I’ve identified with her in many of her more recent film roles:  haggard, vulnerable, roughed-up by living her passions, an almost-beauty memorably marred by her tough edge and irreverent attitude.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In Your Line of Sight is about how I have come, finally, to see.

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

 I am seeking a publisher or representation for this book.

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

 The oldest material—the stories about my parents and my childhood—I began almost a dozen years ago. The other two narrative threads developed over the past eight years. It took me about three years—amid other projects and working for a living—to create the reconciliation that is the completed memoir.

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

 It's similar to Abigail ThomasSafekeeping and Two Dog Life (Harcourt) in that it’s fragmented and non-linear, with the story told partly through expressive gaps and silences. It resembles Mark Doty’s Firebird (HarperCollins) because it approaches the quintessential memoir question, who am I?, by means of iterative, vertical delvings into memory. And it has in common with Brenda Miller’s Seasons of the Body (Sarabande) a braided or collaged shape and some lyrical moments.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

 Many, many writers of memoir—both published authors and students I’ve worked with. The most succinct way to explain this might be to paraphrase the essence of Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story: what matters is not the facts of your life but the truth you make of it in the telling.

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

Where else are you going to find a book that marries the grit of a dysfunctional and abusive childhood in Appalachia to the exoticism (and grit) of Tibetan Buddhism by means of the weirdness (and gritty exoticism) of mother, daughter, and son getting tattooed, together, for Christmas, in a Tampa strip mall? You've got to see this to believe it.

Please check out these three emerging writers I’ve invited to appear in The Next Big Thing:

On January 15, Peg Alford Pursell will post on her blog about her novel in short-short stories, Blow the House Down.

Also on January 15, novelist Marian Szczepanski will guest-post here on Four and Twenty about her first novel Playing Saint Barbara, due out from High Hill Press in Spring 2013. It chronicles the struggles of Irish and Slovak immigrants to the soft coal region of southwest Pennsylvania during the Great Depression, via a tale of a miner’s wife, her three daughters, and a saint’s day pageant.

 On January 17, look for memoirist Christine Cutler’s post on her blog, about Abandoned Houses, the story of her journey to find herself among the myriad abandoned houses of her grandmother's birthplace in a tiny Italian village.