The Next Big Thing

Joe Schuster, author of the novel The Might Have Been, recently invited me to participate in The Next Big Thing – a kind of “chain blog” among writers designed to share news about recent or forthcoming work.  Thanks, Joe, for tagging me for The Next Big Thing!

Here’s my interview:

Q: What is your working title of your book?

The title of my story collection is A Fingerprint Repeated.

Q: Where did the idea come from for the book?

In September of 2001, I was teaching at La Roche College.  They sponsored a scholarship program called Pacem in Terris that brought students from “conflict and post-conflict nations” to study in the United States.  The very first course I taught there had roughly 20 students.  Only one was American.  The rest of the class came from Rwanda or Kosovo or from nations all over the Middle East.  Going into the classroom to teach on September 12th and in the days and months that followed –years, really – was a life changing experience.  My students’ shock and fear, the way they suddenly had to reassess their feelings about America and Americans, and they way their lives and characters would be tested during the rest of their time here – to suddenly be thought of as the enemy in a country for which most had developed true affection – were experiences about which I felt compelled to write.

Q: What genre does your book fall under?

This is a work of fiction.  A thematically linked collection of short stories.

Q: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

The final story in the collection is called “Ides of March” and is about two “tennis friends”, as Hemingway might have called them, who play an epic match on an afternoon when the Arab character is meant to be registering with the INS.  If a movie where produced based on this story, I’d love to cast Khalid Abdalla from The Kite Runner and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Q: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The stories of this collection all attempt to dramatize the lives of Americans who are importantly affected by their relationships with Arabs and Muslims post-9/11.

Q: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The collection will be published by Press 53.  They are a wonderful independent based in Winston-Salem, NC.  Press 53 does about 20-25 books each year divided between poetry and story collections.  The company’s founder, Kevin Morgan Watson, is absolutely wonderful to work with.  I’m incredibly grateful to have placed my book with them.

Q: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The first draft of the first story, “Mohammed Happened” was written in December 2001.  It finally found a home at Bluestem when Roxane Gay agreed to publish it this fall.  The final two stories in the collection, “Cinemagic” and “Irregulars” were completed in January of 2011.  So, nine years. 

Q: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

In some ways, the stories might be compared to Robert Olen Butler’s A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain.  In other ways, to Paul Yoon’s Once the Shore.

Q: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I wanted my writing to stop being so self-indulgent.  To begin to look out from my life and into the larger world instead of only to be turned back upon my on life and, frankly, meager experiences.  There are so many complicated, heart-rending things happening in the world, and so often fiction is the only art capable of really exploring them.

Q: What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Many of the stories in the collection have international settings.  Though none of the stories are set in the Middle East, as you might expect, but in places like Prague and Budapest.  And for those Sherlock Holmes fans, “Irregulars” is a story about two teenage Holmes aficionados who spend their time trying to recreate some of the great detectives most famous cases.

Now let me recommend these writers who I’m excited to tag for The Next Big Thing:

Salvatore Pane’s wonderful and funny novel titled, Last Call in the City of Bridges.

Aubrey Hirsch’s short story collection, Why We Never Talk About Sugar, explores science, the imagination, and the human heart.

Amy Andrews’ and Jessica Griffith’s memoir of friendship, Love & Salt.