I would like to thank Tree Riesener, who is the winner of our inaugural Eludia Award for her wonderful collection of short stories, SLEEPERS AWAKE, for inviting me to take part in this interesting writers’ interview program. The Next Big Thing is a sort of interview chain which provides readers with an ever-growing series of discussions about writers and their most recent projects. It offers an inside view of our process, our passions, our efforts to create our best work. Below you will find my own answers to the interview questions. You’ll also find my own recommendations – three truly wonderful writers who will be answering the questions about their own projects.
Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:
1– What is your working title of your book?
My book is called Piety Street. It’s the first novel in a trilogy, a family saga, about an extended Delta family and an immigrant family, settled in New Orleans from Sicily.
2–Where did the idea come from for the book?
This book, and the trilogy, were born from stories I was told as a child about my own maternal grandmother’s childhood. Tales of leaving Italy for America, of being raised in an orphanage in a strange country by extremely cruel nuns when her parents both died. Lots of family stories lived in my imagination for many years, and then, as I writer, I found myself building on those stories, fictionalizing them, searching for the archetypal truths in the experience of the sojourner, the orphan, etc. So, although the seeds of the trilogy came from true family stories, what has resulted is a work based on an attempt to paint a bigger picture of human experience. I set the story in New Orleans, one of my favorite areas of the country, for its mystery, mysticism, multi-cultural, multi-racial lifestyle.
3–What genre does your book fall under?
It’s literary fiction, but could also be considered historical fiction, since it moves through several separate time periods – 1919, 1927 and 1955. I guess you could also include it in the sub-category of “family saga”.
4–Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
This is really hard to answer, since the book moves through three major time periods, and the characters age from childhood, to their 20s, and then into their 50s. It’s not a typical book-to-film kind of project; rather it is more like a Dickens piece – the sort that would adapt better to an episodic PBS or BBC project — a mini-series, maybe. We’d need some really unusual actors, too — because the characters are not only Sicilian in nationality, but there are others who are Creole, including a Vodou priestess. It would be a great vehicle for casting diversity, that’s for sure. It’s not so much a “star vehicle” project as it would be a great ensemble project.
5–What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Piety Street is a family saga, the first novel in a trilogy, about the Favaloro family from Sicily and the Duvalle family, a Creole Delta family, whose paths and lives cross and converge throughout the first half of the 1900s in New Orleans.
6–Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Piety Street will be published in 2013 by New Door Books.
7–How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The book took years. Probably close to 7 years, altogether. I wrote, rewrote, restructured, set it aside while writing other things, including an inter-related collection of short stories, Other Likely Stories and several plays. I’m also working on a documentary film. But I’ve recently returned to the book, rewrote some sections yet again, edited and re-shaped it a bit….and will be letting it go. It’s been a hard book to wrestle with, largely because the structure and layering of the stories requires that we move through these time periods in an unusual way. The book opens in 1955, flashes back to 1919, back to 1955, then flashes back to 1927, finally returning one last time to 1955.
8–What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Some possible contemporary comparisons would be to The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, or The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. Like my book, both tell their stories through a young girl, who is the starting point for unraveling family mysteries and secrets. My book begins in 1955, with 5-year-old Rachael Meade, third generation of the Favaloro family, whose abuse at the hands of an extremely troubled great-aunt, begins to unravel long-held family secrets and evils.
But I’d like to compare the book also to the kinds of stories that Charles Dickens told (although his stories began often with a little boy and mine a little girl). His novels always included a large caste of characters, themes of lost innocence, cruelty, family honor, and ultimately redemption. That’s the journey Piety Street takes the reader on.
9–Who or what inspired you to write this book?
As I said before, my grandmother’s stories of her own childhood were the inspiration. More than anyone else in my family, she raised me to be the person I am. Her name was Eludia Marie Orgoglioso, and I’ve recently launched a fiction contest in her name at my own arts organization and small press, Hidden River. It’s called the Eludia Award, and provides $1000 and publication for a first booklength work of fiction (novel or short story collection) to a woman writer, age 40 or older, She lived during an era when women had little chance of following their dreams. I want to honor her by helping other women follow their dreams with an award in my grandmother’s name.
10–What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Readers who like entering into an entire world and staying there, discovering a variety of powerful characters, experiencing mystery, struggle, injustice, crime, and ultimate resolution and redemption, will love Piety Street. It’s filled with everything found in my beloved New Orleans: mysticism, magic, spirituality, passion. And all of that is blended with historical events: the great immigrations of Sicilians to New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century, the sweep of death caused by the 1919 influenza pandemic, the great flood of 1927 that destroyed large areas of New Orleans – much like the more recent Katrina.
Coming up in THE NEXT BIG THING are three of my favorite writers!
Eric is author of a wonderful collection of inter-related stories, Tracks. The book won the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY) Gold Medal for Best Fiction from the U.S. Mid-Atlantic Region. This novel-in-stories follows a diverse group of passengers on a train from Baltimore to Chicago, revealing the secrets of their past, their hopes for the future and just how intertwined their lives really are.Journey by train from Baltimore to Chicago via the perspectives of a diverse array of passengers. Eric also curates the popular Lit and Art reading series at The Watermark Gallery in Baltimore, MD. Eric will be discussing Tracks on February 8 at
Karen Rile is the author of Winter Music, a novel set in Philadelphia, the city we share. Other truly wonderful works of fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in The Southern Review, American Writing, Creative Nonfiction, The Land Grant College Review, Other Voices, and Apiary, and has been listed among The Best American Short Stories. Karen will be discussing Winter Music on February 8 at http://www.rilesmith.com/
Charles identifies himself as an Appalachian writer, a writer whose knowledge and understanding of this truly mysterious and unique region of the U.S. results in powerful, moving stories, unforgettable characters, and one of the best reading experiences I’ve had in a long time. I first became aware of Charles in an anthology, Degrees of Elevation, and then read his own collection, Sinners of Sanction County with awe. He’ll be discussing his latest book, the novel, Lambs of Men on February 8 at http://ltmarlborough.wordpress.com/
I really hope you enjoyed reading this blog entry, and learning a bit about my forthcoming novel. Please feel free to comment here, or to get in touch if you would like to arrange a reading, or if you have a bookclub interested in either Other Likely Stories or Piety Street. I am always happy to make either a personal appearance, or a skype or Google HangOut interview with a group of readers.
Be sure to check in with Tree’s blog, which is still up, discussing her wonderful short story collection, and to calendar February 8 for the posting of the three wonderful writers I’ve invited to take part.