Friday, September 21, 2012

The Next Big Thing

There are two schools when it comes to talking about your work in progress (WIP). The first is that you don't talk about it at all. Period. The second is that you talk about nothing else. I'm kind of a combination of both, and over the years I've become much more of the second. But my current WIP necessitates me talking about my work with a lot of people, and it's taken over such a huge part of my life that it's basically all I think about. So when the talented, beautiful, amazing Jessica Cooper asked me to participate in The Next Big Thing blog game, I agreed.

Here are ten questions (and answers) about my current WIP.

What is the working title of your book?
Okay, maybe this isn't going to be as easy as I thought. Right now it's just kind of labeled "Grandmother Poems," but that is just about the worst title possible and kind of makes me dread scrolling to the top of my manuscript. I've been tossing around some ideas like "Forest of Things" and "Children of No Country," but my working titles usually go through several amalgamations before I settle on something I don't hate.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
After complaining to a friend that I can't finish anything, he asked me the most basic question: "Why?" That made me think far more than you would expect. It also made me realize that I couldn't get to the end of anyone's story because the beginning of my own is all muddled. So I started at the beginning, writing about the grandmother. How very meta of me.

What genre does your book fall under?
Creative nonfiction is kind of the catch-all for what I'm working on. It's parts poetry, biography, memoir, speculation. Who knows what it will be in the end.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
All unknowns. My characters are very vivid in my head, so I'm not sure I'd be able to say who would "fit" the part best. Good thing I'm not a casting director, or even a screen writer.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
I will be the one to mark her grave: Leona Rodak Gaglione, 1917-1979, beloved wife and mother.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I can't imagine what agency would be willing to represent this type of book, so it might end up being self-published. But hopefully my other WIPs will get my foot in the door of an agency that's willing to take a chance on this.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
This is a WIP and very much in the early stages, but I'm hoping to have a draft finished within a year.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
It's a little like A Step From Heaven by An Na with elements of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer and Thomas and Beulah by Rita Dove. (Yes, I did just compare my mess of a WIP to Printz Award-winner, a classic novel, a New York Times best-seller and a Pulitzer Prize for poetry. And yes, I am aware that this could possible be the most ridiculous comparison ever made.)

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My grandmother's family immigrated from Poland a few years before she was born, and their lives were far from easy. My grandmother made some very bad choices in her life that still affect my family, but I've also seen how my father has been able to forgive and overcome the past. This book is an exercise in forgiveness.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
When most people think of immigrants in the early 20th century, they mostly think about New York City and the Ellis Island Experience. This WIP, however, is set in Omaha. When a lot of people think about Poland, they think about a country in Eastern Europe that gets invaded by just about everyone that is now a member of the European Union. This WIP, however, is about the strong cultural identity of a people with no country. I like exploring the unexpected, and I think others will like it as well.

I'm not a big fan of "tagging" people, but if you do a Next Big Thing post, let me know. I'd love to find out what you're working on!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stepping into the Past

I've always been told I look just like my grandmother Leona Rodak. I've also learned enough about her to know that she made a lot of really bad decisions in her life, decisions that continue to affect my family even though she's been gone for almost 35 years. Though I never met her, she's had the single most influence over me behind the members of my immediate family--influence that hadn't always been for the good. So I've started a journey to make peace with my grandmother.

I've decided to embrace my Polish heritage and learn about immigrant life at the turn of the century. I've been contacting family members who knew Leona and her siblings, and I've done more research on Omaha from 1910-1930 than I ever expected to do. I've spent the past two months trying to piece together the lives of people who are no longer around to tell their story. I've also written page after page of poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction about my grandmother's family. And I've learned a lot of unexpected things.

My grandmother was a pretty amazing person. She went through a lot in her life, and my family has left an amazing legacy of women who were independent, powerful, compassionate. Yes, her life was filled with mistakes and horrible tragedies, but it was also filled with incredible stories of survival and love. I've spent so many years resenting my grandmother that I never really took the chance to know her. But maybe looking like my grandmother isn't such a bad thing.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Second Grad School Reading List

I was helping some friends move yesterday, and probably my favorite part of "helping" was playing with their four-year old to keep her occupied while her parents tried to get something done. After her nap, all Little Miss M wanted to do was read books. It didn't matter what they were about or how old they were or what type of illustrations they featured as long as she got to hear a story.

M is often my source for picture book recommendations. Her mom takes her to the library and lets her pick about a dozen books to check out. With very little guidance, M ends up with a good mix of award-winners, best-sellers, old favorites, and some odds and ends. If we get through the entire book, I know it's a good one. If we talk about it afterwords or read it more than once, I know it's a keeper.

So in honor of M, here is my eclectic reading list for my second grad school submission.

Barnett, Mac. Oh No! Not Again!: (or How I Built a Time Machine to Save History) (or at Least My History Grade) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat: I like seeing how text and illustrations work together to create a narrative, but the illustrations carry this book. But it is a creative concept that plays up on funny moments.

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg: This book is my favorite read from this packet. It’s great poetry, a solid plot and complex characters all rolled into a tight package. I’ll probably come back to this one again.

Vivaldi and the Invisible Orchestra by Stephen Costanza: Interesting theory on why the Four Seasons include poetic notes. Love that this is based in history but interjects plenty of artistic license. Gave me some good ideas on how to mix history and fiction.

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher P. Curtis: When I started this book, I found the stories mildly amusing, but after awhile, the vignettes about the town and its quirky residents got a little old. There was so much story here, and it wasn't coming together. Then, about two-thirds of the way through the novel, everything changed. The action started and the vignettes began to come together to create a powerful plot. I also liked the way the author used sound (specifically onamonapia) to add another dimension to descriptions.

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going: The ambiguous ending feels like another beginning and makes me keep writing Troy and Curt's story in my head. For a child of the '90s, I felt an especial affinity for the homage to Kurt Cobain, yet this book manages to be contemporary and authentic, which can probably be attributed to it’s fantastic dialogue.

My Garden by Kevin Hanks: This book was sweet, cute and imaginative, but it was missing Hankes' usual flair for vivid characters, which is why I picked it up in the first place. I was hoping to see how is used character to drive plot in such few words. The “punch line"” at the end was clever even if it did lack the power Hankes' books usually carry.

Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca: I will admit, I was surprised by how much I liked this book. I love Jack and Annie's relationship and how they work together to solve problems. This is a great example of how simple details can build characters in a short manuscript.

Vampirina Ballerina by Anne Marie Pace, illustrated by LeUyen Pham: This is a cute story that uses plot well. It’s kind of a high concept picture book: Twilight meets Ballet Shoes maybe. It was an interesting choice to use a second-person narration, but it works with this content.

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose: This is one of those books I’ve wanted to read forever but has sat collecting dust on my bookshelf since it was published. I’m really glad I finally picked it up as it contains some great theories on how to read looking at craft but still allow yourself to enjoy it.

Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder: So I have this thing about emotionally manipulative books, and I think novels in verse are the biggest culprit. While I read this book fairly quickly and stayed engaged in the story, I was also slightly annoyed by it. Why the line breaks? It felt like the poetry was used as a framework for being overly emotive rather than being a catalyst for the story.