We’re All the Next Big Thing

Last November my friend Ian Barker tagged me in a blog hop of sorts called “The Next Big Thing.” I was still revising my novel, The Sword Swallower’s Daughter, and was rather busy with all kinds of other life, and I forgot about it. Truth. Then a couple of weeks ago Dana Sachs, author of The Secrets of the Nightingale Palace asked me to participate in her chain of this popular author’s meme. I’d finished my revision, the holidays were over, and I was eager to explore this opportunity. Some call it a literary chain letter because after answering ten interview questions about your book, you tag five other authors to carry on the chain. When I tapped Ian to be one of my five, he kindly reminded me that he had done it before. That’s when I remembered he had previously tagged me. *embarrassed*

I had the extreme pleasure of reading Ian’s latest novel, One Hot Summer, early in its life. In the tradition of Nick Hornsby, Ian’s given us a memorable character in John Burton. At seventeen, he’s all about rock ‘n’ roll, hanging with friends, and you guessed it, sex. But John’s also a secret-keeper, a deep-thinker, and a young man who feels things in the marrow of his bones. When tragedy strikes his close-knit group of friends, John’s golden world is shattered. Americans reading One Hot Summer will appreciate the insights into British pop culture, while sympathizing with Ian’s well-wrought realities of the human condition. Here is Ian’s The Next Big Thing interview.

Dana’s lovely novel, The Secret of the Nightingale Palace  features Anna, a young widow still grieving the death of her husband to leukemia two years before. When her grandmother, the feisty octogenarian Goldie, recruits—practically demands—Anna to drive her from New York to San Francisco in her classic Rolls Royce, a fascinating tale of two widows of different eras unravels across the miles. Just when I thought the book was going one place, The Secret of the Nightingale Palace stunned me with an ending both unexpected and delightful for both of the women.

Those are my two antecedents. Now take a look at the authors I’m tagging to carry on the The Next Big Thing literary chain letter, author’s meme, etc.

Tara Staley Unfortunately, I got to Tara a few days late. She had already been tagged by Jerry Hatchett, but I loved her novel Need to Breathe so much, I’m including her in my queue anyway. Here’s Tara’s The Next Big Thing interview.

Brian Sweany will be blogging his The Next Big Thing interview on March 4. His novel, The Exotic Music of the Belly Dancer publishes in April 25 and I can’t wait to read it.

Stephanie Edwards Is in a very similar place in her fiction career as I am. She’s close to completing her first novel and ready to take it to market. Watch for her The Next Big Thing interview on March 4.

Valerie Nieman I was too late for Val Nieman also; she got grabbed up by Nancy Hinchcliff. Nevertheless, here’s Val’s The Next Big Thing interview.

Billie Hinton Billie got tagged by author Nancy Peacock about couple of weeks ago, so here’s Billie’s The Next Big Thing post.

Now, here are my The Next Big Thing interview questions and answers.

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

The Sword Swallower’s Daughter.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Henry Amedeo Burns, aka "Jonda the Great."

My father, Henry Amedeo Burns, aka “Jonda the Great.”

Life. Way back in my early childhood, my father was a sword swallower. He performed professionally at the legendary Long Beach Pike, and also for the E.K. Fernandez circus in Hawaii. He quit the profession when I was about three, but he used to do his act for my sisters and me at home and sometimes at the beach. He was a terribly flawed individual and a disastrous father, but he was mine and I loved him. Once when I was snooping in our car, a sleek, jet-finned 1959 Cadillac convertible, I found a policeman’s shiny gold badge. The badge lodged in my imagination, yet I knew my wild father could not be a policeman. Years later I asked him about the badge and he said he’d found it and used it as a “chick magnet.” Yes. That’s the kind of man he was.

Often when I told other writers about my father’s vocation, they’d say, “You’re writing about him, right?” I knew I wanted to, but I had to wait until the right angle came my way. My own life has nothing profound to drive a plot arc, so a memoir was really out of the question. In 2006 I wrote “Angels Don’t Have Wings,” a short story that drew from the night my parents split up. The father in that story is a sword swallower loosely based on my father. The story haunted me, and though I was working on another novel at the time, I finally had to set that one aside and expand the short story into what has been a lengthy writing journey. In The Sword Swallower’s Daughter, the leading character, Sheila, is nothing like me and the life she lives in the book is wildly different from mine. Sheila, however, does discover a policeman’s badge among her father’s possessions which drives her story from the moment she finds it at nine years old, until she finally lets go of its devastating effect twenty-five years later.

What genre does your book fall under?

The Sword Swallower’s Daughter is new adult literary fiction.

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

Without a doubt, I would choose Johnny Depp as “Ripovi the Great.” After watching Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Lining Playbook (and her adorable trip over her dress at the Oscars) I’d love to see her play Sheila. (She’d have to color her hair brunette once again.)

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Life is anything but a carnival for Sheila Pace in The Sword Swallower’s Daughter when her father draws her into an innocent game that turns deadly at the hands of a phony clown.

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

I am currently querying agents for representation of The Sword Swallower’s Daughter.

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

The first draft of The Sword Swallower’s Daughter was born during Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) 2007.

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

The Sword Swallower’s Daughter is told in two timelines. The adult Sheila narrates her story in present tense, while excerpts from the memoir she’s writing about a year of divorce, death and devotion to her unconventional father are old in past tense.

So, I haven’t really answered this question, have I? Perhaps after reading all of this you could tell me.

 Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My father was a deeply flawed person, but I loved him dearly. I wanted to write a story about loving a person despite their fears, faults and fetishes.

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

The character Sheila starts a pet therapy outreach to AIDS patients during the dawn of the AIDS epidemic. Having lived in Laguna Beach during this time, where there was a large gay community, I could not escape seeing this tragedy played out before my eyes. I can still remember the face, but sadly, not the name, of a man I often chatted with at the laundromat in Laguna, who went from robust to lively, to skin and bones and sunken eyes. And then he stopped coming. I wanted to revisit this period in my fiction and Sheila needed an outlet for her grief.

The character, Rip, is diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, a devastatingly fatal condition that can be passed genetically to one’s offspring. A friend from my church in California passed away prematurely from complications related to Huntington’s Disease. His wife, Linda, has championed the cause for Huntington’s Disease research and family support with elegance and determination. I wanted to give this disease more exposure through my fiction.

The Long Beach Pike was once considered the Coney Island of Southern California. It began its slip into decay following the opening of Disneyland in 1955, eventually closing the attractions, rides and arcades in 1978. The city of Long Beach has redeveloped the area where the Pike once hosted such acts as Jonda the Great (my father’s stage name) and other sideshow luminaries such as Schlitzie the Pinhead. The Pike at Rainbow Harbor now features upscale hotels, nightclubs, shopping and dining. The grand Looff’s carousel and the giant Ferris wheel have been restored and are spinning again thanks to the development efforts.

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