In my previous post I shared with you one thing I’ve been doing lately, which is visiting blogs and looking for someone to tag. I also regularly visit a number of blogs of journals or in association with books, The Pen and the Bell, and the Superstition Review and Blackbird sites, and Canary (Hip Pocket Press). I need to make it a priority to get these linked on my opening page.
Another great site for Washington State poets — and for any lover of poetry — is our Poet Laureate site, a blog curated by poet extraordinaire Kathleen Flenniken.
There, now I think I’ve cleared my throat sufficiently to respond to these interview questions.
1. What is the title of your book? Is it a working title?
I hope to goodness it is not a working title. For the past decade I’ve been working on a “parallel novel” which takes up where Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter leaves off. Mind you, I have not worked on it continuously. In fact, I have three other novels in draft (and waiting for me to return to them). But over the last two years I have had an agent and have been putting PEARL’S ALCHEMY through rewrites.
2. Where did the idea for your book come from? 3. Who and/or what inspired you to write your book?
My doctoral dissertation (completed in 1995) centered on The Scarlet Letter, looking at “female bastards” throughout American literature. (Great fun.) Reading, rereading and teaching TSL made those little questions that nag readers (especially “What happens to Pearl?” and “Why does Roger Chillingworth leave her his entire estate?”) loom. I wrote an article, which was published in Studies in the Novel, and in The Norton Critical Edition of the novel. And at some point around 2001 or 02 I started writing out sketches in my morning journal.
4. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I wrote what looked like a chapter about once a month. I’d reread and make more notes, and eventually I’d scribble a little more. Then a friend started a novel workshop and that gave me the momentum to get the dang thing typed.
5. What genre does your book fall under?
That’s a great question for this particular book. For the first few years I classified it in the historical category, and Young Adult (YA). I found three agents who were willing to look at it, and two who (I felt) would have liked to take it, but didn’t know how to market it to an audience too young to have read the original novel. Then a friend and I met Gail Tsukiyama (The Samurai’s Garden, Women of the Silk) at a writing conference and we were inspired to trade novels and give each other some feedback and encouragement. She was a high school English teacher and her first comment was, “This is not a young adult novel. It’s a literary novel.” So I spent the next year rewriting it, and after that found representation with agent Elizabeth Wales.
6. What books would you compare yours to in your chosen genre?
I would love to see PEARL’S ALCHEMY compared to anything by Geraldine Brooks. My favorite of her books is The Year of Wonders. My agent thinks that Girl with a Pearl Earring makes a good companion novel.
7. What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
After spending her entire eleven years in the shadow of her mother’s scarlet letter, Pearl Prynne wants to know who she really is; when she’s befriended by a lonely old man and an African girl who works in the house where he boards, she begins to believe there is a place for her and possibly a world larger than the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
At one time I had a sharper one, but that’s what I can come up with on the spot.
8. Do you have a publisher, or will you self-publish your book or seek representation?
I have an agent, which of course does not guarantee a publishing contract. At present I am putting the novel through what I am calling “the unassailable” rewrite. This time through, I have figured out how to “do” tension (it’s one of those things that I can see in novels I read and teach, but it has proven shockingly elusive in practice). I am wildly hopeful that this is going to find a publisher.
9. What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie or to read your work for a recording?
My brain refuses to wrap around this question.
10. What else about your book might pique readers’ interest?
I’ve always believed that readers of The Scarlet Letter will be compelled to give my novel a look (as you might guess, there are MANY parallel novels to TSL; however, I think I “get” Hawthorne in a way that no one else thus far has…that’s my grandiose voice talking). On the other hand, I’ve had a couple of readers who never got around to reading TSL and they report that that was no obstacle.
I hope that I’ve brought Pearl to life in an unexpected and at the same time completely Hawthornian way. When I haven’t been in utter torment, I’ve had great fun on the journey. If it is not asking too much, I’d like to finish this rewrite in the next month or so…and move on…to the next big thing.
So thanks for asking. And, yes, I will keep you posted.