anjette's blog

March 29, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — anjette @ 10:32 am

“The Next Big Thing”

For “The Next Big Thing,” each participating poet or fiction writer engages the same set of questions pertaining to a recently published book, a soon-to-be-published book, or a book-in-progress. This week, I am proud to host fiction writer Dariel Suarez, an almuna of the Boston University MFA program. Check out his wonderful interview below.
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1. What is the working title of your book?

I’m working on two manuscripts at the moment: a story collection and a novel. The collection is titled A Kind of Solitude (named after one of the pieces in the collection), and the novel is titled The Playwright’s House.

2. Where did the idea come from for your book?

I decided to write a collection of stories set in Cuba about two years ago. I left Cuba when I was fourteen years old, so I wanted to use the stories as a way to explore my native country and its people by fictionalizing real stories I’ve heard or experienced myself, and by looking at national events that never got the attention they deserved.

The novel came out of an exercise for my novella class at Boston University (I completed an MFA in fiction at BU). The great Ha Jin and my classmates helped me develop an outline based on an idea I had about two estranged Cuban brothers whose father, a playwright, is imprisoned for political reasons. Now the manuscript is well on its way.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Literary fiction, I believe.

4. Which actors would you choose to portray your characters in the
movie version of your book?

Interesting question. I’d say Daniel Day-Lewis, Jennifer Lawrence, Denzel Washington, Marion Cotillard, Christoph Waltz, Al Pacino and Cuban actress Isabel Santos could all do an amazing job. I think they would do justice to the characters, in any case.

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

For A Kind of Solitude: This story collection delves into multiple facets of Cuban life through characters whose struggles are at once particular and universal, characters who offer a fresh insight into a culture that has often been distorted by the veil of political and social stereotypes.

For The Playwright’s House: This novel explores the complex relationship between love, art, and Cuban politics through two estranged brothers who must overcome their violent past in order to help their father, a renowned Cuban playwright, who is suddenly imprisoned.

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

I’m hoping they will be represented by an agency.

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

The story collection has taken me over two years, and it’s nearly finished. The novel has been in the works for a few months. Due to the amount of research needed, it will probably take me another 5-6 months to complete.

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

It’s very hard to say. Ha Jin’s work has definitely been an influence. The same can be said for Dostoevsky, Hemingway, Ralph Ellison, Paul Bowles, Milan Kundera, and Tobias Wolff. Flannery O’Connor is great for character development. But it’s difficult for me to pick just one book. I try to read as much as I can while I’m writing. There are aspects of Cervantes’s Don Quixote and Eliot’s Middlemarch which I have implemented in some of my stories, for instance. I read poetry, too. Poets such as Michael Hettich, Charles Simic, and Stephen Dunn, who use simple, artistically precise language to delve into broader, more ambitious themes, something I aspire to accomplish in everything I write.

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

I wanted to dig deep into Cuba’s culture, into those aspects of everyday life that are rarely explored in the literature written about the country, while avoiding the stereotypes and propaganda-like approach of some of the work that’s been published outside of Cuba. I’m a fiction writer, and my own political views should not interfere with what I’m narrating. My job is to show life as it is or was, and let the readers judge for themselves.

I also wanted to explore my own childhood and teenage years by taking a good look at what surrounded me, at the experiences those around me had gone through. I must admit that writing these books makes me feel closer to my native country; it makes me immensely appreciative of what Cuba did for me. It’s a difficult place to live in because of the poverty and political climate, but there’s so much beauty and richness in the way people endure and overcome. It’s a place full of energy, history, and breathtaking nature. It just made sense to throw myself into this world and try to follow characters who exemplify so much of what Cuba has to offer, whether inspiring or absolutely heartbreaking.

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

It’s an opportunity to read about a place and a people that have been off limits to a lot of the world for over half a century. Cuba, when you think about it, is a very unique country: a tropical island with heavy African influences and a Communist government that has brought with it Eastern European elements to the culture. There’s a lot to be discovered in such a mix. Hopefully my books can give readers both a broad and detailed glimpse into what is like to live there. I’ve also written stories based on historical events and parts of the culture that are unknown to many, such as the underground rock and heavy metal scene in the late 80s and early 90s, right around the fall of the Soviet Union. More than anything, however, I hope my books serve as an opportunity for readers to see themselves in characters who are otherwise distant, characters who up to now have been practically hidden from their view and their minds.

