Apparently, The Next Big Thing is considered a kind of online chain letter. (The word floating around with it is "meme," but I've never really understood what that is!) I like to think of it as a reminder of how important it is to give shout-outs to writers I know and admire. Even before my novel was published, I enjoyed a circle of close writing friends, but since its publication and the opportunities that has presented, I have had the chance to make new writing friends around the country.
The idea behind The Next Big Thing is that I am tagged by a writer, and I in turn tag fellow writers – all of us write a blog post called The Next Big Thing, a Q&A in which we answer questions about a forthcoming book or work-in-progress. I was tagged twice, by Bee Ridgway and Karen Coates. I have known Karen for many years through ThingsAsian Press, the publishers of my guidebook and food memoir. Karen is an exceptional writer, whose new book, This Way More Better, is a kind of showcase of her journalistic treks through eleven Asian countries over the years. As always, her prose is accompanied by the evocative photography of her husband, Jerry Redfern. You can read more about her new book at her blog, Rambling Spoon.
Next up: Bee Ridgway. Bee and I have something wonderful in common: our agent, Alexandra Machinist. Through Alexandra (and Twitter), Bee and I have become email friends, supporters and confidantes. I have not read Bee’s upcoming debut novel, The River of No Return, but I am champing at the bit. You can be assured that on its pub date, April 23 of this year, I will dive right in. Here is a brief description: In Bee Ridgway’s wonderfully imaginative debut novel, a man and a woman travel through time in a quest to bring down a secret society that controls the past and, thus, the future. You can head to Bee’s blog to read more about her next big thing!
Now, for the authors I am going to mercilessly tag into this game ... a couple have already been tagged by Karen and Bee, so I’m cheating a bit, but I don’t care. I love these two writers too much to not mention them here. The first is Dana Sachs, who is a longtime friend through our love of Vietnam, not to mention part of the “friend, supporter, confidante” email correspondence that Bee and I partake in. Before I met Dana, I read her memoir, House on Dream Street, about her time living in Hanoi in the early 1990s. Having lived in Vietnam myself for four years, I am fussy about how the country is depicted. I found Dana’s view to be compassionate and authentic, and so you can imagine how happy it made me to become friends with her. I’ve had the privilege to read an advance copy of her new novel, The Secrets of the Nightingale Palace, and I would like to give it the highest compliment: it’s pure Dana! She is such an elegant writer, and I read her books for their nuance. To learn more about this tale of a grandmother and her adult granddaughter crossing America to return a piece of Japanese art acquired from a friend of the grandmother’s just before the internment of the Japanese during WWII, go to Dana’s website.
Continuing on … Janet Brown. How do I love Janet? Let me count the ways. But there’s the problem. I can’t count that high! Janet and I met as booksellers at the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle in 1989. Back then, we were not published and while we sold books and wrote, we also dreamed big of seeing the world. Lo and behold, we both did just that. I moved to Vietnam and she moved to Thailand. The publishing result for Janet is the absolute gem of a travel memoir, Tone Deaf in Bangkok. Tightly written, sly and culturally observant in a way I associate with such superstars as Graham Greene, this book is a treasure. Her forthcoming book, Almost Home, is its worthy rival. Not only did I have the honor of reading this book, I was invited to write the introduction. Almost Home takes readers on a search for home in faraway places: Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong. To find out more about Janet’s writing (she’s posting some fantastic new stuff these days), check out her blog, Tone Deaf in Thailand.
Of the two other writers I have asked to participate, one is an old friend and one is new. Tiffany Hawk and I worked together at Gayot.com many years ago, and I’m thrilled that her debut novel, Love Me Anyway, is coming out this spring. I just finished reading an advance copy of this story of love and loneliness among United Airlines flight attendants in the months that circle around 9/11 – I have so many wonderful things to say about it, much of which can be found here at my GoodReads review for the novel.
As for my new friend, Anne-Marie Ruff and I were united on a panel at the West Hollywood Book Fair. Anne-Marie is a terrific writer. Her first novel, Through These Veins, is a smart exploration of cultural divides and scientific ethics. You can read more about her story of the discovery a plant in Africa believed to cure AIDS, and the ruthless pharmaceutical company trying to appropriate it, at her website. She’s also just finished the first draft of her new novel, Beneath the Same Heaven, which she’ll hopefully write about for The Next Big Thing.
Finally, I am going to be sneaky. I didn’t ask the next two writers to play The Next Big Thing game (I hate pestering friends when I know how busy they are), but I’m going to include them anyway. Donna Miscolta and I were paired on a reading stage at the Wordstock festival in Portland, and because of this, I picked up When the de la Cruz Family Danced. The story of a Filipino family in Southern California, and the mystery surrounding the father’s possible illegitimate son from a childhood sweetheart back in the Philippines, this is a thought-provoking look at family, culture and belonging. Donna's writing is so finely tuned, and I found myself reading slowly, savoring paragraphs, so I could absorb the details. Head to Donna's blog to read more about this beautiful novel.
Last but not least, go to Courtney Miller Santo's blog to find out about her first novel, The Roots of the Olive Tree. As with Bee, Courtney and I also share the same divine agent. Courtney's book is a multi-generational tale (five generations of women!) that tackles questions of longevity and family ties. This is definitely a novel for book clubs. There is so much to talk about, with ideas ranging from the intimate (family) to the big picture (genetics). When I read this I thought how great it would be to have a book club with all the female members of my family -- the conversation would surely last for hours!
Now to the main event, the ten interview question for The Next Big Thing:
What is your working title of your novel-in-progress?
To Feed Such Hunger
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The daily, domestic lives of my friends in Saigon during the Vietnam-American war.
What genre does your book fall under?
As with my debut novel, The Map of Lost Memories, which came out last August, this new one does not fall easily into any category. There is a literary aspect. There is a mystery aspect. There is a historical aspect. How about: historical literary mystery?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Since I’m only 130 pages into the first draft, I haven’t reached the fantasy casting stage yet! Though the main character, Lena Sundholm, is physically modeled after Jean Seberg in Bonjour Tristesse.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Murder, political intrigue and family secrets in the life of a culinary anthropologist in Vietnam during the mid-twentieth century.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I am represented by Alexandra Machinist of Janklow & Nesbit.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I have just started, so this is another question I can’t answer. I’m hoping to be done with the first draft by the end of summer.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I don’t have any specific comparisons, but I’m hoping to use everything I’ve learned from Graham Greene and Penelope Lively in this novel. As well, I want the book to have a large scope, spanning decades and illuminating an often-ignored side of Vietnamese/American history.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The close friends in Vietnam mentioned above.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
At this point I’d rather not say. The story is still so raw, and I have a couple angles I hope will draw readers in from the start. But until I get them down in some firm fashion on in the first draft, I’m more comfortable keeping them to myself.