The Next Big Thing – A Literary Chain Letter

Apparently, The Next Big Thing is considered a kind of online chain letter for authors.  While I can’t promise your dreams will come true if you forward this to twenty people within the next three hours, I know it has been good for me to reach out to other authors, as so often we write in isolation.

Here’s the idea behind The Next Big Thing –  I am tagged by a writer, and I in turn tag fellow writers – all of us write a blog post called The Next Big Thing, a Q&A in which we answer questions about a forthcoming book or work-in-progress.

Kim Fay, the author of 2013 Edgar Award nominated novel, The Map of Lost Memories, graciously tagged me in her episode of The Next Big Thing .  As we share a passion for vicarious travel through fiction, I loved my journey through her evocative prose to Cambodia and I look forward to being transported to Vietnam in her next big thing.

Now, for the authors I am going to mercilessly tag into this game …

Lisa Napoli is another kindred traveling spirit.  Given her recent travels to Germany to promote the translation of Radio Shangri-La, an illuminating memoir/travelogue to the distant kingdom of Bhutan, we may have to wait a week or two for her episode about her next big thing.

Amy Wilentz, journalist and incredible literary tour guide to Haiti, surely has something amazing brewing.  With her wickedly insightful reporter sensibility on display in her recent book Farewell, Fred Voodoo I will look forward to her next big thing.

Mary L. Tabor takes us through uncharted territory of love and memory and aging in the novel Who by Fire.  Robert, narrator and widower, searches for the story of his wife’s betrayal which he discovers in her final days. In seeking for his story and hers and in the telling he discovers both.

And now, I am going to use this excuse to tag two writers whose work I admire.

Abraham Verghese has become one of my great heroes, not only for somehow mastering careers in both medicine and literary fiction, but for telling an epic tale of Ethiopia in Cutting for Stone.  I have traveled to and written about Ethiopia myself and appreciated each of his words about such a fascinating place.  I would love to know what next big thing we can expect from such a talented writer.

And finally Vikram Chandra, as I am among the legions to marvel at the wonder that is Red Earth and Pouring Rain a sprawling, mesmerizing tale of love and dislocation in India and America.  Read on to understand why such topics are particularly close to my heart.

Now to the main event, the ten interview questions for The Next Big Thing:

What is your working title of your book (or story)?
Beneath the Same Heaven

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
An American woman marries a Pakistani man who then commits a terrorist act as revenge when his father is killed near the Afghan border in a US drone attack.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
More than a decade ago, I fell in love with a Punjabi man who was born and raised in Mumbai.  Since then I have been trying to reconcile how someone I love and respect can hold ideas and beliefs often diametrically opposed to mine.  While not autobiographical, aside from some simple demographic similarities, the book explores a very personal and fictional ‘what if,’ a kind of worst case scenario from two distinct perspectives.

What genre does your book fall under?
Hmmm, this kind of question stumps me.  How about literary, multi-cultural, international-politics-becomes-personal.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?Casting directors would have a much better answer.  I could easily pick someone like Kate Blanchette for the female lead, but my top ten list of South Asian American actors is about 9 people short.  Perhaps someone like Kal Penn.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Represented, insha’allah.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
About 18 months.  I set myself daily and weekly word count goals, and exercised my best Germanic discipline to reach them, most often writing on the bus on my way to work.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Think Homeland meets Cutting for Stone.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I’m not sure I can describe the vagaries of the creative process, other than to say after a lot of late night drives up and down the length of California to visit Punjabi relatives, a question in my mind took form in characters, and those characters took action, and that action became a story I had to write down.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
In the process of writing this story I realized that our own culture has found all kinds of ways to ritualize or nationalize revenge, so while we may express our impulses in very different ways than other cultures, we all share the same human desire for justice in the face of suffering.  Perhaps on a less cerebral note, the story includes all the things we like to read about, love, sex, murder, international travel, terrorism, media, religion, you know, the compelling stuff that makes up our lives.

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