The Next Big Thing

Katherine Hill (friend, Barrelhouse Assistant Editor, two time Book Fight guest) invited me to join in this blog chain that is somewhat presumptuously calling itself The Next Big Thing. The deal is this: Katherine answered a bunch of questions about her book, then she tagged a few writers who are now obligated to answer those same questions, then tag a few more writers, who will do the same until at some point every writer on the Internet will have has answered the same questions, and then we can compare and contrast to determine who wins.


Go read Katherine’s answers. Follow her on Twitter.  Buy her book.


The directions say the questions apply to “something you’re currently writing or a book or story just published or to be published soon,” which is a wide enough net to include any words I’ve ever written. I’m frankly sick of talking about my memoir (go here and here if you’re interested), so these answers all relate to a novel I finished in March and have been submitting to agents since (note, for those who know me in real life: this is not the pro wrestling novel, which is a whole different situation and about which I’m working on another meandering post ).


1. What is your working title of your book (or story)?

The Widower’s Handbook

2. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?


A young man’s wife dies suddenly, and he decides to help her fulfill her dreams of traveling by taking her ashes with him on a road trip across the country.


3. Where did the idea come from for the book?


My wife and I were on vacation in Seattle, and it was maybe our anniversary, or close enough to it that we felt okay splitting two bottles of wine at some French restaurant, which probably isn’t terribly relevant to this story, but it seems worth noting.


I told her about a dream I’d had the previous night in which she was dying. I don’t know, it seemed like good anniversary talk.


We started talking about what would happen if she died; what would I do? Where would I live? Would I still talk to her family? Would I fall into a bottomless depression, start drinking heavily, lose my job? Would I start dating again, and how would I even begin to figure out how dating works (we’ve been together since the week of my 19th birthday; I don’t know how adults meet people in real life. I assume it’s Craigslist-based).


During this admittedly morbid discussion, my wife said a few times that if I wrote a book about that she would read it. Of course, she would probably read whatever dumb book I write, but she would read this one and enjoy it (she reads more than I do, but we have drastically different taste in books and film, particularly w/r/t relative levels of bleakness).


By the end of the night, I’d come up with the first line of the book, which has been more or less unchanged since then:


You don’t fall in love at first sight, or first kiss even, but many months later, at that indelible moment when you awake in her bed before sunrise, her breath hot on your back, arm draped across your ribs, the contours of her hips flowing into you like a river, and you feel like you’re two interlocking puzzle pieces, built specifically to fit together with each other and no one else.


And I knew the first chapter would end with something like this:


…you’re laying the groundwork for a lifetime of happiness, but none of that matters anymore because she’s dead and she’s dead and she’s dead and she’s dead and she’s dead and she’s never coming back.


(the book is not completely in second person POV, I swear).


4. What genre does your book fall under?


Literary fiction


5. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie

I object to this question on the grounds that it’s the sort of thing I would have asked when I was fourteen.


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

Well, that’s the big question, isn’t it? So far, this book has been just good enough to get a lot of really nice rejection emails from a lot of really generous agents. It’s currently unrepresented. If that situation doesn’t resolve itself at some point in the near future, I’m going to start submitting it myself to indie presses that accept unrepresented submissions.


And if that doesn’t work out, then I’ll probably just print it, climb to the top of City Hall in Philly, and start showering the pages down on the street like leaflets.


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


After that dinner with my wife, I didn’t do much with this book for a while. I was still in the midst of a different still-unpublished novel on which I spent about three years and am now editing again. During the time I was working on that book, I sometimes jotted down notes and ideas for The Widower’s Handbook, but there was no real work.


Widower is short, only 62,000 words, so once I started actively writing it, the first draft was done in about 4 months. I write first drafts very quickly, then spend the rest of the time digging myself out of the holes in which I’ve trapped myself.


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


This is a question for marketers and critics, I think. I don’t know. I read a lot of short novels while I was writing this, to get a sense of the rhythms of short books. But that doesn’t mean this has anything to do with Gatsby or So Long, See You Tomorrow or The Dead Father or Coming Through Slaughter or whatever.


9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?


Is existential dread an appropriate answer?


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


I feel like this is turning into a job interview.


Next up:

Steve Kistulentz (@kistulentz)

Dave Housley (@dhousley)

Jill Talbot (@jilltalbot)

Johannes Lichtman (@jltheplagiarist)

Matt Kirkpatrick (@mattkirkpatrick)

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