March 20, 2013

Previous Post

Filed under: Uncategorized — anjette @ 12:38 pm

For “The Next Big Thing,” each participating poet or fiction writer engages the same set of questions pertaining to a recently published book, a soon-to-be-published book, or a book-in-progress. This week, I am proud to host Mimi Lipson, an almuna of the Boston University MFA program in Fiction.
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1. What is your working title of your book?

It’s a collection of stories, which I’m calling “The Cloud of Unknowing” right now. That’s the title of one of the stories, and I think it might also work for them in aggregate. And I’m writing a novel, but I’m too superstitious to talk about it.

2. Where did the idea come from for your book?

Mike McGonigal at Yeti Publishing was the one who suggested putting together a book. The germs of most of the stories came from life—things that happened to me or someone I knew, or from places I’ve been. Everything changes once you start writing, though, and especially when you revise.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

I guess you would call it literary fiction.

4. Which actors would you choose to portray your characters in the movie version of your book?

That’s hard for me to say because I’m not familiar with a lot of contemporary actors. There’s a movie called You Can Count On Me in which Mark Ruffalo plays someone similar to one of my recurring characters, but that movie came out over ten years ago, so Mark Ruffalo would be too old now. And I have a Gene Hackman type in a few of the stories. But I’m probably just saying that because I love Gene Hackman so much. Also Linda Manz at various ages, and one story has a Gena Rowlands. I’m really showing my age with these answers.

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

Fourteen stories about the mystery of personality, maybe?

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

Neither. It’s coming out next year from Yeti Publishing. There is an agent who’s (I hope) going to help me with the novel when it’s ready, but she’s not involved with the story collection.

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

I wrote the stories over the last five or six years.

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

I think the stories vary a fair amount in terms of style and theme, so I suppose I’d compare the collection to someone with a lot of range. V.S. Pritchett comes to mind.

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

People have been bugging me to write my whole life. It seems I have a reputation as an amusing storyteller. I only started writing seriously when I was 40, though, and a lot of the struggle, for me, is to NOT write like I’m spinning a good yarn, because writing and talking are two very different things.

Another answer to that question: I worry that what I know, what I’ve experienced, and how I think about it–my particular sensibility–will die with me. Writing is a pretty self-involved pursuit.

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

I always try to put a few good gags in each story.

Thanks for hosting me, Abe! I hereby tag Dariel Suarez.

March 11, 2013

Next Post

Filed under: Uncategorized — anjette @ 1:34 pm

Thank you to the poet Caitlin Doyle for tagging me for “The Next Big Thing” interview series! You can read her self-interview here: http://caitlindoylepoetry.com/?page_id=302.

For “The Next Big Thing,” each participating poet or fiction writer engages the same set of questions pertaining to a recently published book, a soon-to-be-published book, or a book-in-progress. Here are my responses regarding the development of my debut poetry collection.
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1. What is the working title of your book?

            Pink Houses.

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

            Sometime three years ago the local news hummed from the television, and I chased around my keys and wallet while my mother sat on the couch commenting after and about each reel. Like many other times, the newscaster reported from her old neighborhood, the Louis. H. Pink Housing Project, in the East New York area of Brooklyn: another shooting, another youth found dead. The neighborhood is notorious for its brutality, but my memory associates the complex with green lawns and pastel colored Cadillacs, my father’s blue bellbottoms and my mother’s long hair. My mother’s best friends, the people I call aunt and uncle, my godparents, and brother’s godparents, and sister’s godparents, grew up together, some on different floors, some right across the hall from one another, in that project. They refer to each other, the group of them, as the Pinks. As I walked out of the door, my mother juxtaposed her past to the present life of the current tenants: “when we lived there we were poor, well, we were not poor because we didn’t know we were poor, but we were poor…” she said.
            It was in that moment Pink Houses was born. 

3. What genre does your book fall under?

            Poetry.
 
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

            Much of Pink Houses surrounds the bereft, so I only hope the voices of the souls of those who I listened to and tried to pay homage to have been accurately, articulately and successfully reproduced on the page.
            The characters who appear in Pink Houses also range from members of my family, strangers I’ve encountered on the street, victims from stories I’ve heard on the news, and most noticeably, powerful mythic women: mothers, daughters, and lovers. If there is one thing Pink Houses throbs with, it is passion.
Sometimes it takes a week to get a Persephone, Eurydice, or Apollo poem out. First there is an emotion, an unwavering connection to a sentiment, and then I listen for days until I hear something I can translate through line. These poems are cathartic, ecstatic experiences in which tone is crucial, and choosing an actor seems an impossibly difficult decision.
That being said…
            The “protagonists” of sorts, the driving forces and organizing factors of the collection, to me, are Persephone, Hades, and Demeter. Johnny Depp, in all of his long-haired calm glory, would have to play Hades, the comical, understanding lover who doesn’t take that world above too seriously. I think Julianne Moore would make a fabulous Demeter with her straight hair the color of the setting sun, and those tight lips asserting she will take no nonsense. If I can’t play the role of Persephone (oh, to be Johnny Depp’s tortured lover…), I’d give the privilege to Natalie Portman.
 
