Friday, February 8, 2013

The Next Big Thing: The Beautiful Darkness

My writing sister Vanessa Martir, who I met at VONA last summer, my first writing conference, mentioned the Next Big Thing Meme to me in an email a couple of weeks months ago, so I thought I'd try it out.

1) What is the working title of your book?

The Beautiful Darkness: A Handbook for Orphans. The subtitle will likely be A Memoir of the Seasons or something like that, since it's a little more accurate. As I've been writing it, I've realized that A Handbook for Orphans would make a better fiction collection.

2) Where did the idea come from for your book?

I've written a couple of drafts of the memoir over the past decade but it wasn't until I had the opportunity to read Mira Bartok's great book, The Memory Palace, that I saw in the manuscript a description of winter in another part of the world referred to as The Beautiful Darkness.  Since the book is about survival and overcoming adversity and grief, it seemed like the most appropriate title. I believe that there is something beautiful about coming through darkness and working our ways toward light. For me, it's a tall order but a very worthy endeavor.

3) What is the genre of your book?


4) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie version?

I would love it if the great Quvenzhane Wallis played the younger me, since I saw so much of my younger resilient self in Hush Puppy (from Beasts of the Southern Wild). I admire the elegance and grace of Angela Bassett, so that would be my first choice for me as an adult. I've been told I favor everyone from Tracy Chapman to Whitney Houston (I miss her) to Lauryn Hill, so I'm not sure who would play the adolescent version of me. I'm quite the actress, so I could do it.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The Beautiful Darkness is the story of how one survives without a traditional safety net.

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

When I'm done with the writing process, I'll look for an agent for awhile. If nothing shakes out, I will self-publish it as both an ebook and as a print-on-demand title.

7) How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I've written several drafts of this memoir in one shape or another for 13 years. So the truest answer is 13 years. The most recent answer to that question is that it took me about six months to come up with a fresh draft that was closer to my final vision for the book.

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

I didn't think about it until after I fell in love with my title, but I enjoy Ta-Nehisi Coates' writing and I think there may be some similarities to his memoir, The Beautiful Struggle. My hope is to write a classic coming of age story about a young black girl overcoming adversity in a crosscultural way - so Learning Joy from Dogs Without Collars by Lauralee Summers meets The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls meets I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou meets Claire Bidwell Smith's The Rules of Inheritance.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I've had so much inspiration over the years, but I have to say that the death of my parents - my father in 2010 and my mother in 2012, was the catalyst for a new urgency and a better understanding of the narrative arc of my life. What really helped me survive more than anything else was reading the work of great women writers like Alice Walker, bell hooks, Toni Morrison, Ntozake Shange, Nikki Giovanni, Rita Dove, Gwendolyn Brooks, Gloria Anzaldua, Audre Lorde and many, many more. I'm inspired both by my ancestors and by the well-crafted work of my memoirist peers, as well as by a number of black musicians and filmmakers who have offered up narratives that have elements of what I'm working on that have helped me craft a more cohesive story.

10) What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

As a side note, I'm so happy that you spelled pique right, meme-starter!
There is no other memoir that I've been able to read that writes deeply about how young black women in particular, but people in general who are self-parented can navigate the many complicated factors that come with the territory. In my case, that was mental illness, resentment, poverty and to some extent racism, sexism and anti-intellectual boosterism as I found mentors, friends and angels along the way to help me along the path. We know much about self-reliance and the Horatio Alger narrative in our culture as it relates to the white male hero's journey, but very little about people of color who manage to cultivate the same kind of individualism and rugged determination that is so praised in other races and/or groups. We have all been, in one way or another, abandoned or left to fend for ourselves, either figuratively or literally, at some point in our lives. The Beautiful Darkness is about learning to lean into that pain, to transform it into something light enough to carry without letting the burden weigh us down, to know that darkness is only the temporary absence of light.

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