“Next Big Thing” Blog Tour

As I mentioned last week, there’s a viral blog event going around called “The Next Big Thing” in which writers give a glimpse of works in progress by answering a set of questions. I’ve been tagged by two fellow writers. Rae Francoeur is author of the memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair.” Find out about her Next Big Thing. In addition, I’ve been tagged by Matt Coyle, author of the thriller “Yesterday’s Echo,” due out in May. Click here to read more about Matt and his book. I’ve tagged three folks too and you can find out more by clicking on their links at the end of this post.

And for some insight on my “Next Big Thing,” read on.

What is your working title of your book?

Casualties.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I started with an entirely different story, about a woman who leaves. That’s all I had: her name, her face, and her departure. I knew that everything leading up to her departure was rooted in a past I needed to uncover. When I realized that she lost her only child, I realized I was writing one of my about my worst nightmares with the idea that if I could figure out what would happen under the worst conditions for my characters, I might learn something. There is nothing that happens to Ruth, my protagonist, that couldn’t happen to any one of us.

Environmental factors played a role too. I live in San Diego, a nexus for the military, defense industry and civilians. You learn quickly that there are no real boundaries between these groups. Individuals — neighbors, strangers, family members — cross from one to the other as they make difficult decisions and try to do what is right for themselves, their families and the country. What can often be invisible elsewhere in the country is very visible here.

What genre does your book fall under?

I aimed for what editor Amy Einhorn calls, “the sweet spot between literary and commercial.” This is a novel that a book club could sink its teeth into.

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

This is fun!

Ruth: Julianne Moore. Helen Hunt. Diane Lane. Cate Blanchett.

Casey: Aaron Eckhart. Dennis Leary. Willem Dafoe. All three are a little too old to play Casey but all of them can play that combination of intelligence, seediness, and heart that would bring Casey to life. I love them all, by the way…

 What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Before single mother and defense industry executive Ruth Nolan can bury her only child, a Marine who has committed suicide, she must choose whether to salvage what remains of the life she has built, or risk it all by helping war-zone contractors harmed by her firm’s negligence.

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

I am seeking representation and have been excited about the initial reception. We’ll see where that leads. I am open to all possibilities.

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

Too long!!!! The first scenes in what became my first draft are dated 2003. However, what I consider the real first draft happened in 2007 when I tossed out 600 pages. What remained formed the heart of the book that has emerged.

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

Like Kristin Hannah’s Homefront, Casualties brings to life the cost of war paid by those who fight and those who wait for them, but goes further, delving into the largely invisible world of the defense contractor and the tragedy of military suicides. The story, however, is not a story of war, and the book does not advance a political agenda. Like the novels of Ann Patchett (State of Wonder), or Barbara Kingsolver (Flight Behavior), Casualties keeps the focus on the conflicting desires of its characters and the choices they must make.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My husband was the one who inspired my confidence and challenged me making it possible for me write full time for the past two years. He has never wavered in his confidence in me and I draw strength from that daily.

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

Ruth’s story is only one of the stories told in this book. When she flees from her California home with her son’s ashes, she encounters amputee and would-be conman Casey McInerney, a veteran of the first Gulf War with his own demons. As they journey across the country, they force each other to face the grief, guilt, and fear that have governed their decisions for longer than either of them realizes. They help each other take the first steps toward making peace with themselves and the ghosts of those they’ve lost.

Now I have some wonderful writers for you to check out. Next week, or very soon, they will be posting answers to questions about their latest projects as part of the Next Big Thing blog tour.

Pamela Hunt, freelance writer and author of “Walking on My Hands,” a blog in which she shares her journey toward “learning to live with grace.” She’ll talk about her novel, a work-in-progress.

Gail Chehab, author of The Echo of Sand” and, most recently, “Simple Gifts.”

Melanie Hooks, screenwriter and freelance writer, will discuss her work-in-progress. (Link to come. Stay tuned!)

Welcome

IMG_0763

The man in this picture once told me something I have never forgotten. “Don’t be afraid to say no to people when you have to, but don’t say no to yourself.”

He said this just after he hired me as a reporter for a paper called the Gloucester Daily Times, the daily that served Cape Ann, an island about 40 miles north of Boston and a world unto itself. I must have looked confused or maybe he just wanted to be sure I understood because he went on.

“There are going to be days when you’re heading home and you’re tired, or you’re on your way to cover a story and you’re running late. That’s when you’ll see something out of the ordinary, maybe a group of people gathering unexpectedly, a fire engine rushing by, a child or an animal doing something that everyone would like to see. These are opportunities. You can stop, find out more, take that picture and make your page that much better. Or, you can keep going. That’s saying no.”

He was talking about the job, of course. I was 21 and Peter Watson was doing one of the things he did best: mentor. He offered his experience and insight but then let you decide whether to use it or not. I confess there were times when I did not. Shame still flickers when I recall hearing a story idea from one of my readers and then forgetting it until I ran into her again, when it was too late. And on a glorious summer day, I shot one funny, beautiful, or telling photo after another, only to find I had forgotten to reload my Canon AE1 after my last deadline. [Digitals were still in the distance at that point.]

The lessons were painful but effective. In saying no to those opportunities, I let him down, made life more difficult for my editors and everyone else who had to put out the paper. And the residents of Rockport, who opened their pages every day to Page two found less than they would have if I had seized the moment or had been prepared for the lucky photo op that came my way.

It was the regret, though, that lingered. This is what Peter was trying to tell me. You don’t get those opportunities back. I was haunted for longer than you would expect by the missed opportunities because the ones I had the sense to grab taught me so much.

Peter and his beautiful family remained in the center of my life even after I left the Cape and, eventually, journalism. No matter what I was doing, though, opportunities came, often disguised as inconveniences or things that seemed outside my comfort zone or simply things I thought could wait: jobs, love, a cup of coffee with a person I’d just met, writing. Writing always fell aside. The urge to put off, avoid, give into fear or fatigue has continued to reside in me like a virus, ready to flare.

Peter died on November 24. The last time I saw him was in May. We’d said our farewells inside the house but he called to me and I waited while he walked toward me. It was not an easy walk. His balance was compromised by the tumor in his brain and he was very tired. But he took one step after the other. He put his arms around me and hugged me, harder and longer than he ever had before. He said, “Good bye, old friend.”

We talked often and I planned to see him again but it didn’t happen that way. I am so grateful to him. He could have stood in the doorway and waved, pretended that this moment was like any other but he didn’t. He acted on whatever instinct made him come to me and say that good bye.

A week after he died, when the grief was raw, the month of December looked completely different than the one I had planned. There was a eulogy to write, a trip east to plan. Family was coming, there were errands, gifts and for a time it seemed overwhelming. That was when another friend I have known and cherished for most of our lives, Rae Francoeur, got in touch with a proposal. She knew I’d finished my novel and was submitting it to agents. She told me that if I had my blog up and running, she could “tag” me in something called The Next Big Thing Blog Tour. The problem: I had to have my blog up and running in time for the new year.

I could say no. For over a year, my blog has been languishing on my hard drive and in drafts on WordPress. What would a few more weeks matter? Then came the echoes of Peter’s words.

This time, I know there is no one I will be letting down if I don’t do it. The world is not waiting breathlessly for another writer or another blog. But I also know that regrets sharpen with every year that passes. The opportunities to connect, to grow, to try something new, don’t always come when we want them but they come. I can say not now and tell myself there will be other moments like this one. Or I can say yes and see what happens.

Yes.

Check in next week for the “Next Big Thing Blog  Tour.”