As part of ‘The Next Big Thing Blog Hop,’ I was tagged by Libby Ware in her post last week. Check out her blog at http://libbyware.blogspot.com/ to learn about her novel, Overlook. The purpose of this hop is to expose you to writers and their work that perhaps you haven’t heard of, whether a new release or a Work in Progress (WIP). This is week 27.
According to the rules of the hop, I will be answering some questions (the same ones for every other blog hopper) about either my newest release or my WIP and then at the bottom of the post I’ve listed Alysia Angel, who will do the same thing in her blog next Wednesday Jan 2nd, give or take a few days due to the holidays.
The book I’m discussing is a Work in Progress.
What is the working title of your book? Paradise Park.
Where did the idea come from for the book? My father comes from a Catholic family of ten and they all worked at an amusement park when he was growing up. His was not, in any way, a sin and salvation themed amusement park, but I thought it was too good of a setting to pass up. The central conflict of the book explores the relationship between spiritual and sexual ecstasy. I remember being struck in church as a young teenager while singing these responsorial hymns, which are often just lines from Psalms set to music, by the eroticism of some of the language. Here we were in church singing stuff like “As the deer pants after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” Or better yet: “My flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is.” I thought, ‘this sounds like stuff your write to your girlfriend to get laid, not stuff you think about Jesus.’ But then as I got older, I realized some people really do long for God in that way, and it fascinated me. I wanted to explore the source of spiritual desire and how it can be interrelated with sexual and romantic desires, especially during adolescence.
What genre does your book fall under? It’s literary fiction. It’s southern and it’s queer. I hope it is also interesting to people who are neither of those things.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Ha, I don’t know, I don’t ever think about stuff like that. They are all young so I guess I’d want mostly unknown actors to play them. Mrs. Turner would have to be played by a great big powerful, plain looking woman and there just aren’t a lot of them floating around Hollywood that I can think of off the top of my head.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Paradise Park tells the story of the Turners, an Evangelical Catholic family of six who operate a sin and salvation themed amusement park in Alapaha, GA.
What is the longer synopsis of your book? Set in a swiftly changing South Georgia in 1974, Paradise Park is the story of the Turner siblings who, having come of age in the shadow of Vietnam and their spiritually troubled father’s suicide, must now help their mother keep the gates of Paradise Park open despite financial obstacles. When the park’s manager thrusts a new “attraction” upon the family in the form of Graciela, a fortune teller meant to drum up interest in the ailing park, Mrs. Turner vehemently objects to Graciela’s sensual presence and its effect on her children, especially on Cass, her butch daughter who, since Mr. Turner’s death, has served as the “man of the house” and has been allowed a pass for her gender/sexuality as long as she is seemingly celibate. Mrs. Turner also worries over Asa, her smartest and most promising son, and his fascination with Graciela. What Mrs. Turner cannot predict is that delicate, saint-obsessed, 16-year-old Madeline will be the one to capture 28-year-old Graciela’s love and attention; a love which ultimately drives the family apart.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I’m still writing so I am not at that stage of the game, but my expectation is to seek an agent when the book is complete and go the traditional publishing route.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? I’ll let you know when I am done. I’m a very slow and methodical writer but the plus side is that most of what I write I can keep so I’ve been working on the novel in its current incarnation for about three years.
Who or What inspired you to write this book? The first voice that spoke to me was Madeline’s in the form of a second person story addressed to Graciela. I envisioned her initially very differently, but I thought about what it would be like to have had your first relationship be with someone who you admired as much as you loved. I thought about the way individuals become Godlike when you are a teenager and I wondered if it would be possible to have a relationship with God that was very intense and then fall into a romantic relationship with a much older woman that contained similar power dynamics. I then began thinking about the Park and who else would be there. The siblings and Cass and Asa as these imperfect twins came into play because I have written other stories about that, about masculinity and relationships/brotherhood between butches and straight men. So everything sort of spun out from there.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? The other primary thread of the book is about the social construction of whiteness at this moment in southern history (1974) which is right when things are beginning to change in small towns like Alapaha. So one of the brothers, Henry, is the only family member who works outside of the Park and he works for the Jenkins’ family auto garage on the black side of town and is best friends with the son in that family and secretly begins a relationship with the daughter in that family. Henry genuinely loves the Jenkins’ and longs to be a part of their family which is warmer and more whole than his own, but he also misses a lot of the nuance about their experiences in the world. He takes many things for granted and some of the book is about his struggle to have a real relationship with the Jenkins family when his privilege continually causes him to make assumptions that cause fissures and pain.
I have read so many books by white southern novelists that portray burgeoning relationships between whites and blacks as this unambiguously positive and downright magical and healing thing and it always makes me mad because anybody with any sense who lives here knows that even in 2012 that’s not the reality. There can be a very real desire for love and affection and deep intimacy, but white supremacy still snakes its way into our most personal friend and family structures. And it’s painful. Southern literature has experienced a long period of post Civil Rights movement wish fulfillment novels on the part of white writers where our sins are unwritten and the deep wounds of our land and our people are healed, and I guess I can see why that was maybe a necessary moment in the literature but it feels downright damning to me now. So a lot of my book is about the Turners trying to have these relationships with Graciela or with the Jenkins family and at times being really awkward or just plain wrong or entitled even when they mean well. Part of my goal as a white southern writer is to illuminate the vast gulf between intention and action and help folks understand that intention is not always enough.
Structurally, because the book is narrated from six different points of view, I am playing with the way we construct our identities in relation to and on top of one another by telling our story and the stories of others. So a lot of the book is about who gets to tell what story, what constitutes “truth,” and whose narrative becomes the master narrative and why. Since those things tend to come down to who has the most power that’s a lot of what the book is about.
Next week please look forward to Alysia Angel who is hard at work on her novel, Flinch. Check her out now: http://www.alysiaangel.com