Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Made in America: My Next Big Thing

Midge Raymond and me on our joint book tour, Portsmouth,
New Hampshire ~ September 2011
A month ago -- hmm, that would be last year -- my dear writer-friend Midge Raymond posted a Next Big (or Best) Thing Q & A about her novel-in-progress, My Last Continent, to her wonderful writing blog. She invited me to do the same. So, here I am, shyly hauling my current writing project out of the dark corners of my mind with answers to seven questions about Made in America. And when you’re done here, you can look forward to reading about the current book projects of four writers whose work I adore. (I adore the writers just as much.) Check out the blogs of Deborah Miranda, Donna Miscolta, Natalia Treviño, and Anastacia Tolbert to learn about their Next Big Things.

Ready? Here we go:

What is the working title of your book?
Made in America: Four Corners of Life. I feel skittish even calling it a “book,” at this point. I’m not quite sure what the word “book” means in 2013, so let’s just call it my current Big Writing Project, or if you prefer, my next big thing.

What is the origin of this book idea?
Call family on the National Parks Tour ~
Douglas Call, 1976
I grew up a Navy kid, never putting down roots because I knew we’d never stay anywhere long. My home zip code has started with every digit from zero to five, along with eight zip codes beginning with nine. (And for the past eight years, the fabulous 98118.) I’m a child of this country’s corners; born in Florida, I have spent a decade each in Southern California, New England, and the Pacific Northwest. One of the few constants in my itinerant life has been time spent in our natural places, from the Petrified Forest to Acadia, from the Olympics to Biscayne.

With Made in America, I want to explore how our national parks have influenced our sense of what it means to be “American”-- a term that both angers and fascinates me. (And on a practical note, I wanted to spend more time outside in beautiful places.)

What genre does your book fall under?
It’s a series of linked personal essays, some of which lean toward the historical and others toward the lyric.

If your book were transformed into another art form, what would it be? (OK, the original “Next Big Thing” question was: “Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?” But I’ve never aspired to have my writing adapted for the screen, so I’m bending the rules.)
Hardwood Hammock, Everglades National Park ~ WLC 2013
In the Ernest Coe Visitor Center at Everglades National Park, there is a huge mosaic in the floor: a map showing the park’s eight ecological habitats -- hardwood hammock to mangrove swamp -- in vividly tinted ceramic tile. I sometimes imagine my book in mosaic form, but instead of nicely glazed and fired clay, its pieces would be broken bits of my grandmother’s china, mismatched plates from Goodwill, seaglass, a shell collection from four decades of beach visits, and small stones unearthed by spring digging in the garden.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A lapsed student of biology sets out to explore the natural world in the four corners of the continental U.S., becoming enmeshed in the complex tangle of patriotism, environmentalism and imperialism that characterizes our national parks. 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Studio at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller
National Historical Park, Vermont ~
WLC, 2011
I’ll tell you when I’m finished. I have spent about half my time over the last eighteen months in the “information gathering” stage: reading, researching, talking to people, mulling things over. During that time, I’ve spent a total of seven months living and working in four national parks (Everglades, Joshua Tree, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller, and North Cascades­­) as an Artist in Residence. When I get home to Seattle in February, I’ll start working on a first draft.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My parents, who packed my brother and me into our ‘68 Chevy Malibu in the summer of 1976 and drove us over 7,000 miles from our home on the California-Mexico border northeast to Zion, then north to Yellowstone, then Mt. Rushmore, then to the east coast, then south and west all the way back to the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest. Thirty days of cheap motels, friends’ hideaway sofas, and hotpot-and-cooler meals, so that my brother and I could have the gift of the National Parks Tour. This book is my thank-you note.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It will have pictures! And audio! And perhaps maps. Maybe even video. I don’t have the details worked out yet (I’m a hopelessly analog person, pushing a handcart down the information superhighway), but I envision Made in America as a digital book that actually takes advantage of the great opportunities this technology offers us as readers – and as writers. (Unlike the digital version of my 2011 book, No Word for Welcome, which is less visual than the print version, which simply shouldn’t be….)

Another tidbit to pique your interest: a chapbook! The first national park where I was Artist in Residence published a lovely, 24-page, single-essay “chapbook.” (No video or audio, but it does have photos.) You can order Tilled Paths Through Wilds of Thought right here at my blog -- see the link to the right. You can read an excerpt from the chapbook at the online magazine Guernica – but the real thing is much cuter. And I’ll sign it for you. All for the price of a latte. Get yours today! And, as always, thanks for reading.

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