“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.
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.