The Next Big Thing

As it turns out, it’s fun to share not just the work but the work behind the work, which is the gist of The Next Big Thing. The highly prolific Meg Pokrass invited me to participate. Meg writes flash fiction and short stories, has been an editor at BlipMagazine  (which now seems to be called New World Magazine) and has a new book Happy Upside Down coming out from Press 53. The Next Big Thing is a blog share in which writers…well, share…about their upcoming books or current projects. Below are my answers to some basic questions: What’s your book and where did the idea come from for it?

My novel is called River of Dust and it’s coming out from Unbridled Books on May 14, 2013. I first conceived of it while reading from my grandfather’s journals about his missionary years on the tundra of northwest China. I spent five years writing over twenty drafts of a multi-generational, one hundred year story of an American family with ties to China. Eventually, I scaled back that project to tell just the story of one dramatic year in the life of a missionary couple whose young child is stolen from them by Mongolian bandits in the opening scene. Somehow because I’d been working on the material for so long, it only took 23 days for me to write the first draft of River of Dust. A friend and mentor wrestled it out of my hands and sent it to her editor at Unbridled who called me a few weeks later. It all happened crazy fast, but of course, that was after years of work. And all the while, I had in mind my grandfather’s descriptions of the eerie beauty and loneliness of that landscape.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? After seeing Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln, I can picture him as the Reverend of my novel. He’s tall and upright, has a dry wit and ends up at his wits end. He’s so incredibly good, he could no doubt play the Reverend’s wife as well. Or Grace could be played by any number of ingénues, so long as she doesn’t mind getting dirty and can rise to her fate with dignity.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre and who or what inspired you to write this book?

Around the time I was reading my grandfather’s journals I also read Gilead, and then several years later, Home, both by Marilynne Robinson. Those two novels were unbelievably beautiful, as was Tinkers by Paul Harding, especially in the way that they captured American thought and belief from an earlier time. They showed how time itself was made of a different substance in the pre-modern mind. River of Dust attempts to capture that earlier mindset as well.

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

I ask you, what other book, besides The Bible, combines religious questioning with at least one beheading, lice and serious quantities of dust?

Check out three more terrific emerging writers as they participate in The Next Big Thing:

On January 3, 2013, A.B. Westrick will post on her blog about her debut novel, Brotherhood, to be released in the fall of 2013. On January 5, 2013, Patty Smith will post about her upcoming novel, The Year of Needy Girls, on her blog, Blue Adirondak Chairs. Also on January 5, Christine Hale will post on 4 and 20 about her memoir, In Your Line of Sight. Her first novel, Basil’s Dream, was Honorable Mention for the Library of Virginia Award in 2011. It tells a dramatic, insightful story set in the political world of Jamaica.

So check back here next week for another story behind the story.