My Next Big Thing

I had the pleasure of being selected to participate in a blog hop called My Next Big Thing. I was tagged by Nancy Hinchcliff, writer, editor, educator, musician, and innkeeper from Louisville, Ky. I was asked to respond to  the following ten questions concerning my most recent project.

1.  What is the working title of your book or project?

2.  Where did the idea come from for the book or project?
There never seems to be just one idea, but two or three or four that come together, becoming more than the sum of the parts. I had made notes toward a novel several years ago, when I found my high school yearbook in the course of packing for a move. Among the comments and mottos written by friends was an inscription from the “popular girl,” to the effect that she hoped we could put all that behind us and be friends. I could not remember that small spat, but the minor mystery haunted me. I also read several comments referring to my “adventures at Pine-Apple Junction,” and that I did remember. Being the too tall, too heavy, too smart girl in a rural high school, I’d not had a single date – so I invented a boyfriend and our rendezvous at a state game reserve near my home known by that nickname because of the old apple orchards and pine forests. I embroidered a whole scenario that apparently was a successful enough fiction to lead to those senior yearbook inscriptions. This was the genesis of 16-year-old Maggie, who is the main character and narrator for Backwater.
            This story never took off, however, until it merged with my new love for sailing, and deep appreciation of life in and around a North Carolina marina. The otters and eagles, the white deer in the forest, the history of the area, the sailors and fishermen and yachtsmen – all of them, or versions of them, find their way into the story.
            I really began writing when I heard Maggie speaking about her relationship with her cousin: “There wasn’t anything wrong between Charisse Swicegood and me except that she was her and I was me, and with the family history and all it was just natural.”
            I based the murder investigation, and the character of the lead investigator Drexel Vann, on my many years as a “cops and courts” reporter. And Maggie’s fascination with the natural world is my own.

3.  What genre does it fall under, if any?
It’s a cross-genre book – a literary novel, first and foremost, but also a coming-of-age story or young adult novel, because the narrator is 16 years old. And it’s a crime novel. Oh, of course, it’s a Southern novel as well, being set in North Carolina.
4.  If applicable, who would you choose to play your characters in a movie?
The main character is Maggie, and I can’t offer a name. “Teen actresses” tend to be pretty and slender, right? Maggie describes herself as “sturdy,” a country girl with a pug nose and an athletic body. So I’ll leave that to a casting director someday, with any luck! I know there must be a great young character actor out there who’s perfect for Maggie.
I can visualize Hugh Jackman as her father, Drew – dark and intense and physical, sunny by nature but tormented.
There’s a pretty large group of characters that I won’t hazard to “cast,” but I’ll just name one other character – Detective Vann. For him, I have to go back to one of my favorite actors, Kevin Spacey.  He has that air of diffident intensity, a sharp intelligence cloaked by a mild manner.

5.  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your manuscript or project?

The independent child of an alcoholic father and absent mother, Maggie Warshauer has created a safe world for herself at a shabby Southern marina by “categorizing” and “fictionalizing” – until her fantasies and a dramatic final encounter with her doomed cousin Charisse make Maggie the center of a murder investigation, and a target for the real killer

6.  Will your book or story be self-published or represented by an agency?
I am currently seeking an agent to represent my work.

7.  How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I hate to admit how slow I am – especially as I tend to write very tightly, the effect of being a journalist and poet. No wasted words. I began working on this manuscript in 2007-2008 and finished this fall.  But an awful lot was happening in my own life during that time.

8.  What other book or stories would you compare this story to within the genre?
            I’m told it would be considered a young adult novel, because of the teenage narrator, but I don’t think it is confined to that or a number of other categories. I am not very current on YA literature, so I will just list the books that I loved as a child and young adult, Something Wicked This Way Comes and most everything by Ray Bradbury, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Good Earth, Lord of the Flies. In films, I always watch “The Wizard of Oz,” which blends the classic journey tale with the search for true identity. I was blessed in being a child alone in the country, which meant I wandered and dreamed, and devoured what was at hand on our bookshelves: Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huck Finn, the stories of Poe, Kidnapped and Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe, The House of the Seven Gables, The Count of Monte Cristo – I’ve just learned that Dumas was of Haitian origin, and am awaiting a book that chronicles his amazing story.  Lots of “boy books” I guess. I loved animal stories, especially The Call of the Wild and The Black Stallion. And when I began buying paperbacks, my shelves quickly filled with Lord of the Rings, Dune, Siddhartha, The Left Hand of Darkness.

9.  Who or what inspired you to write this book or story?
I grew up in the dairy farming region of western New York State, and spent a childhood wandering the woods and fields. I was an only child until my sister was born, but the seven year’s difference in age meant that I still played alone. My companions were books and my imagination. I never had an encounter with Linnaeus, like Maggie, though I was fascinated with Jack London’s stories. And I was that awkward girl, always at the edge of high school society, both despising and envying the easy grace of those in the center. If you don’t belong to the standard groupings in life, it often takes you a long time to find out where you fit. Maggie categorizes the life around her as she tries to make a place for herself in the world. The epigraph comes from Mary Oliver’s wonderful poem, “Wild Geese”:

…Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
The little boat that was a weekend home and a source of much inspiration is no more – “High Cotton” has a new owner on Kerr Lake, and I am paddling a kayak until I can find my way back to a neat little sailboat on some other water. I enjoyed weaving some versions of reality into the novel. The local history and landmarks are there, in fictional form, and Filliyaw Pointe Marina draws some of its nature from Steele Creek Marina where we docked as well as other marinas visited from the Piedmont to the coast.

10.  What else about the book or story might pique the reader’s interest?
Well, there’s a lot about sex. I guess that’s always interesting! The teenage characters are approaching their sexuality from wildly different aspects – repressed sexuality, hypersexuality, asexuality, bisexuality, a healthy self-sufficiency, the “standard rural model” of going steady and early marriage.
Maggie was privy to her parents’ highly charged sex life, so she developed strong ideas about love, sex, and relationships. That’s how Linnaeus came in: I read an article on his fascination with the sexual lives of plants, and that led me to his work. I read an original 1811 English edition of the Journey to Lapland at the Botanical Library at UNC Chapel Hill, where the estimable poet Jeff Beam resides. I just had to get the book into Maggie’s hands, and she took off from there.

The following writers and authors will be discussing their latest projects on their blogs or websites. Visit their blogs and comment. Keep the circle moving.
Susan Woodring will talk about her next foray into small-town life on Tuesday, Dec. 11, at

Normandie Fisher will bring news on Monday, Jan. 7, about two novels releasing in the spring.

David Halperin follows up on Journal of a UFO Investigator on Thursday, Jan. 10, at


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