5.      What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

What a difficult question — to summarize my own work in one sentence! This will most likely do the collection no justice but I will try:

            Pink Houses yearns to preserve the various dimensions of contemporary consciousness through moments of chaotic displacement, relying particularly on the vernacular to reveal the importance of tradition, character, and the power of art.
 
6.      Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?


              Ideally, I strive to find a press confident in the strength of my first manuscript, a publisher who shares similar beliefs in my work and for the craft of poetry, with whom I can develop and sustain a steady relationship.
            Perhaps the most spectacular moment of creating a manuscript is the feeling of being finished. I finally acknowledged I had done all I could with the voices and places and twists in Pink Houses just a few months ago and have been in the steady process of writing query letters, entering first book contests, and sending individual pieces out for consideration ever since.
 
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

            The first draft of Pink Houses must have begun while I wrote my thesis at Hofstra University, though the poems I was writing then focused more intensely on the self than the mythic alternatives I have since chosen to love. A handful of those poems still appear in the collection –poems I revisited two years later while writing my thesis at Boston University to recreate, and, in a way, resurrect. 
 During April of 2012, along with two friends and fellow poets, I wrote a poem a day (and sometimes more!) in honor of Poetry Month. The experience was both exhilarating and exhausting and helped me discover more intuitively what I seek to discover in writing. During that month, I felt as if I were a faucet that would not stop running; the poems poured out.
              Three years is the short of it. It has taken me three years to write the first draft of Pink Houses, though it feels the voices have been inside me my whole life.
  
8. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
    
        For me, this question may as well be “who or what inspires you to write poetry”, so my answer will reflect such sentiments:
              As a young girl I wrote poetry as an outlet to express my emotions nonverbally. Poetry seemed to me the perfect venue to remain silent, to not cause a stir or worry, and yet control, manipulate, and raise my voice. I relied heavily on end-rhyme and the “I”. 
            When I began seriously studying the craft of writing, poetry transformed from a personal, private art into a complex, antiquated, intimate, and somehow mythic experience, one which held with it the power to multiply the virility of written word. Ambitiously, I wanted to twist syntax like Gerard Manley Hopkins, complicate lines like e. e. cummings; I wanted to elicit fear, wonder, and pity and somehow arouse the lyric. I wanted the power of the poet, and the only way I knew how to go about this was by mimicking those I read. By attempting to write like them, I began to live, in a way, like them, listening, for instance, to what I believed Seamus Heaney might hear in the middle of a crowded department store.
 I began to find ordinary happenstances wonderful sources of inspiration; I sought to expose the extraordinary appeal of the regular as Eugenio Montale illuminated the brilliance of a drying leaf. In another sense, with another part of my brain, I became determined to see the writing of a poem the way Joan Didion or Phillip Lopate saw the composition of a personal essay. It was in the company of these voices that I was able to find my own. 
            The workshops I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of inspire me to write poetry, the students I teach, the essays I read, conversations I overhear on the bus back and forth from work, the notes I scribbled during lectures with fascinating professors and reread, the scent of sunday sauce from the staircase, my conscience, my dreams, the slice of onion under the stove I cannot reach, the weather, the moon, everything in my sight inspires me to write poetry.

9.  What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
            I fancy my poem “If You See Something, Say Something” to be an anthem for New York City, and believe it should be on rotation on the Coney Island Q through the Arts for Transit program. (Shameless plug?)

For more on how poetry has shaped my life see: http://www.womenwritersoftheworld.com/?page_id=20
 
My poetry is forthcoming or has appeared in: Empirical Magazine, Perceptions Literary Magazine, and Every Day Poets.

I am also working on a collection of personal essays, tentatively titled “Lucky”. Essays from the collection can be found at: The Boiler Journal, dirtCakes, and Elsewhere.

Thank you so much for reading! For next week I’ve tagged Mimi Lipson.

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