The terribly nice and eclectically gifted Patricia Ann McNair (author of the award-winning short story collection The Temple of Air) recently tagged me in a game called THE NEXT BIG THING — a literary game designed to promote a work-in-progress and highlight our literary blogs. All who have played are both authors AND bloggers who aim to create world-wide conversation about the writing and the writing process.
It’s actually taken me several weeks to find writers who are also bloggers and want to participate. And for those who’ve refused, a tongue-in-cheek “shame-shame” to your shyness. Now for the good news.
The two writers who’ve agreed to play the game, allow me to “tag” them, and follow up with their own posts and invitations, are Carl Purdon and Tim Chambers. Carl is fond of saying that he lives “halfway between Tupelo, which is the birthplace of Elvis, and Oxford, which was the home of William Faulkner.” His novel The Night Train is a finely crafted book about a boy’s escape from abuse. He also runs a literary blog where he interviews authors and writes about craft and process. Tim also runs a literary blog, and has written a novel about two fallen plutocrats, called Banana Republican Blues. He’s hard at work on his next book.
There they are, and … TAG … you guys are IT. Now to complete my end of the bargain, below are the questions and answers to my work-in-progress:
1. What is the working title of your novel?
“Max, the blind guy” — which is the most descriptive of my three novel titles. It really says exactly what the story is about—mostly. I’ve toyed with others, but I think this one will stick.
2. Where did the idea for the novel come from?
The idea behind the characters (an older couple, married 40 years, and coming to a crossroads in both thinking about their relationship and an interpretation of their lives) came from my own thinking about long-term relationships — and I’m talking the kind that go the distance, more or less: What’s there to hang on to after so many years? Love??? Is that enough?
With the answers to these questions having been “inertia and comfort”, “maybe not”, and “I don’t really think so, but….” I began to see these characters in a different way. What I saw was not necessarily terrible, but there were plenty of ashes to brush off around the edges.
3. What genre?
Contemporary – Mainstream – Literary – Historical (some parts reach back to the ’50s)? Who the hell knows what these mean anymore!? Okay, it ain’t Sci-Fi and you won’t find fangs or fur.
4. What other books would you compare yours to in this genre?
That’s difficult to pinpoint because I think it’s a unique story, in the method by which it tracks these characters’ lives and loves and tempests. On the other hand, my “reading mentors” such as Philip Roth and Iris Murdoch, Banville and Eugenides and McEwan, Updike and Naipaul and Durrell, Atwood and Sontag (to name but a few) would (have) understand my notion of place and time, scene and character, dialogue and narrative structure.
5. Which actor would you choose to play one of your characters?
Depp or Pitt for Max (they could still play the “young” Max as much as be covered in make-an-old-guy goo); Streep or Jody Foster for Greta.
6. What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Maxwell Ruth, once a thriving figurative artist, is now just a blind guy who’s been married to the same woman, Greta, for forty years, and upon reflection, neither is sure they should have made it so far; so where to go from here?
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I began writing the “chronological” story in August 2012 (after six months of scene development, mostly composed of paragraph-long prompts, or dialogue, or character sketches), and perhaps I’ll finish a first draft in a year. This is a long story, woven from multiple characters over nearly five decades. They have a lot to say. Rewrites shall be fun.
8. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
On a sunny afternoon in April 2009, I was standing on a street corner in Prague, watching people walk through an open-air market. My eyes fell upon a couple who must have been in their eighties. He was obviously blind (the forward stare, the closely held hand on her arm, the duo-shuffling between them) and she was telling him what she was seeing in the stalls. They weren’t smiling (exactly) but there was chatter, and he was chain smoking; their time seemed endless and they hadn’t a care in the world. But what were their lives like back home, outside of a European vacation? I wondered, at that moment, what had kept them together and what kind of love was needed from a woman to care for an aged blind man — husband or mere lover. I let my imagination find all kinds of great goodness, and then realized there wasn’t much drama in the happy-happy of life, although there could be happiness in drama.
9. What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?
We’re all going to be old someday. And I mean OLD. If we’re (un)lucky we’ll have been with the same person for decades. What could life be like after 40 years of marriage, with its potential for wonderment and disillusion, laissez-faire lifestyles and revenge? That’s the basis of “Max, the blind guy” … but I’ll let you into the start of the story:
The first time Maxwell Ruth heard the accolade — “That guy is a dedicated cunt hound!” — his wife was standing three feet away. Hearing that disgusting phrase made Max smile. Not because the imagery forced a pretty picture, but he thought his wife, Greta, hadn’t heard what some guy he barely knew said about all those years of womanizing. Max’s smile did something else. It gave truth to those words: he was a cunt hound, and other men knew it. Women, too.
We were a group of eight, this island in a ballroom filled with islands. Heads of four and six and eight people hung about in static circles, separated by air and status and booze; all were underscored by the tepid music of a string quartet. High windows along one wall revealed the unfurling Palisades in a jumble of leafy trees down to the Hudson River. Across that brown divide, New York’s knotted skyline glowed against the sunset. Half the buildings looked like golden ingots stood pompously on end, the other half like dominoes. Up here in the high bluffs of northern New Jersey, in winter, shimmering gold and white-pipped ebony looked surprisingly the perfect match.
The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.