The Next Big Thing

Brett Norris, dynamic writer, tagged me to contribute to The Next Big Thing. A chance for writers to dish some dirt on their forthcoming work. Let’s get filthy.

What is the working title of your book?

The working title was Tales of a Vocabulary Black Belt, but happily that got dropped in favor of Giraffe People as I kept working. I don’t think I’ve ever had a title that suited the work as well as this one does. And it was Cole’s idea. She refers to her family as Giraffe People — lumbering, nomadic, it seemed so exactly right.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I wanted to write about music, and what it had been like to be a kid growing up on military bases. I took my experience on the base at Fort Monmouth, and the base at Aliamanu and I combined them. I was trying to understand what was going on in Iraq as well, and this story gave me the opportunity to go back through the Persian Gulf War and look at the repercussions of our choices there. And, in other ways, I wanted another chance at a first time. I wanted to write about virginity.

What genre does your book fall under?

Oh. Questions like this bug me. What difference does it make? Will you not read it if I name a genre you find boring? It’s a story about being human. So, if you like those, give it a read.

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

Most of the characters are in high school. I think Emma Watson should play the Army cadet trying to get into West Point, and the narrator, Cole, should be played by someone athletic. Imagine an actor like that, athletic and musical and giraffe-ish. Her. She should play Cole.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A military brat whose father is a chaplain decides to join a punk band during her last year in Jersey and collides with an Army cadet in ways that might kick you in the heart.

What is the longer synopsis of your book?

If you were going to write love letters back and forth — maybe before you even realized they were love letters, how would you go about it? Cole does it with vocabulary lists. High school is a community you cannot get away from. They are imposed upon you, and this is the story of a girl who has to figure out what her community will look like. What does she want it to look like? And, then, later, how will she leave it behind to go to the next base?

This isn’t a coming-of-age book, it’s a coming-of-self book.

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

Like my previous novels, Red Audrey and the Roping, and A Field Guide to Deception, Giraffe People will be published by Bywater Books. Appearing in stores near you, and the virtual ones in May, 2013.

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

I think I wrote the first draft in five months. And then, some 18 months later, my wife and I sat on the couch and she read it and we talked about it, and I wrote a revised draft in two days. That second draft is almost exactly the book that will be published in May, 2013.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Have you read Stephanie Vaughn’s short stories? Go listen to the New Yorker podcast of Tobias Wolff reading Stephanie Vaughn’s short story, Dog Heaven. You deserve to hear this story. It’s amazing, and listening to it, walking around my neighborhood in 2009, I realized that the life of kids in the military is secret and unexplored and rich with possibility.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

This is the funniest book I have ever written. And I think the first with characters who are truly likable. I dare you to read it. Come on. I double dog dare ya.

giraffe people 6a

2 thoughts on “The Next Big Thing”

  1. have read it, having got a sneak peek, and I think this is a progressive work in several ways. It shows a progression, a movement, in your style and sureness of hand in illuminating these people who are Cole’s family and friends. They are ordinary, they are everyday, and they are peeking above the treeline, ducking down, breaking through again, dodging back. That’s what I loved about this book. They step forward, then back, and that is how we sometimes advance in life, awkwardly, jerkily, but peeking, looking ahead.
    I really do love this book. As much as I enjoyed and admired Red Audrey and Field Guide to Deception, I think this book really shows what a tremendous writer you are. I just wanted to be first to say it.

  2. I am ever awed by those who can write a book in less than 310 drafts or in fewer than 2.5 years, give-or-take 10. The stacked printouts of my drafts rose to 4’8″ before my final edit. Sigh.

    I’ll take that double dog dare and be on the lookout for your book.

    I agree about that genre thing. Geesh.

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